On the surface Harvey Weinstein and Tim Murphy have nothing in common. Weinstein is a Hollywood mogul and an avid supporter of various liberal causes, such as Planned Parenthood. Murphy is a Republican Congressman and a staunch proponent of the pro-life movement. But last week both men were exposed as frauds. On October 5 The New York Times published a scathing expose of Weinstein and his long history of sexual harassment. The same day, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that Murphy intended to resign as a result of the fallout from the news that Murphy was having an affair and urged his pregnant mistress to get an abortion.
While Wenstein’s gross conduct was news to the general public, it was well known to those inside the Hollywood bubble. And while it is unclear to what extent Murphy’s affair was known, there is evidence that other sorts of workplace abuse and misconduct were widely known in GOP Congressional circles. So why weren’t these men exposed as charlatans before now?
Undoubtedly a major factor in both cases was fear. In their little worlds, Weinstein and Murphy wielded tremendous power, and anyone who challenged them could face severe reprisals. It takes enormous courage to stand up for what you think is right when it might cost you your job. And given the stakes of the entertainment industry and the political enterprise, that kind of courage is exceedingly rare. In cultures where there is no mechanism for genuine accountability of those in power, the threat of intimidation is nearly overwhelming
But another factor at play here is tribalism. What I mean by tribalism is the commitment to support those who you think are on the same team or part of the same tribe, regardless of principle. Many liberals in the entertainment industry who eagerly pounce on President Trump’s (many) missteps have been strangely silent about Weinstein. Similarly, while various Republicans privately stated that Murphy should resign, no one publicly urged that he do so that I am aware of.
This tribal mentality is nothing new. Twenty years ago one female reporter responded to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal by professing her willingness to pleasure President Clinto so long as kept abortion legal. Nor is this mentality limited to politics and entertainment. It enabled the nightmarish scandal of child molestation by Catholic priests.
But it does seem to me that tribalism is gaining intensity. Fewer and fewer Americans have close friends who share different political beliefs. This makes it incredibly easy to demonize those with whom we disagree. Many of us are eager to think the worst about those in the other “tribe,” which explains why so many fake stories and Facebook memes gain traction.
The American ideal is rooted in the primacy of principle over personality, in the rule of law over the rule of man. But when we fail to hold people accountable to principles, we betray the American ideal and turn the privileged few into petty tyrants. So it comes as no great surprise when moguls, politicians, and clergy abuse their power like tyrants.
It is especially important for Christians not to be drawn into this tribal mentality. Jesus calls us to be salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We must not dilute the salt and dim the light of our influence by sacrificing our principles in indiscriminate support of personalities that appear to be “on our team” on certain issues but whose conduct and practice fall far short of the teaching of Christ. That there are people who talk a big game but do not practice what they preach is hardly a surprise to the followers of Christ, who warned his disciples to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).
When any politician – regardless of party – does something I judge to be right, I should be willing to say so. And when any politician – regardless of party – does something I believe to be wrong, I should be willing to say so. But I cannot ignore or excuse what is wrong simply because a politician is on “my side,” or merely because he happens to be really nasty to the people who disagree with me.
And it is especially important for Christians to hold preachers, elders, and other leaders accountable for their actions. Failure to do so not only compromises the testimony we present to the world, but it also destroys the lives of those victimized by repeat offenders. The apostle Paul told Timothy-
Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Timothy 5:19-21)
“Keep these rules…doing nothing from partiality.” That is principle over personality.
I am not optimistic about where our nation is headed. I think the prospects for the maintenance of civil society are very dim. But I am most anxious about the cause of Christ becoming hopelessly entangled in the quagmire of tribalism. Christians are called to be transformed people, not conformed to the world’s way of thinking (Romans 12:1-2). We must resist the allure of the world to sacrifice integrity on the altar of unprincipled partisanship.