What a week! Brian Williams, America’s trusted news anchor, is suspended and Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, resigns. The careers of both men have abruptly disappeared into very dismal clouds of moral failure.
It seems as though scandals fly fast and furious across our screens these days. In sports, media, religion, politics, education, and nearly every sphere of social engagement, no domain is sacred from the degradation of the abuse of power, wealth, relationship, honor and trust.
What is this world coming to? Is scandal on an unprecedented rise in our society?
Some say “Yes!” and deplore the disappearance of faith as an anchor in Western culture. Others decry a loosening of morals as the fault of media or some other “obvious” culprit. Surely any such loss of moorings will set the ship of civic engagement crashing into the rocks of depravity.
But such why-Rome-fell arguments tend to truncate or eviscerate the historical record. They leave us blinded to the general inclination of the human heart to morally self-destruct without appropriate social and spiritual checks and balances.
Look back over time and the evidence is clear. Scandal has always been with us. It is not, nor has it ever been, the property of one political party or form of government or religious group or ethnic identification or gender. No, scandal, meaning an illegal or immoral action that causes public outrage, is endemic to human nature.
But therein lies the problem with scandal. To be scandalous, something must be noticed and it must create a public uproar.
Perhaps the answer to all this mess is to stop being interested in scandal because maybe then it will just go away. Don’t pay attention to it. Sweep it under the rug. That is the preferred method in “polite society”. Don’t talk about it and it won’t exist. Problem solved.
Like most everyone else, I get tired of the scandal-of-the-week sensationalism. Especially when people are tried by gossip or posse instead of through appropriate and established procedures.
When I was a kid, I peddled a national newspaper that promoted only positive news. I think I got a table lamp and a plug-in radio out of the effort. Surely that is the answer, just talk about the good in society and maybe all the bad will disappear.
But if we are speaking of broken trust, the problem is not scandal and the solution is not the absence of public outcry. No, scandal is merely one response to immorality and illegality.
Not everything that is immoral or illegal turns into a public outrage. There are countless injustices and wrongs that don’t stir enough public interest. Even in our media-saturated world, the human mind has only so much capacity for bad news. Unfortunately, sometimes the wrong wrongs get too much exposure and other wrongs not enough. But the answer is not in the opposite action – hiding the awful truth of human sin.
The answer to darkness is, and always has been, light. We don’t get rid of the bad by ignoring it or hiding it. We only get rid of evil by shining a spotlight on it. Whatever is hidden will be revealed. So proclaims the gospels. Instead of hiding things, shine a bright light on them – for only then will they be properly disempowered of their evil.
Such is the message of confessing our sins to one another, of holding each other – and our leaders and heroes – accountable for our and their behaviors. We will never find people so free of evil that they will not disappoint us. That alone is the character of God. No, we need human leaders and heroes – and coworkers and friends. People who in their mortal frailty are cleansed by the light of transparency and accountability.
Trust should not be gained by a supposed absence of failure, but by the honest openness of hearts that understand that evil is ever at the door and only light will dissolve the endemic darkness of human endeavor.
I don’t think Brian Williams or John Kitzhaber are more immoral than most. I just wonder if they – and we – forgot that they are no less frail than most.