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26 October 2012

Feet of Clay

Feet of Clay

Down they come – politician, sportsman, celebrity – modern icons.

When Andrew Mitchell was reshuffled in September from the Department of International Development to become government Chief Whip, Christian Aid's director Loretta Minghella commented: "(He) has made a huge impact during his time at DFID...he has defended the aid budget with passion. His determination and courage have helped protect the Government's commitment to…overseas aid." He did well, it seems agreed, in the job. Then last Friday, following an intemperate outburst to the police in Downing Street, he was at last pressured by other MPs into resignation.

Lance Armstrong is that extraordinary athlete, a champion road cyclist who recovered from advanced cancer and then went on to win the elite event of cycling, the Tour de France, seven times.He set up the Lance Armstrong Foundation (Livestrong) cancer charity, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer sufferers. Its motto is "Unity is strength, knowledge is power and attitude is everything." Then in August this year the US Anti-Doping Agency produced a huge dossier of evidence against him and on Monday the International Cycling Union stripped him of all the titles he won, declaring: "He has no place in cycling." Attitude wasn't enough.

Knighted both by the Queen and the Pope for services to charity, having raised more than £40 million for disabled and children's charities, former miner and DJ Jimmy Savile's reputation lies in bits, shattered as thoroughly as his recently erected gravestone consigned to landfill in North Yorkshire. The managers of the BBC flounder in the torrent of allegations of paedophilia contained in ITV's Exposure programme and its own Panorama programme, as 'Auntie' is dragged towards the accusation of institutionalised moral blindness.

Not just isolated individuals have been revealed to have feet of clay. It doesn't seem long since the politicians' misuse of expenses was uncovered, followed in short order by journalists hacking into people's privacy and police doctoring their 'factual' reports. Trust in the public sphere has been undermined. It seems that, in W B Yeats' memorable line: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." It shouldn't surprise us, as western society has lost its grip on the only stable centre, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus spoke of pharisaical hypocrisy being stripped bare, he was talking about ultimate judgement: "Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops" (Luke 12.2-3). However, sometimes we are granted stark warnings, for we are all in danger of exposure. Pointing a 'holier-than-thou' finger may be comforting, but it's merely illusory: "Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13.5). We all have feet of clay and need a stable centre to cling to.

Michael Wenham is a retired minister, active writer and blogger.

   Photo credit: corexion via SXC