Kathryn Lopez

The Bible is and always has been directed to sinners. And, save for the star of the show, preaching comes from sinners, too. Christ warned Peter in Gethsemane, "Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." In Romans, Saint Paul said: "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate." Men (and women) believing one thing and falling short has a long history.

In an editorial, the Washington Post decreed, "Mr. Ensign's marital infidelity is a matter between him and his wife. Mr. Ensign's hypocrisy ... is a matter of legitimately broader interest." Marital infidelity isn't a wholly irrelevant issue when it comes to public service. It does speak to character. It's not an illegitimate question for a constituent to wonder what a politician's oath of office means to him once he's broken his marriage vows. But hypocrisy isn't what the Post and so many others say it is.

"We modern men and women hate hypocrisy, but we have a mistaken idea of what this means." The Rev. Thomas D. Williams, author of "Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience" (Hachette, 2009) recently said. "Some say that a hypocrite doesn't practice what he preaches, but this isn't hypocrisy. None of us perfectly practices what he preaches. We all fall short. The solution of lowering our moral bar to match our imperfect behavior doesn't make us less hypocritical; it just makes us more mediocre. Keeping the bar high and maintaining our moral ideals helps us to strive for moral greatness rather than settling for moral poverty."

I confess that my first instinct was certainly not to praise Ensign upon learning of his infidelity. But in our world of flawed men and women, surely there should be a little room for empathy on an op-ed page. John Ensign did a shameful thing. He is ashamed of it. I'm sure he won't be perfect from here on in, but his actions in the wake of his fall make a statement about personal responsibility -- to family, to a public oath, to truth. And in this, he is not setting a poor example.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.
 


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