The author is a contributor to The Washington Post's local faith leader network.
It’s a Washington ritual, complete with a sung liturgy:
“What did he know?”
“When did he know it?”
(“And why does it matter?”)
Perhaps the most burning question — “What did he do after?” — has yet to be answered, but after recent revelations about Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s Jan. 10 meeting with consultant Jeanne Clark Harris, that answer seems to be forthcoming.
The lack of clear answers, though, is fueling a rally organized by two local pastors, the Revs. Graylan Hagler and Willie F. Wilson, who are calling on the denizens of the District and their representatives to avoid a rush to judgment. The rally supports the position that Gray deserves “courtesy and respect” as well as the scrutiny of a “fair and equitable process.”
On the first point, the Christian scriptures explicitly call on Christians to show courtesy and respect to the governing authority because it is established by God (Romans 13:1). On the second point, such fair and equitable processes are valuable in any modern society, particularly a nation of laws, in which the legal system is only as effective as it is trustworthy and fair. A society does well to remember these values when faced with cases of public corruption, and the pastors do well to remind us of them.
I don’t hear, however, many serious voices calling for a rush to legal judgment. Hagler and Wilson seem to be thinking not of legal due process but rather of ethical due process — the ethical duty of the mayor implicated in serious acts of corruption as well as the ethical duty of the community and community leaders ethically bound to respond to and speak honestly of what they perceive as serious failure on the part of the administration.
According to Hagler, the rationale for a moratorium on talk of Gray’s resignation is that all the resignation talk “puts the city in a place of stress.” Of course, the same rationale can be recruited for the cause of the mayor’s opponents. After all, the mayor presided over a political campaign that seems to have been corrupted to an alarming degree. Putting aside his fundamental responsibility as the head of such a campaign, the assertion that he was not aware of the corruption until the Jan. 10 meeting with Harris is probably more hurt than help to his side. That assertion portrays him as an out-of-touch leader carried by corrupt handlers to a moot victory. And that is putting it in the best light.
The legal case will come, each side will make its case, and a verdict will be handed down (and, yes, it will be controversial), but right now the Gray drama is being hashed out in ethical and political spheres. What is perhaps most frustrating to those watching the drama unfold is how the direction of the play really rests on one character, the mayor himself. In order to move forward, both personally and for the sake of the city, Gray must show competence in an area that has been recently called into serious question. He must lead.
That’s the irony of the Washington cover-up. It happens in the ritualized moment before laws and policemen and fines and jail time get involved. It’s the moment when one person can take the hard path for the sake of preserving a sense of justice, for the sake of the city.
My hope is that Mayor Gray will show the city what it truly means to lead.
Dr. Scott Redd is the president of and assistant professor of Old Testament at the Washington, D.C., campus of the Reformed Theological Seminary .