Public Morality / by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,
Well, they sure aren’t making it easy to read the news these days. Yes, there are some positive things happening both here and around the world, but disasters and near-disasters just seem to keep piling up.

And behind the worst of these disasters there almost always lies a moral failing of some sort or another. Whether we pin those moral failings on a given politician, a given media outlet, or on entire societies, the values (or lack of values) that lead to injustice and destruction are often pretty apparent.

So how do we change things? In the end, where do we focus our efforts to call the world to repentance? In the Anabaptist tradition we’re used to turning the focus inward, we’re used to saying that we need to take the log out of our own eye before we pay attention to the speck of dust in the eye of our neighbor.

But this week’s reading from 2 Samuel, where the prophet Nathan confronts David over his terrible sins (murdering a friend so that he could take that friend’s wife for his own), this story offers a bit of a different model. Nathan doesn’t spend much time taking the log out of his own eye -- he goes straight after David! And he doesn’t blame the priests or the courtiers that support David and spread his influence (what we’d call the media), he doesn’t blame the sins of the nation of Israel (what we’d call political or cultural failings.) No, Nathan blames David, he rests the guilt firmly on the shoulders of the person at the top. And he predicts that David’s moral failings will bring disaster.

Jesus tells us to mind our own sins first and foremost -- and I think we must heed that command from our Lord as a daily guide to our way of life. Most of us don’t have the same God-given clarity as Nathan did. But there are things that we can still see clearly enough, and I think this story from 2 Samuel is a reminder that there are times when it is appropriate to hold others accountable, especially those who are in positions of high authority, people whose moral failings are no private matter but will decide the course of nations.

This isn’t about teams. This isn’t about “what about what Bush did?” vs. “what about what Clinton did?” This is about holding all leaders accountable, including small leaders like myself, and not accepting, ignoring, or excusing the sins committed by ANY of them. Yes, individual leaders aren’t the only force in society and don’t bear every ounce of the blame for the injustice we see in the world. But sometimes it’s appropriate to start with them anyway.

May we cling to what is good, speaking with humility, compassion, and strength in the face of evil.

God’s goodness be with you all,

Andrew