There is an ingrained conviction in many Americans that we are a morally pure nation. But we are not pure, never have been and never will be! That goal could only be accomplished if we first agreed on exactly what was ethically pure, and were being led by an ethically pure person. There have been national populations who assumed that their ruler, king or Pope had a flawless grasp on what was right, and whose rule was not questioned by those subject to his or her judgment.
To be morally pure, there first would have to be an agreement on what is right, true and just, and a commitment by everyone to follow this ethical system. In such a realm there could be no difference of opinion, debate or disagreement. A democracy may be the last place where one might find a universal agreement about what is right, true and just. Democracy is based on political contests in which a variety of perspectives are debated — partisans on all sides firmly believing that their perspective captured what is moral. Obviously some of the truth lies with each perspective, and some of the truth eludes them all.
That being said, each of us could list those values we believe essential in defining moral purity. Having spent much of my life looking at the world from the vantage point of a specific religion, I am inclined to list the values I have found in the Christian faith. I am not talking about doctrines, but about standards of morality. I begin with a list of precepts recorded in the biblical book of Ephesians: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I would include integrity, truthfulness, generosity, honesty and humility. These values are common to almost all religions, secular moral codes, and common sense.
While this list is primarily focused on personal morality, the implications go far beyond individual goodness, and form the underpinning of a commonly understood social code. Flowing from the implications of this list we would certainly include a commitment to peace, non-violence, economic justice, compassion for those with the greatest needs, a welcome to strangers and outsiders, benevolence, the sanctity of life and a dedication to environmental survivability. I would assume that anyone who affirms a Christian perspective would be committed to a similar list.
Perhaps it has best been expressed in this epigram: “Do to others what you would want others do to you.” As an outpouring of that affirmation, I would often say to my congregation at the end of a worship service: “Be very kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.”
As I suggested in the first paragraph, to expect moral purity either of the entire populous or its leader is not realistic. However, we have every right to expect any leader and the people he or she leads to strive for moral clarity, realizing that perfection is always beyond their reach.
In several recent columns I have asked Christian evangelicals whose support was responsible for Trump’s election, and who still support him, to suggest how they can continue to follow a person who not only fails the test of moral and ethical purity at every turn, but whose personal life, policies and vision for America are contrary to any reading of a responsible moral code. If I have misrepresented what Jesus was all about, show me how what Trump affirms flows from any responsible reading of a Christian-based ethic. When I have occasionally asked that question, the silence has been defining!