It feels as if we live in an age of scams. And, recently, a scam has visited itself upon Congress in the form of Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. His stay in Congress should be brief.
Both Democrats and Republicans are calling for the new representative from New York’s third district to step down after an investigation found whole sections of his résumé and campaign platform were fabricated. He touted himself as a graduate of Baruch College, a former employee of Citigroup and a person of Jewish descent.
He has had to walk back all these claims after they were revealed to be lies.
Why should a Baptist care about Santos?
Yet, Santos has rebuffed calls to resign.
Why should a Baptist care about this? Well, the convention of 50,000 churches with nearly 14 million members that make up the Southern Baptist Convention has spoken for five decades about the value of moral character and integrity in our nation’s leaders.
In 1973 in the wake of the Watergate scandal, we stated our hope that “Christian citizens (will) demand integrity of all politicians who serve them.”
A resolution in 1998 during the scandal of the Clinton presidency rightly decried “moral and legal misconduct” by leaders and pointed out “tolerance of serious wrongs by leaders sears the conscience of culture.”
In 2017, the Southern Baptist Convention called on officials in public office to conduct themselves “according to the moral standards set forth by God's revealed truth.”
In all of these messages, responsible, honest and decent service is seen as vital to our nation’s well-being.
And on all these counts, Santos fails to meet the standard of upright character that is needed in public officials.
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Without a doubt, our political landscape features characters who cravenly seek attention by stating the most outrageous thing possible. Denying them the publicity they desperately want is one way to counteract the damage they do to our institutions.
But Santos’ case is different. Failing to speak against his blatant lies will further the erosion of faith in our government organizations and weaken an institution of public trust.
It is abundantly clear that Santos should not be in Congress. If shame were still operative in the modern politics of America, he would step down on his own accord.
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If he refuses to do so, the U.S. House of Representatives has every right to remove him (his Republican colleagues from the New York delegation said Santos has lost the ability to represent the people of the third district). Drawing a line with Santos’ case would be a small, but appropriate, step toward a recovery of moral standards in Congress.
Political system failed voters
Taking action here also would rectify an issue that should have been caught and acted upon during the campaign. The falsities of Santos' background should have first been caught by the Republican Party he filed to run with and by the Democratic Party he ran against.
The fact that both parties failed to identify or use such glaring errors in his record reveals that they have strayed from the traditional role of vetting candidates. A typical part of the process of nomination is conducting substantial background research. Functioning political parties should have either actively worked to dissuade him from running or informed voters during the campaign. Yet it took journalists to reveal what neither party could.
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In the face of such missteps, both individual and systemic, Americans must ask from where this rot originates. And the answer is from a wider culture that values beating opponents at all costs more than character.
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Along with the political arena, this issue is also surfacing in institutions of business, culture and religion. Sacrificing traits like decency, integrity and honesty all for the sake of making a buck or placating a base ultimately leads down a path of destruction.
For Christians, who say we believe that our internal and external lives should be consistent, guided by enduring and eternal truths, shining a light on this culture of scam should be a natural response. Failing to do so causes harm to our institutions, our churches and our souls.
Southern Baptist churches have a statement of faith that recognizes man is “inclined toward sin.” As a result, frauds and schemes will be with us until the rupture created by us in the garden is healed by the One who will make all things new.
Until that day comes, just as we do not accept scam calls on our phone, we should not tolerate scam congressmen in our nation’s legislative branch.
F. Brent Leatherwood serves as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Santos' blatant lies further erode public's trust in government