In the aftermath of the recent arrests of 44 public and religious officials for taking bribes, money laundering and other illegal activities, one of the TV commentators stated that this was excessive even by the standards of corruption in New Jersey. Somehow in the thinking of our fellow Americans, we in this state are setting the standard for corruption.
The question for us is, “How did we get here, in this position of corruption in this state and in the USA? Why are we so corrupt? Why do we accept evil actions so easily in our homes, in our offices – both private and public, and in our churches and synagogues?”
In the Old Testament and in the New Testament there are many passages where God’s people are reminded that God has shown them what is right. The priests, the Levites, the pastors and priests and all who in some way were the teachers of God’s people had the responsibility to teach what is right. In this country we have given up on what is right when we have abandoned what is known as the absolutes. The absolute standard said that it was wrong under all circumstances to lie. Telling the truth was the accepted norm and lying was always considered evil. Divorcing was considered wrong and therefore, people had to think very hard before they became divorced.
The abandonment of the absolutes was followed by something we called values clarification. Values clarification has further eroded the concept of right and wrong by heralding that truth is regional, provincial and no one has the right to tell another person that he or she may be wrong. I have been in too many discussions in which people told me that I was preaching to them – which meant that I was telling them that there is only one way that God expects them and me to behave. I have also been in debates with public officials – teachers and politicians who were very quick to tell me that the positions that I, among others, was upholding were obscurantist and they do not belong in the public square.
The third thing that happened was a fear of speaking up when things are not right. I have had conversations with godly people who are afraid to speak the truth because they will be shunned by their family members and their friends or worse, said one person, I am afraid that they will turn violent and harm me.
What we have to realize is that when the 44 people were arrested a couple of weeks ago, all of us suffered. We suffered because they brought shame upon our state, because they brought truth to the adage that you cannot trust a politician and now a rabbi (priest or a pastor), because their families were destroyed, because we have to pay for their evil doing and because now people will give less money to charities because now there are fewer people they can trust. All of us suffer.
The other aspect is that we have to struggle in this state with what the prophet said, “Woe to the man who calls evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). It is our responsibility in churches, in schools, in our homes and in the public arenas to teach absolutes again, to return to upholding what is right and shunning what is wrong. Then God’s favor will shine upon us and we will be known as a state of righteousness, justice and peace.