Who or what are the people we look to for moral authority or credibility? Clergy, counselors, (grand)parents, perhaps the court system? But what happens when they do things that are regrettable, and let expectations down? It is acknowledged that people may not remember the thousand things you did right but will remember the one thing you did wrong.
Should not a person’s life and reputation be weighed in the balance of that life? Measured against all the right and wrongs? This isn’t about God’s forgiveness based on someone’s repentance and confession, but about getting and maintaining moral credibility after a failure in the view of others.
Does this mean that people who don’t live up to standards all the time should have whatever truth their espousing disregarded? Or stripped of their authority? It is well-documented about many of God’s people having sins, failings, problems, and family drama, yet God continued to love and work on them.
Let’s be honest: All parents will fail their children in some way, and all professionals will make mistakes, and all leaders will not lead perfectly. Yet just because someone has an issue doesn’t mean they aren’t speaking the truth. Truth is truth no matter who utters it. Only God is perfect so why are we so taken aback when his people have issues? This also isn’t about egregious abuses of power or criminal activity.
Obviously, there are times when unlawful behavior needs to be prosecuted and people need to be removed from their positions for unconscionable violations of trust. The church and society must have standards for leaders and those of influence commensurate with that position. 1 Tim 3:4,5,12 lays out some qualifications such as being the husband of one wife.
What about civic leaders, politicians, managers, lawyers, doctors, judges? It seems reasonable to say that the standards for a strip bar owner is not as high as a pastor/priest. Why? Because they are moral arbitrators helping others determine right from wrong absolutes. Therefore, anyone speaking about moral claims is expected to have moral credibility themselves.
When moral expectations are unrealized, then credibility is affected, and your effectiveness is hindered or handicapped. The next step downward is that relationships and associations are broken. How many public figures have had their endorsement contracts terminated for “bad behavior” in the public eye? Their sponsors canceling them for real or imagined offenses.
Credibility is influence. Credibility is image. What others think or know about you. You have the ear of others. Think Subject Matter Experts (SME). Maybe you’re not quite an expert but others trust your opinion based on your standing. Especially as it concerns the intangible side of life.
How to lose moral credibility: When reporters don’t report the whole story because they have a political agenda, when educators indoctrinate instead of presenting critical thinking skills, when law enforcement abuses the citizenry or railroads convictions. When legislators flip-flop positions by political winds, when pastors compromise the word of God for fear, when parents sacrifice their children’s upbringing because of selfishness.
How can parents lead their children when they have no moral credibility of their own? Can a parent teach their child to be honest if they lie? Teach a work ethic if they’re lazy? Teach faithfulness if they break trust? Teach sacrifice and love if they never spend time with their children? Or instill family commitment if all they do is bad mouth every relative?
Some thoughts on moral credibility: Psalm 101:3 flatly states that we should not look on evil things intentionally. Exod 20 commands us to not commit adultery, honor parents, avoid coveting and lying. Phillip 1:27B: Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the good news about Christ. And if we do get into trouble, come clean. 1 John 1:9, admit and confess to God.
Moral credibility is a trust issue. For leading and teaming, not necessarily intellectual competence about how to do something. However, if someone falls, do we kick them when they are now vulnerable, or do we seek their spiritual restoration? The penalty should reflect the offense. To degree and regularity.
Christ is all the moral authority that anyone needs. His consistency and example shine like a light in the darkness. Matt 7:12, The Golden Rule.