Adam Graham
The danger of doing good things
By Adam Graham
May 19, 2010

The fall of Rep. Mark Souder (R-In.) will certainly raise the hackles of many on the left. "There goes another 'family values' guy. *snicker*" The Congressman is resigning effective Friday after admitting to an affair.

Each time, it comes out that a religious conservative has fallen into some sort of moral failing, this is cited as proof that social conservative ideas are wrong. Yes, this is a logical fallacy, but that's not my point today.

I'd argue that Mark Souder's behavior isn't unique. I knew of a great minister who stood up and talked of justice and equality, and wrapped himself in the Bible, yet he secretly had extramarital affairs. That hypocritical minister? We have a holiday for him. His name is Martin Luther King, Jr.

What do we make of politicians like Mark Sanford or John Edwards who profess to be paragons of virtue, but then cheat on their wife in such tawdry matter? It's easy to try and score political points off of these moral failings or to simply dismiss them as nothing but slimeballs. I think to do so misses a warning for those in politics.

You think about John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Mark Souder, or MLK and one thing comes to mind. All we're crusaders. You had John Edwards and his "Two Americas" rhetoric and staring down the nose of people that shopped at Wal-mart, you had Mark Sanford as the crusader against pork in his home state and the ruination of our nation from foreign creditors, and of course you had MLK as a crusader for civil rights and Souder as a solid pro-family vote in Congress.

The pattern I see is not that all of them were standing for evil and selfishness, but they were standing for a version of moral rightness. And perhaps, that's where the peril lies. As John Bunyan once declared, "There's enough sin in his best prayer to damn the whole world."

The danger we face when we stand up for something that we believe to be right is that we can become self-righteous, and our belief that we're morally just because of the causes we're fighting for can lead us to overlook and excuse moral blind spots and use the good cause we're standing for as an excuse. "Hey, I may cheat on my wife, but I'm fighting for civil rights." Or "Hey, I'm watching hardcore porn, but I'm also fighting to save the country from bankruptcy." It's all the same thing.

I don't think its reasonable to say, "Don't stand up for things. You may become self-righteous." Where would we be if no one fought for civil rights or for the abolition of slavery because they were afraid of becoming self-righteous? Many people do stand up for what they believe without it destroying their character. I also don't think the temptation to self-righteousness is limited to "family values" issues. It can just as easily be "saving the environment," "more funding for roads," or "trans fats are evil." The problem ultimately lies in the human heart, and so does the solution.

The key is to remember is that taking a right stance doesn't make you a right person or a good one, nor does it make actions in pursuit of your agenda justifiable. I've run into plenty of conservative jerks in my day, and I think any honest liberal will have to acknowledge they've run into a few people on the left who are not great people to be around.

The key is humility and honesty about yourself. Trying to tie human failings to a political agenda simply doesn't wash.

© Adam Graham


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Adam Graham

Adam Graham was Montana State Coordinator for the Alan Keyes campaign in 2000, and in 2004 was a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Idaho State House... (more)

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