Former Republican majority leader Tom Delay has announced his resignation from Congress later this year. The spin is that he is the victim of declining poll numbers in his reelection campaign caused by the distortions of his political opponents. The reality is that he is the victim of his own hubris and excess. Mr. DeLay is the subject of a state criminal prosecution in Texas involving money laundering and illegal contributions, and a possible Federal criminal investigation involving illegal bribes and gifts. Two DeLay aides have already pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and corruption. Former super-lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, who DeLay once described as one of his closest friends, has pled guilty to a variety of charges involving bribery and corruption, and is reportedly singing like a bird.
Mr. DeLay unquestionably feels his time will be better spent covering his flanks rather than ramrodding legislation for the conservative cause. Without a doubt Delay has been a champion of a number of causes near and dear to social conservatives. He has been a staunch champion of the sanctity of life and an opponent of the radical homosexual agenda. At the same time, however, he has been a fervent advocate of gambling interests, affirmative action for corporate wrongdoers, and a reduction in accountability for errant legislators who violate the congressional ethics rules. His excesses in converting power into perks have made him the poster-boy for the Democrat’s charges that Republicans are mired in a "culture of corruption." (Of course they do not mention Robert Torricelli’s illegal fundraising, Al Gore’s financial soiree with Buddhist monks, or Bill Clinton’s sale of the Lincoln bedroom).
What is most troubling to us, at the Center for a Just Society, has been the willingness of far too many Christian conservatives to cast a deaf ear and a blind eye toward DeLay’s misdeeds. In the midst of ethical scandals swirling around DeLay, Christian conservatives closed ranks and rallied around him. (World Magazine and Baptist Press have been notable exceptions). DeLay was featured prominently with religious conservatives on "Justice Sunday" as a champion of Christian conservative causes. He was cast as a victim of religious profiling at a recent conference dealing with the "War on Christians." And one religious conservative declared, "If they pick a fight with Tom DeLay, they pick a fight with all of us."
DeLay is, of course, entitled to the presumption of innocence on the criminal charges he faces. But there can be no doubt that he has misused his public position for personal gain. Exotic golf outings, luxurious accommodations, extravagant meals — all were procured because of his position of power. Christian conservatives have largely remained mute in the face of these facts, yet Christians in politics are often at the foreground of calling on public officials to act with integrity and fidelity. Not so with the case of Tom DeLay. Their voices have been embarrassingly silent. In politics, however, as in law, silence is often deemed to be acquiescence.
If Christian conservative leaders are to maintain credibility in the political arena, they must not apply a double standard — one for our friends and one for our adversaries. They cannot credibly rail against the peccadilloes of Bill Clinton and the Democrats and ignore those of Tom DeLay and the Republicans. They must stand on principle and apply those principles equally across the political spectrum. When politicians affirm those principles, Christian leaders should affirm the politicians. When politicians violate those principles, Christian leaders should exhort them. In other words, Christian leaders must be willing to be "equal opportunity" critics. If they fail to do so, they risk becoming indistinguishable from the rest of the political pack.
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