Recently I encountered an ethical statement which I noted because it rang profoundly true. The statement was this: One sometimes has to have the moral courage to resign in the face of what one considers morally wrong. It struck me as meaning truth over loyalty is the highest ethical standard a man or woman can take. Liz Cheney comes to mind. And Mitt Romney. Two people willing to speak, write, and live the truth, though it has meant losing employment, political party, and risking threats to their lives. They refused to remain loyal to the cult-like autocratic leader destroying their political party, their nation, and its constitution. They told the truth at enormous costs to themselves and their families. Few are willing to do so.
Another human being resigned to truth under threats to him, his family, and his people, was the extraordinary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. whose birthday we celebrated last Monday. He didn’t even see his fortieth birthday before he was shot and killed. His profound morality, truth, justice, and leadership stemmed from his adherence to genuine Christianity. He lived the love Christ Jesus taught. Yet white-hatred followed him and his people since the beginning of our nation. I watched the documentary film, Mississippi Burning, last night, crying through much of it, appalled by the evil actions toward blacks in the 1950s and 60s who asked for nothing more than their civil right to register to vote. Whites, jeering and waving confederate flags, calling themselves “Evangelical Christians,” acted the opposite of Christ Jesus’ teachings. The brave blacks under King’s leadership, however, prayed, sang hymns, and resigned themselves to love in the face of horrific treatment.
I had the privilege of growing up in a household where my father’s example of adherence to love was ever-present in dealing with people, business, issues of any kind. He brought integrity to everything he did. He expected it, worked for it, encouraged others to live by it. And he knew how to love. Everyone. His sense of humor and listening ability went right along with his loving.
I grew up assuming human beings loved. But in the turbulent late 1960s, seeing war, deaths, loss, and more, I was compelled to write an article about the need for love in the world which I took to a local newspaper, naively insisting they publish it (which they did!).
Two decades later, living in another state, I found myself, as PTA president, standing up to a large county school board that was denying serious needs to our largely black k-8 school, favoring other whiter schools in the county. Resigned to the hard work and moral fight, we won nine new classrooms, a brand-new cafeteria, and building repairs.
About that time, several members of a church miles from our homes, felt it right to establish a new, closer, church. I explained in a meeting that it was like a mother giving birth to a second child: her love for the first child could not be diminished by the birth of her second. The morally right idea of birthing a new church did not mean disloyalty to the first, but meant a larger church family meeting the needs of a larger area. Much spiritual growth resulted.
In a third state some decades later, I found myself speaking in a theatre on behalf of a village whose rights were being denied by one powerful, wealthy man.
Another time living in another locale, when a rare habitat for thousands of migrating birds was to be destroyed so a developer could build expensive homes, I found myself painting life-size watercolors of every bird species affected and showering them on the dais at a council meeting before I spoke at the microphone on behalf of saving the birds’ habitat. We lost that fight (though they kept my art work). But every time I see an eagle fly above a tall pine in our back yard here in Maine, I remember all those amazing feathered friends I tried to help and pray they’ve found another stop-over on their phenomenal annual journeys of thousands of miles.
There have been many occasions when resignation to truth directed my actions. I’ve never regretted it.
When a moral choice is clear, then loyalty to an individual, to personal sense, to an unjust authority is impossible. I seek to always stand in my integrity. Honesty is everything. It is the place where I stand–and what I choose to stand for. A favorite line I’ve held to most of my life is: “Never breathe an immoral atmosphere unless in the attempt to purify it” And I would add, where the moral isn’t, leave.
No one person should dominate a group. Principle, not person, must govern any worthwhile endeavor. When a personality takes over, dictates, or even subtly rules behind the scenes, and if one can no longer help or serve that disordered organization, then resignation is the right step.
Last month I found the courage to resign from a board and organization that I cared about but could no longer remain part of due to the hypocrisy, dishonesty, unprincipled ways and personal sense disordering its operations. When I find myself in such a place, I must resign. And so I did. No longer a member, I nevertheless wish the organization well.
I remain resigned to the moral, quiet, narrow path where honesty leads.
Artwork: Hidden Path, Provence, matted watercolor, 20″ x 26″. Provence was a superlative place to paint–rugged textures, mellow colors, bright light, furtive lanes. I am resigned to another visit.