We All Need an Ethics Watchdog

Sometimes politicians do the right thing.

Of course, broken clocks are also right twice everyday. So let’s not get too excited.

However, there is reason to be optimistic after the U.S. House of Representatives decided not to shelve the Office of Congressional Ethics on Tuesday afternoon. That decision came after House Republicans secretly and suddenly voted to effectively gut the independent ethics watchdog last night and include the changes in the new rules package. It was a terrible proposal that called down all sorts of non-partisan condemnation, and in the end, the House did the right thing.

Hey, we’re living in the aftermath of a full-scale electoral revolt. People don’t trust politicians, institutions, or elites, so it was surprising that the House went down this road at all. Didn’t seem like the right message to send to the masses.

Before we get all self-righteous, though, it would be appropriate to remind ourselves that we’re all corrupt and self-serving way, way down deep. (Yes, this is going to be one of those “we’re all sinners” columns. Because we all are, and we have to be reminded of it constantly. Plus, I haven’t written one lately.)

We need these independent ethics watchdogs because we tend to act terribly unethically when we don’t think we’re being watched! This is human nature, folks. If we think we can get away with it, we do it. And we ALL do it. All of us. Even you and even me.

That’s why people don’t pick up poop when they walk their dogs in our neighborhoods. If nobody’s watching, then why bother? That’s why we run red lights when nobody is around, or blow off stop signs if there’s no other traffic. That’s why we fudge our taxes, mark the wrong number of strokes in our golf games, and use those image-enhancing filters on our Facebook profile pictures.

That’s why we ALL still text and drive. I’ve done it lately. Yes, I have. Because I think I can do it safely. It’s stupid, I know. It’s arrogant and lousy and I am ashamed of myself. But let’s be honest — EVERYBODY ELSE IS DOING IT. BECAUSE I SEE THEM DOING IT. (If you’re reading this article while driving, SHAME ON YOU!)

Neither you or I occupy some kind of moral high ground where we can point our fingers and condemn our fellow humans for being less human than us. Especially since you and I are Christians. The story that we have embraced tells us that we occupy the same space as anyone else when it comes to moral high ground; we stand below, beneath the shadow of the cross of sin and shame. On our best days, when we have shown grace and loved much, we have also failed or forgotten or fallen short of the glory of God.

Yeah, I hate to admit it, too. I’d like to tell you that I keep my stuff together all the time. But you know that I don’t. You don’t either.

Sin is an incredibly uncomfortable reality. It’s real, and it sucks. Especially when you suddenly confront it within yourself. It’s not easy to look in the mirror and realize that you have done something … well, unethical.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. I thank God every day that our story ALSO tells us that there is grace and mercy for us in Jesus. We don’t HAVE to be perfect, or occupy moral high ground, or even be right. Because God’s concern for us is not limited by our behavior. Instead, God picks us up, wipes the dust from our clothes, forgives us, and sends us right back out into the world ready to try it again.

Walk in grace, friends.