“He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7
There has been much angst and agonizing in the last week about the resignation of former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown. I submit his is a cautionary tale for all of us.
So many people want to rush to judgment and condemnation. “How could he be so dumb?” “Why would he do something so crazy?” I’ve heard all of this in my conversations with a range of people. Black folks in particular have expressed embarrassment and exasperation.
Like a fan whose team loses another game or a parent whose kids keep getting into trouble, we keep watching as our elected leaders in the region take a fall. Harry Thomas Jr., Jack Johnson, Leslie Johnson and now Kwame Brown are four elected officials in D.C. and Prince George’s County who have left office in disgrace and now are doing or facing jail time.
“What is it about D.C. that would make him think he could get away with it?” This was the question I heard that caused me to pause. Well, it’s the same thing that made former House majority leader Tom DeLay think he could get away with his crime of money laundering. It was the same thing that made former New York governor Eliot Spitzer have to resign because of his dalliances with high-priced prostitutes. The same thing that made Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich think they could get away with their indiscretions. The same thing that made Bernie Madoff rip off $65 billion and Martha Stewart end up doing time for federal conspiracy and obstruction charges.
On a fundamental level the thing that made Kwame Brown do what he did is the same thing that makes any of us do the wrong we do — our human fallibility. All of us have the capacity to do wrong and I dare say all of us have done wrong. Some of the wrong we’ve done may have been illegal, some of it simply immoral, but all of us have fallen short of the pure standard. I’ve heard several people say in the last week “Doesn’t everyone fudge the numbers on their mortgage applications?!?” Well, no, everyone doesn’t. But that statement speaks to the fact that all of us wade in the murky moral waters at times in our lives.
I may be pure on the numbers I put on my forms, but Lord knows I’ve done wrong in my life. And while my wrong may not have been illegal, on a fundamental level wrong is wrong. Some wrong is a violation of the public trust, some wrong harms many people, some wrong may never get noticed. If we keep it real, we don’t all “do right” and follow all of the rules of life. We pick and choose.
But let us ask ourselves: What is it about our own actions, or lack of actions, what is it about our culture and our collective consciousness that allows infidelity, stealing, killing, lying, hypocrisy and cheating to go on so rampantly from bedrooms to boardrooms, from Wall Street to the White House, from street corners to the pulpit every day? Christians, Jews, Muslims, blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, rich, poor, Democrats, Republicans and independents. All of us, in some way, by our bad actions, or conversely, by our passiveness in the face of bad actions around us, contribute to the imperfections we see and the falls from grace that occur regularly. If I steal or launder money, I’m guilty. If I stand by idly and do nothing while someone is being killed in the business next door to my store, I’m complicit. A community, a nation and a world end up with so much wrong being done not just because of the actions of the perpetrators but by the inaction of those on the sidelines.
Jesus ended up not condemning the woman. He told her “go, and sin no more.” In our society, folks who commit crimes must be held to account for the wrong they’ve done. That said, let us take up the challenge to “sin no more” in all aspects of our lives and see if that doesn’t contribute to an atmosphere of more righteous and just actions by we the people and the folks we elect to lead us. If we don’t take heed, the “they” will become “we” when we don’t see “us” in “them.”
David Bowers is a native Washingtonian and ordained minister that works in the affordable housing industry.
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