In a Facebook post last month, Sen. Al Franken stated: “The women who have shared their stories about Harvey Weinstein over the last few days are incredibly brave. It takes a lot of courage to come forward, and we owe them our thanks.
“And as we hear more and more about Mr. Weinstein, it’s important to remember that while his behavior was appalling, it’s far too common.”
Now Sen. Franken has been accused of similar behavior.
Leeann Tweeden is a broadcaster and model. She participated with Franken in a USO tour in 2006. Yesterday she claimed that Franken “forcibly kissed” her and groped her on the tour. She added, “There’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”
When her story broke, Franken apologized. The Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader then called for an ethics inquiry. Franken issued a larger apology and agreed to cooperate fully with any investigation.
An article I feel compelled to address
You have probably seen the Franken story by now. I am addressing it as a commentary on another news item you may not have seen.
Matt Bai is the national political columnist for Yahoo! News. He wrote previously for the New York Times Magazine and has authored well-reviewed books. I don’t always agree with him, of course, but I read all his articles and consider him one of the most perceptive writers on politics today.
However, his article posted yesterday troubles me greatly.
Bai begins by addressing the Roy Moore controversy. Moore became famous for defending the Ten Commandments and traditional marriage before sexual allegations made him front-page news. Bai’s point: “Whenever someone runs for office as the arbiter of private morality, it’s worth asking yourself what he or she might be running from.”
He believes that some “loudly moralizing politicians” have adopted that persona “mainly because they think it will get them where they want to go.” In other words, some “moralizers” are immoral in their motives more than in their private actions.
However, Bai is convinced that other so-called moralizers are clearly compensating for personal sins.
He claims that we should not be surprised by the allegations Moore is facing: “The truth is that moralizing and scandal are flip sides of the same filthy coin. Rigid intolerance is often the sign of one who can barely tolerate himself.”
For evidence, Bai claims that “too many men, agonized by their own struggle with pedophilia, flock to the priesthood because they think they can redeem themselves.” He describes “famous preachers” who “come to tears railing against greed and adultery, because on some level they know they’re preaching to the mirror.”
Lest he be accused of focusing only on conservatives, Bai notes that John Edwards “reinvented himself before the 2008 campaign as a moralizing liberal” while lying to avoid acknowledging an affair and a child.
According to Bai, each “moralizer” who is hiding secret sin is an example of this psychological maxim: “people always make you feel the way the world makes them feel about themselves.” He concludes, “It’s up to us to recognize this moral policing in our politics for what it often is: the accumulation of self-loathing, with nowhere else to go.”
The story behind the story
Is it true that some people speak against immorality to compensate for their own failings? Of course. When they do so, they invalidate their moral assertions and hurt those they claim to help.
Bai wants us to dismiss the “moralizing” of such people. That’s understandable in retrospect.
But how would we know a person’s motives or personal moral state prior to public exposure? If we must be so moral in our private lives that no public disclosure could invalidate our public moral stands, who of us could take such stands?
It seems to me that no one would qualify for “moral policing.” And this, I suspect, is Bai’s larger goal.
Bai’s reasoning is a persuasive example of moral relativism at work. Our culture has convinced itself that all truth claims are personal and subjective. Thus, “moral policing in our politics” has no place in a culture that rejects objective morality.
It seems that Bai would rather we keep to ourselves, tolerating what does not harm us personally and refusing to judge others. How should Christians respond?
I’ll close with two observations addressed as much to myself as to any of you.
One: Christians must pray fervently for the strength to be examples of our message. Paul could invite his readers to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Pray for the ability to say the same today.
Two: We must keep teaching Christian morality to our post-Christian culture. The more people reject objective morality, the more they demonstrate their need for it.
The darker the room, the more urgent the light (Philippians 2:14–16).