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In the Bible and in the US federal government
A person who is a former US president and a major contender for the presidency was recently indicted for federal crimes. The Washington Post reported on some responses to the indictment, including this one:
Brent Leatherwood, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, issued a rebuke of former president Donald Trump, saying [...] “[...] Southern Baptists have continually called for our leaders across the political aisle to live by ‘the highest standards of morality’ to ensure their actions are beyond reproach.”
The phrase “beyond reproach” or “above reproach” is part of everyday speech, but it has particular resonance for Christians. In a few passages, the New Testament stipulates that church leaders like bishops must be “above reproach.” (In the King James Version, the word used is “blameless.”)
This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
I presume that Mr. Leatherwood, formerly executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, is channeling this scriptural call for blameless religious leadership to a call for blameless political leadership.
In some ways, I am surprised by Americans’ high standards for our leaders. One of the only three presidential impeachments in US history was for perjury and obstruction of justice related to an investigation of an intimate relationship that was, at the time, characterized by all parties as consensual. The idea that a public figure might lie about a private affair that had no substantial bearing on public government was so repugnant that the American Congress nearly ejected him from office.
In other ways, I am surprised by our low standards. Many of our public servants live lives that are, aside from their public activities, generally pretty boring. That is a great thing for us as a nation. I would prefer, for example, that our judges be mostly home-body nerds who just want to do a good job of being judges by the standards of other judges, rather than that they be politically active or engaged in any kind of activity that even risks their not being above reproach. The Code of Conduct for federal judges hammers this point:
A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in all Activities [...] An appearance of impropriety occurs when reasonable minds [...] would conclude that the judge’s honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired. Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges [...] A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. This prohibition applies to both professional and personal conduct. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny and accept freely and willingly restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen.
I think Alexander Hamilton would agree with me, that we should raise the floor of our standards:
Responsibility is of two kinds, to censure and to punishment. The first is the more important of the two, especially in an elective office. Man, in public trust, will much oftener act in such a manner as to render him unworthy of being any longer trusted, than in such a manner as to make him obnoxious to legal punishment. (Federalist #69)
In other words, our standard for those who hold public trust should be higher than mere non-criminality.