People with Great Responsibility Must be Worthy

When a person is entrusted with a position or task of great responsibility, we want to be assured that she or he is worthy. When lawyers are admitted to the bar in the state where they intend to practice it is not only because they passed the bar exam. It is assumed by their colleagues that they have the character and ability to respect the law and will represent future clients with integrity. Physicians not only must complete their extensive educational requirements; they must be judged to be faithful to the Hippocratic Oath that is the ethical standard of their calling.

Our teachers and professors have likewise received basic higher education and deeper study in the areas of their expertise. Beyond their academic degrees they are expected to honor their calling by teaching with integrity and respect for their students. We have similar expectations for religious clergy who serve our churches, synagogues and mosques. Indeed, one historic ordination liturgy in the Christian tradition concludes with the assembled congregation saying in unison, “She/He is worthy.”

Who Do We Trust?

One of the painfully disturbing issues in our culture now is the question of who is trustworthy.  The President repeatedly charges that the mainstream media produces “fake news.” The media, in turn, catalogues the thousands of times that the President tells and repeats falsehoods. The populace has been forced to decide who can be trusted, and in regard to the nation’s domestic and foreign policies, that is a very crucial question. In a pandemic, when lives are at risk, we need trustworthy leadership and trustworthy news.

The fact that half or more of the American people find the President untrustworthy is a disaster for everyone. It makes the President defensive and his characteristic defense is offense.  So, he scorns, belittles and attacks those whom he perceives as enemies. The press, which in principle is committed to non-partisan, fact-based reporting, understandably resents the attacks, and its ire shows. The President’s supporters take up the cry of “fake news” and malign and threaten members of the media whose views they scorn, while the President’s detractors are determined to exact retribution.

Opinion leaders on both sides of this divide decry the devastating results of this seemingly intractable division in our country. Some seek a middle ground and plead for unity, while others demand dominance, on one hand, or vengeance on the other. The current situation is untenable.

What Makes a Person Trustworthy?

So, what makes a person trustworthy? The standards of our medical, legal, educational and ministerial professions reveal the answers to that critical question. We expect persons who attain important positions of responsibility to have a deep and broad knowledge of the systems and tasks in their charge. We expect them to interact with others in those systems with respect for their particular responsibilities, with integrity and honesty, and with respect for them as persons. We expect them to represent to the public the best and most honorable values of their organization, institution or profession. We further expect to hold them accountable for their decisions and actions, and there are structures of accountability in each profession to insure such appropriate behavior. Indeed, merchants, artisans, social workers and businesspersons are held to similar and equivalent standards.

America needs a President who is trustworthy and accountable. Unity will be elusive until that is the case.

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