Immoral Equivalence?

Jesus taught that lust is as bad as adultery. Covetousness is as bad as theft. Anger is as bad as murder. His was an “argumentum ad absurdum” against anybody claiming to be morally pure, which was a real social problem in Israel in his time. The wealthy, leisured Pharisees used countless fussy purity codes to bludgeon into submission the mass of common people who could not afford the time and money to comply.

Jesus’ message has been taken out of that context by modern fundamentalists to suggest that each of us is a hopeless sinner, condemned to eternal hellfire for even the least dereliction of thought or deed, and that only by reciting certain magic words can a person be saved from doom. The remedy for sins of any size is the one-sized “sinner’s prayer”.

From acceptance of this dogma it is a short hop to conclude that because both Clinton and Trump have lied, they are equal in their sinfulness: “They’re both lying liars, so phooey on them – I’m not voting for either!”

Now is the time for an alternative theology.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” said St Paul in Romans 3:23. Existentially, humility and repentance are called from us all. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should manifest the same meekness and desire for rectitude before God and their fellow citizens. But the enormous difference in moral turpitude between them still matters a great deal.

On occasion, Hillary Clinton has lied, or at least obfuscated the truth. She’s certainly swept embarrassing facts under the rug, as evidenced by the WikiLeaks revelations. She’s made mistakes and shown true contrition for them. But the volume and nature of Trump’s lies is unprecedented. He doesn’t sweep anything under the rug: he blatantly lies, then lies about his lies, then doubles and triples down with further denials. His rare apologies lack any sense of contrition. His initial support for the Iraq war is well-documented, but he barks denial when confronted with this fact. His promotion of the outrageous and manifestly racist “birther” idea that our President wasn’t born in the US continued well into his campaign. His political platform has little factual basis. Lies issue forth from him so thick and fast that neither his supporters nor his detractors can keep track of them, and this dampens the public outrage that ought to result. He lies spectacularly, and then turns around to call Clinton “lyin’ Hillary”, mesmerizing the public into believing that he’s no worse a liar than she.

But he’s a worse liar, and a worse sinner, by far. For him, lying and cheating is standard business practice. It’s fundamental to the way he would govern the country. Clinton’s lies matter, and she’s been called out for them, appropriately. But lies are not the foundation of her political platform nor will they be the basis of her administration. She argues her platform positions with verifiable details. She’s a wonk, a fact-junkie, almost to a fault.

All have fallen short of the glory of God. But some have fallen a lot shorter than others, and that makes a real difference when we are choosing our leaders. When it comes to the exercise of humility, that difference does not matter: every sinner ought to be as contrite as the next. But when it comes to deciding who is going to lead the most powerful nation on earth, it’s a huge mistake to presume an immoral equivalence between the candidates. Especially this time.

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