High Priests, Politicians and Presidents – Bound by the Law to Serve the People

At the outset, I would like to make a shout out to our Commander in Chief for his recent Executive Order weakening the wall separating church and state.  I would prefer That wall to remain high and strong BUT as long as it’s wobbly, I suppose I should be grateful that the President wants to “give our churches back their voices.”  So I feel I must say two things – Thank You, but No Thank You, and, in the meantime, Brace Yourself.  You will not always win when you invite the voice of morality to weigh in …

So – what does the “voice of the church” have to say about the events of the moment and their intersection with scripture? This week in Parashat Emor the book of Leviticus turned to some of the special rules that apply only to the ancient priests, a caste of Israelites who lead the ritual life of their people.  They must maintain a level of ritual purity far stricter than that of the ordinary citizen. This impacts who they can marry and who they can mourn and other dimensions of life.  As is the case now, there are slightly different expectations of our leaders, usually higher expectations.  Usually…

On the other hand, Torah makes it clear that even if we hold leaders to different standards in some ways, no one is above the law.  Even the High Priest.  He may have the power to atone for the sins of the whole people.  He may have the privilege of access to the Holy of Holies, where no other person may enter.  He may get a lifetime supply of animal sacrifice barbecue in return. But he still has to obey the 10 commandments (613 actually) and he is still held accountable for his sins.  In fact, he is not allowed to exercise his power and privilege to atone for others until he has atoned for himself (Lev. 16:11).

This basic idea – that even the most powerful leader must follow the law, that even the most powerful leader should be held accountable for his mistakes, is one which seems to have some people confused today.

This week we saw it as Kellyanne Conway brazenly defended Trump’s latest power grab – who are we to question!?  He has the authority.  It’s his prerogative.  Yes, he has the authority, but even Presidential authority does not endow one with immunity from the law – civil, criminal, and moral law — which even a President must not break.

Kellyanne Conway was right about one thing.  The President does have the authority and power to fire the head of the FBI – even while that person is leading an investigation which brushes closer and closer to the President and his inner circle.  (Anyone who can remember Watergate knows that Presidents can fire investigators and special prosecutors.)

The question is not whether the President holds the power, the question is whether he is using that power to interfere with the checks and balances which are meant to hold him accountable to the law.

If we let this breach go unchallenged, we risk losing the separation of powers which is the deep structure protecting our Democracy. As David Frum writes in The Atlantic, “liberty must be defended … with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them.” (“How to Build an Autocracy”, The Atlantic, David Frum.)

The institutions which make our Democracy possible are under attack.

Our ‘High Priest’ has forgotten (if ever he knew) that he’s there to serve God and the people, rather than his own selfish ends.

At times like these I am glad to be a person of faith.  Faith in the triumph of Truth.

As Proverbs 12:19 teaches, “Truthful speech abides forever, a lying tongue but for a moment.”

And there is Truth.  By the way. Objective, fact-based, not-opinion, not-“alternative” Truth.  A reality so real that it’s realer than reality TV.  The kind of Truth that doesn’t go away or disappear when it’s inconvenient or even downright damning.

If leaders choose denial, deception, and manipulation in order to seize and stay in power, one day they will pay.  One day they will no longer be able to fool the masses.  One day this Democracy will no longer allow the party in power to draw district lines in their own favor or stack the deck with corrupt local judges.  One day we will stop the flow of obscene amounts of tainted money into vitriolic political attack ads.  One day the people will learn how to avoid being sucked in by the quicksands of lies and misinformation on the internet.

On that day the people will awaken and see that they were duped by the schemes of a powerful meddling international criminal who figured out how to manipulate free countries through lies and deception, skillfully placed and timed, consumed by the open, uncritical minds of under-educated, over-stimulated American citizens. And when we awaken, we will reinvigorate this Democracy, keep our land free, and reclaim the content of our own minds.

When that day comes, any politician and any party who has chosen to support a regime ready to destroy the foundations of American freedom will lose the future.  If ever they had a chance to be a part of it.

Our congressional leaders must do the right thing now if they ever hope to be worthy of public trust and respect down the road.  Appoint and fund an independent investigation to follow the truth wherever it leads, without fear of retaliation.  Defend the institutions of our free country now — for the love of the United States of America.  Remind the High Priest that he is accountable to a higher power, and bound by the laws of the land.