Context and the Culture of Corruption
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, [Rome] was a squalid city, with narrow, insanitary streets, rat-infested medieval houses, and moldering ruins. Although it was the seat of the papacy, its moral vices were notoroious. The situation was summed up in a famous story, much quoted. A Jew was brought by a Christian to Rome. After a year, the Jew became a Christian. Asked by the astonished citizens why, he replied that if God permitted the things to go on that he had seen, then Christianity must be the true faith. [Menen, Aubrey, Art & Money: An Irreverent History, 1980, McGrawHill, p. 115]
Indeed, context can define "corruption" and our response to it. I came to recall this story when thinking that at least a few of the "scandals" that have broke would not truly be all that scandalous in another time or place. By that I mean that because our current public arena has been so dominated by the moralizing rhetoric of the social conservatives who have direct influence at the White House, the context, like that of the seat of the papacy, contributes to the collective shock at such revelations that might not be there, were the ambient political rhetoric less holier-than-thou.
Take the example of Ted Haggard, the very powerful, virulently anti-gay Evangelical leader who quit his post because an male escort has asserted that he's had a three-year relationship with the Reverend and that their party favors had included methamphetamine (don't miss this wonderful bit on Tyler's blog about the homoerotic art in Ted's church). The Reverend insists he's not gay and that he's been faithful to his wife, and that he's stepping down only until this is all cleared up, but my gaydar goes off the charts when watching this video of him lecturing his audience about why he knows gay sex is wrong (scroll down a bit). Not that my gaydar should be entered into evidence in a court of law, mind you, I'm just saying....
But if the church-led anti-gay rhetoric were not at a fever pitch in this country, then, to me at least, this would essentially be a story about a closeted homosexual minister who cheated on his wife and had to get really high to overcome the guilt of doing so. In that context, I might actually feel a bit sorry for him (and his wife, of course). In the current climate, however, this represents a hypocrisy of epic proportions, and it's the blatant duplicity that is so hard to stomach, not just the cheating (hey, the gay part of it is just fine by me). Had the political atmosphere been less toxic (i.e., had the Fundagelicals not constantly beat the anti-gay drum over the past decade), then Ted's congregation might be more willing to see this in a less limited, more open-minded context, as well. A more human context.
The ultimate irony for me here is just how unChristian the context has become now that the Religious right has ascended, how unforgiving. Having cast his fair share of stones, Reverend Ted can hardly insist he be spared by all but the totally sinless, should this story turn out to be true. He's personally responsible for creating the mindset that will condemn him, without mercy, I suspect. Again, I almost feel sorry for him.
Unbelievable Update: OK, so via Sullivan we can conclude that should you be an Evangelical minister accused of having 1) hired and had sex with a male prostitute and 2) bought crystal meth, and evidence indicates that you most likely did one or other other, you admit to having bought the illegal susbstance:
Haggard told reporters that he bought the methamphetamine for himself. He says, "I was tempted, but I never used it." Haggard told reporters he bought the meth because he was curious - but that he then threw it away.
He also says he never had sex with Jones. He says he received a massage from him after being referred to him by a Denver hotel.
"Twisted" doesn't begin to cover it.