Being a rabbi doesn’t give you moral authority. There are too many rabbis who have been indicted and convicted of horrendous crimes. Remember the Cherry Hill Rabbi who took out a contract to kill his wife of 29 years? He’s still serving a much-deserved life sentence in prison.
And it’s not one religion over the other, as there are no end to the news stories regarding Catholic priests abusing young children, particularly young boys. If you haven’t yet, check the movie Spotlight and the amazing job the Boston Globe reporters did uncovering the cover ups by the Archdiocese of Boston.
Being a reporter doesn’t give you moral authority. For all the great reporters at the Boston Globe on the Spotlight team, or the Washington Post on the Watergate team, there still was Jason Blair and Judith Miller of the New York Times and Brian Williams of NBC.
Being a head of state doesn’t give you moral authority. There’s always Hitler, and Sadaan Husein and Lenin and Stalin and the list goes on and on. And so our newest U.S. leader Donny J, shouldn’t be surprised when he isn’t given a free pass on remaining consistent or clearly differentiating between good and evil on any particular day of the week.
Being a parent doesn’t give you moral authority. There are too many abusive parents both known to the Divisions of Youth and Family Services around the country as well as parents that weren’t abusive but just led their children down a path of uneducated misconceptions. Check out the story of Derek Black, son of one of the first families of the current white nationalist/supremacist movement. What’s compelling is the unwavering moral righteousness of his nuclear family, and what it took for his own eyes to open to a larger truth.
What shifted Derek Black?
- To some degree it was education. His transformation started when he went away to college and became exposed to new ideas.
- To some degree, it was peer pressure, wanting to fit in with fellow classmates and hearing their differing views and opinions.
- And to some degree, it was one anonymous Orthodox Jew — not a rabbi, not an Israeli Prime Minister, not a journalist — who just kept inviting Derek to his home for shabbat dinners and didn’t try to change his mind on anything, but did work at exposing him to his own Jewish family and practices. It is a wonderful example of small steps having a big impact and how shifts can start at the most local level — someone’s home.
The moral of the story is that moral authority starts at home. Power corrupts and as British Lord Acton stated: “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” It is the reason the U.S. is based on not having a Monarchy, and keeping the presidency in check with two other formal branches of government and one informal protected by the First Amendment — the fourth estate aka the media.
This weekend marks the 54th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” Dr. King was a flawed human being as we all are, but his moral authority endures. There will a march in Washington led by mostly religious leaders, but open to the public. It is a good time to reflect on moral authority and how it is earned, sought, and maintained and how each of us can practice being better moralists starting in our own homes.
Potential Little Hinge Action Steps:
- Read the full transcript of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” It was a 17 minute speech and, at most, a 10 minute read.
- Listen to The Daily Podcast or read the full transcript of Michael Barbaro’s interview with Derek Black.
- Discuss the morality of political policies at the dinner table. It can be about white supremacy, anti-semitism, or any social justice issue including the death penalty or public education. Every issue has a moral question attached to it.
- Learn about the Ethical Culture Society and find if there’s a chapter near you. Here’s the link to the one in Philadelphia and the one in Bergen County, NJ.