Whether or not Jerry Prevo broke the law with his church’s property tax exemptions is perhaps not as important as the fact that it all just feels sleazy. Churches shouldn’t feel sleazy. Given what most churches preach, they should be so far from the line separating legal from illegal that there is no doubt whatsoever that they are upright and honorable. Trying to get as close to that line as possible without going over it, while shifting a financial burden to those who perhaps can least afford it, is simply not something churches should do.
It’s like the New Gingrich conundrum. Here’s a man vying for the Republican presidential nomination who is spraining his entire body with his attempts to turn as far right as possible. Here is a man expounding on the virtues of “traditional” marriage while married to his former mistress for whom he left his other former mistress.
Gingrich has not broken any laws. He got divorced from his first wife before he married his second one. He allegedly offered his second wife the option of an open marriage before divorcing her to marry his current wife. All very legal. And all very sleazy given his stance that traditional marriages are the bedrock of our society. One wonders which of his three marriages is the traditional one.
Conservative voters have apparently found a way to hold their noses at the smells emanating from Gingrich’s private life and vote for him anyway. As long as you always marry someone of the opposite sex, you can seemingly have as many marriages as you want without ever denigrating the tradition you supposedly hold dear.
So the issue I have with Newt and Prevo is not that they broke any laws. (Actually, Prevo may have but we don’t know for sure yet.) No, the issue I have with them is the stench emanating from the less than honorable way they seem to conduct themselves.
If the standard is “What Would Jesus Do?”, then I have to think that Jesus would have at least waited until wife number one was out of the hospital from her cancer surgery and wife number two had time to absorb the news about the chronic disease with which she’d just be diagnosed before announcing he was leaving them. I’m going to go out on a limb and further suggest that Jesus would have remembered his statement about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Whenever there was even the smallest doubt about the legality of an exemption, I think he would have chosen to pay.
If you hold yourself out to be a moral arbiter in your community, then it just makes sense that you should live you life as much as possible above reproach. You should not skirt the edges of the law but should make every effort to stay totally clear of those edges. And if you purport to uphold the sanctity of what you view as a traditional marriage, you should probably make some effort to not discard your wives the way you discard an old sock that you no longer find functional.
We live in a world full of moral ambiguities. Those who would represent moral constants to us have some responsibility to live up to those morals. “Do what I say and not what I do” didn’t work when we were children and doesn’t work now.
If Jerry Prevo can manipulate the law and his connections to avoid paying taxes on properties that seemingly only qualify as exempt based on a very interesting interpretation of the law, then the example he gives of being a good steward and moral man becomes murky. You see the line in the sand and then watch him inch as close to it as possible without, hopefully, putting his toe over it. Pride in being a moral person is replaced by pride in how well he can scam the system.
And if you claim to uphold the Christian interpretation of traditional marriage by trying to have as many of them as possible in your lifetime, you have to expect that some people are going to look at the partner they have lived with and loved for the past 40 years but couldn’t marry and wonder how you get to define what marriage really is.