Don’t Shave Off Your Ethics - Word&Way

Don’t Shave Off Your Ethics

There’s a moment in the story of Samson that I’d find humorous if it weren’t so tragic. After telling Delilah the true secret to his strength, he awakens to again find Philistines attacking him. It seems weird that he keeps setting that kind of alarm clock. But the text tells us this time he awoke and wrongly figured he would again shake himself free because “he did not know that the Lord had left him.”

Brian Kaylor

Brian Kaylor

How could he not know? How could he not know she’d tell his secret as she had done the three previous times when he lied about the secret and then found himself under attack by Philistines? How could he not realize his hair was shaven, his strength weakened, the Spirit gone? How could he be so blind even before the Philistines gouged out his eyes?

It almost has that feel of ole Wile E. Coyote confidently running off the cliff and standing there in midair for just a moment before realizing he’s about to fall to the distant valley below.

And, yet, it seems we’re all vulnerable to this kind of Samson moment.

I watched as Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, preached to the Missouri Baptist Convention’s annual meeting Tuesday (Oct. 27), and saw just such a Samson or Wile E. Coyote moment.

Screengrab as Al Mohler preaches during the Missouri Baptist Convention on Oct. 27, 2020.

Preaching about “our challenges right now in this contemporary cultural moment,” Mohler urged Christians to avoid the temptation of “exchanging the truth for a lie.” He added, “Our cultural context is postmodern, crazy, relativistic, confused, therapeutic.”

It is true, but we do not need Samson to tell us people are prone to fornication.

Mohler made these declarations with a straight face just the day after writing a long essay trying to justify how he could vote for Donald Trump despite claiming in the 1990s about Bill Clinton that character mattered and declaring in 2016 that he couldn’t vote for Trump for the same reason without apologizing to Clinton. Yet, now Mohler tries ethical and linguistic gymnastics to justify his vote for Trump and refusal to apologize to Clinton.

Mohler at least was honest that Trump is “sadly deficient in many of the most crucial issues of character and moral virtue.” Mohler even added that Trump “appears to be driven by a narcissistic impulse that overrides nearly every opportunity to demonstrate moral virtues in public. He has been married to three women and has bragged about infidelity. He is divisive, arrogant, vitriolic, and sometimes cruel.”

But like Samson, who surely understood Delilah’s moral deficiencies, Mohler somehow still wants to become a political bedfellow with just such a person.

Mohler even notes that while Joe Biden is problematic, he would much rather have Biden as a neighbor than Trump.

“I would not choose Donald Trump for a neighbor. I am just not up to the tumult. I like a quiet neighborhood,” Mohler wrote. “But I am not voting for who will be my neighbor, I am voting for who will be President of the United States.”

Like the expert in religious law seeking to justify himself, Mohler basically looks past Trump’s immorality and says, “Who is my neighbor?”

But Mohler still doesn’t see his hypocrisy. Like Samson, Mohler seems convinced he can give away his ethical way of living and wake up okay.

“I still believe in the necessity of character for public office, but I have had to think more deeply about how character is evaluated in an historic context,” Mohler insisted, though I’m not sure if he’s trying to convince us or himself.

Samson and Delilah (1887) by Jose Etxenagusia.

And what is this “context”? Mohler names policies he likes. Which is just another way of saying character doesn’t actually matter.

But if we only care about character with the “other” side, then we don’t actually care about character. Or ethics. If we only care about the lies of the “other” side, we don’t actually care about lies. Or truth. We care about winning in politics. About power.

And before we know it, we are hopping out of bed with our heads shaved and the power of the Spirit gone. If we can’t see that, we’re already blind. And unlike Samson, we seem so blind we do not even realize we have been captured, thus making a recovery unlikely.

That’s why in these days when so many preachers and theologians march around like the self-deceiving emperor with his new clothes, it’s refreshing to see some conservative Christians refusing to allow partisanship to trump principles.

Take, for example, longtime Baptist preacher and theologian John Piper. Last Thursday (Oct. 22), he reaffirmed his stand that character matters and thus he will again not vote for Trump. Piper models moral consistency with his positions three decades ago, and powerfully explains why character matters when picking which neighbor will live in the White House.

“I think it is a drastic mistake to think that the deadly influences of a leader come only through his policies and not also through his person,” Piper wrote. “This is true not only because flagrant boastfulness, vulgarity, immorality, and factiousness are self-incriminating, but also because they are nation-corrupting. They move out from centers of influence to infect whole cultures. The last five years bear vivid witness to this infection at almost every level of society.”

“When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world. He points his nation to destruction. Destruction of more kinds than we can imagine,” Piper added. “It is naive to think that a man can be effectively pro-life and manifest consistently the character traits that lead to death — temporal and eternal.”

I’m not sure which judge Piper is, but at least he’s not another reckless Samson. So, ignore the blind guides who can’t even see they have cut off their ethics. It’s not funny. It’s just tragic.