Friday, February 07, 2014


I’ve been wondering, lately, about a few possibly related things:

President Obama, in his most recent State of the Union address, vowed to govern by executive order so long as Congress can make no real progress.

The Tea Party, in their recent years of political favor, have gotten elected to Congress in order to govern the country and then promptly refused to…govern the country.

Virginia’s new Attorney General Mark Herring, a week after vowing to defend the state’s constitution, announced that in an ongoing challenge to Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, he would not…defend the state’s constitution.

Several ministers of several denominations have been brought up on charges/taken to trial/subjected to ethics hearings due to their performing wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, generally a direct violation of their ordination vows.

The connective thread, it seems to me, lies in the public response to each of these blatant declarations of refusal to carry out the duties of one’s office or oath. In each of these cases (the presidential power of governance by executive order may be the most tentative), an elected or called official has explicitly refused to abide by or fulfill a covenanted requirement that the people of the state or the people of the church entrusted to him (and, yes, they are all men so far).

And in each of these cases, supporters of that official have gleefully celebrated the blatant refusal of oath and covenant:

Obama can’t get stuff done by cooperating with Congress? Heck yes, he ought to go rogue and expand the powers of his office as far as they’ll go as long as he’s there!

Tea Party congress people disagree with the options offered to them in funding the federal budget? By all means, throw a tantrum and refuse to participate!

Our Attorney General doesn’t agree with the constitutional amendment we voted to approve by 57% of a popular vote? Well, heck, then he doesn’t need to defend it!

Your pastor has convictions that go against his denomination’s polity? Then let him act as he sees fit, and DARE anyone to hold him accountable!

That’s a little flippant. Probably most people aren’t thinking in such baldly partisan terms. But there’s a common reaction to these leaders going rogue: if they agree with me, then give them free reign!

This is troublesome. I’m still sorting out all the ways in which it is so. But the complete void of accountability for elected or called leaders is disturbing. Those we entrust with leading us need us to hold them accountable to those duties that they have vowed to fulfill.

I’m not the President or the Attorney General or a member of Congress. But I am an ordained minister. And I’d perform my gay son’s wedding in an instant. But I would also completely expect that violation of my ordination vow to “live in harmony with the principles, ordinances and doctrines of the Church of the Brethren, being at all times subject to its discipline and governance” would incur the necessary and appropriate accountability. In other words, I’d be ready and willing to lose my ordination for violating those vows.

There’s something amiss when we celebrate our leaders’ blatant refusal to fulfill the duties of their oaths and offices. If we’re fine with an Attorney General who refuses to defend the constitution just because we ourselves disagree with the constitution, or we celebrate a pastor who violates the trust of the Church that called him just because we agree with him, what will happen when our leaders start doing things outside their oaths that we DON’T agree with?

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