Thursday, March 13, 2008


Your missionary to Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, Rob Schenck, reporting:

What a tangled web indeed! Soon-to-be former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, looks like he wove what may be an inescapable web. The hitherto rising star in New York--a Democrat super delegate pledged to Hillary Clinton--may face a bevy of charges related to his use of a high-priced prostitution ring. 

The saddest part of this story is the Governor's family. He has three teenage girls and wife who is a high-achieving mom with a Harvard law degree. How is it that they weren't enough for him to stop his risky and even dangerous behavior? Before I explore that question, let me quickly say there is no excuse for Spitzer's egregious moral failure, the injury he has inflicted on family and friends and his alleged violation of law. He said so himself and I agree with him.

Still, it's worth exploring why people in such enormous positions of power do these things. Certainly pride plays a role. The Bible says, "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18.) Spitzer had a reputation for both. Pride makes us think we're above everybody else. They may get caught but I never will; even if I did get caught, law and punishment is made for the little people, not for me. It's hubris--arrogance--the Satanic sin: "I will rise above God!" (Isaiah 14: 12-15) Well, that's one possibility, but there could be another.

Whenever there is sin like this, you will find both victimizer and victim. The victimizer knowingly perpetrates a harmful act on others. He/she deliberately inflicts wounds and exploits and uses his / her victims. The victim allows himself / herself to be wounded, exploited and used. No doubt most people who are following the Spitzer drama would tag him solely as the victimizer, but it may not be so simple. 

Based on his prior behavior in office, especially toward the good pro-life people who were trying to help women in crisis pregnancies, there's a strong victimizer in Spitzer. Still, most victimizers are both. Violent criminals, for example, are often discovered to have been victims of violence first. What could be in Spitzer's background that made him vulnerable to the kind of mutual exploitation of prostitution? It's clear the young woman we now know was his liaison got a lot out of this, including a swank Manhattan apartment. The so-called "Escort Service" got a lot of money, too. If Spitzer suffers from a psychological disorder, say a sexual addiction, surely someone suspected it. If they knew who he was, they probably figured that knowing his identity was a possible shield against their own future prosecution.

Watching all this, I was reminded of a line from the hit song Sweet Dreams by Annie Lennox:

"Everybody's looking for something.
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused."

Remember when Jesus encountered the woman caught in adultery? He in no way excused or justified her sin. He called it for what it was, but he also reminded the crowd they too were guilty. He lifted the woman out of her shame but commanded her to "sin no more." (John 8:10-12)

I have to be very careful not to gloat in my enemy's downfall, not to beat my chest in prideful satisfaction that I'm better than Eliot Spitzer. It's not even good enough to think I'm not as bad as Eliot Spitzer. The truth is, I'm just as bad as Eliot Spitzer: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

The Spitzer spectacle is so much more than prurient entertainment. It has many lessons in it. It forces us to look at ourselves and others differently. My hope and prayer is that Eliot Spitzer will be changed by this experience. When he gave his resignation speech, I could hear echoes of spiritual--or at least moral--counselors. My guess is that when the speech was being discussed among his advisors, there must have been a venerable black preacher in the room. Spitzer's comments on "atonement" and "rising up" after a fall is not the common lingo of progressive Jews. (I know because all of my father's family are progressive Jews!) It is the language often used in black pulpits. (I know this because I spend a lot of time in black churches.)  There was probably a rabbi in the room, too. The outline of redemption put forth by Spitzer was too perfect to have been authored by such an imperfect soul.

If my speculations are right, then there's hope for Spitzer as there is hope for all of us. He should pay his debt to society, just as so many of his prosecutorial subjects had to pay their debts. He should also find redemption, though, just as all of us can through the merits of the one who suffered, yet Himself knew no sin.

We'll keep mining this for more in the days ahead.

Rev. Rob Schenck
Faith and Action
109 2nd St, NE
Washington, DC 20002

No comments: