As I continue to contemplate on the one hand the lascivious nature of the texts exchanged between the House Speaker and his Chief of Staff two years ago and accompanying issues of racism in the state House and, on the other hand, the moral outrage expressed by leaders on the Democratic side of the aisle, the image of the moral high horse comes to mind. I have ridden that horse myself, and here’s how I think it applies to the present situation, particularly the House Republican Caucus meeting set for Monday.
Dehumanization by Other Means Provides Democrats No Moral High Horse
No doubt, the way in which women and those with greater concentrations of melanin in their skin were spoken of in various text messages was dehumanizing. But I have to ask the Democratic leadership that has spoken so strongly to this scandal, What is more dehumanizing than calling a pre-born human being nonhuman in order to justify a unilateral decision by one human being to kill another?
Do those who allow the literal killing of another human being by saying he or she has no ethical or moral status at all really sit on a moral high horse from which they can righteously throw moral judgments at those who figuratively kill the image of God by dehumanizing words? I think not.
But, to me, the bigger question is whether the House Republicans will ride their own moral high horse out of their upcoming caucus meeting concerning this scandal.
Is the Moral High Horse Syndrome Avoidable?
A moral high horse is easy to mount and to ride. I’ve ridden one many times. I hope those who think I’m doing so now will read to the end before they judge.
The fact is we all get on our moral high horse at times, and perhaps we ride most high when we are commending ourselves for not being like those “other people” who seem to always be on their moral high horse.
The fact is we can’t escape making moral and ethical claims and judgments. And those who tell us not to judge others are, in fact, judging others in violation of their own standard.
So how, when circumstances require us to judge, as happens with public “scandals,” can we do so rightly without coming across as being on a moral high horse?
In my view, at least two things are required if one is to avoid riding the moral high horse.
A Right Standard of Judgment
The first is that there must be a true standard by which all judgments are made, one that applies to all of us, and that none of us get to make up and impose on others.
If we don’t have that kind of objective standard from outside of ourselves, then all we have is a collection of opinions that some among us, by a variety of means, will impose on others. That solves nothing. Those on whom that standard is imposed can always ask by what standard we are to judge whether the standard has been rightly imposed.
But that kind of standard necessarily brings God into the picture, and more people may dread that than they do those who are always riding on their moral high horse. God is, after all—and if you’ll pardon any seeming irreverence—THE Moral High Horse of all moral high horses.
Applying the Right Standard Is Counterintuitive
However, excluding God is actually the problem. That seems counterintuitive, but the God of the Bible is the answer to avoiding the moral high horse. After growing up in the evangelical church, I’m learning just how counterintuitive the true gospel really is.
A right view of God can do nothing but humble us, and humble us to the point that we feel like it would just kill us to admit, even to ourselves or to others, let alone when in politics to the public, some of the ways in which we fall short of the True Standard. But that’s exactly what we all need.
What’s counterintuitive about the gospel is that each time we are willing to experience one more of those deaths, we find a new life. We find that our appreciation for and understanding of the height and depth and width and length of God’s love and of His grace is in direct correlation to our level of humility. God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. And grace is the second requirement for avoiding a ride on the moral high horse.
Applying the Gospel Tenor
Grace doesn’t change the standard by which a Christian is to judge, which is what some non-Christians now demand and what some Christians, understandably running from the legalistic moral high horses who may be in their church1, now espouse. Instead, grace should change the tenor of the way in which we express that judgment, because we understand that every day we fall short of the standard we profess and hold out to others. It is in falling short here that I’ve most often mounted my own moral high horse.
How Will the Republican Caucus Respond?
The Republican Caucus will formally meet next Monday to judge or begin the process of judging whether Glen Casada is the person they want serving as Speaker, even if there may be no legal means by which he can now be removed. They are not judging whether he should retain his elected position as a representative nor whether he should be excommunicated from the Christian faith.
In my view, judgment as to whether he should remain as Speaker must begin by each of the non-freshmen Republicans searching himself or herself for the sins of commission or omission by which he or she may have supported a leadership team that over the recent years overlooked, allowed, or accepted not only the activities by staff that have now been exposed, but also such activities among one of its leaders.
Among the freshmen, they need to ask if they knew or consciously or subconsciously avoided knowing about the sex scandals of recent years and who the public figures involved were and make inquiries about the character of those persons in the present.2
Then, each needs to judge whether the existing Republican leadership in the House, from the Speaker on down, has demonstrated the marks of true gospel grace, forged from brokenness and humility before God, that will garner from the members a respect for the kind of moral and ethical authority that will be needed if the culture in the House is to ever change.
Absent a conviction among them that such has been demonstrated, it is my view that changes need to be made, but the members dare not ride out of that meeting on some moral high horse when they should be sorrowful and broken that changes would be needed in the first place.
- Here I’m reminded of my own failure for most of my life to understand the true gospel, thinking I had to “do” something to improve what Christ had done, even as the Christians in Galatia began to think they had to do something more—be circumcised or adhere to practices associated with the ceremonial laws of Moses. To such thinking, the Apostle Paul responded, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).
- When I was elected to the Senate, I’d never even met a senator other than the one I ran against and hadn’t been to the Capitol since a field trip in elementary school. But, over time, it became apparent to me that one of the members of the Senate was profligate, though I don’t know that I ever heard of the female staff member, lobbyist, and interns being preyed upon by him, though it may have happened. Perhaps I was naïve not to consider that possibility. Within my own Senate Caucus, though, I don’t think such predatory behavior went on. Not being the same person now as I was then, I can’t honestly say what I would have done had I known of such behavior, but in Ben Atchley and in Ron Ramsey I had leaders who I think would have addressed it had I gone to them.
Related Article: Casada, Cothren, Politicians, and Christians
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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