A Comey Splice

As of this writing, former FBI director James Comey is scheduled to testify today before Congress about his conversations with President Trump. Both political friends and foes of the president are concerned about the nature of his testimony, hoping for cause to either exonerate our leader from, or indict him for, wrongdoing. For his part, Comey has become a lightning rod for those on the political right and left. The former may worry that he could prevent President Trump from completing this term, and the latter might blame him for preventing Hillary Clinton from winning the White House.

In light of how Comey has upended the hopes of both political camps, one could reasonably wonder what motivates this public servant. It appears that it is not his affection for any one political party or regard for Clinton or Trump. Might it be that having an incredibly challenging job with vast responsibility, he wrestled with the perennial ethical dilemma of doing the right thing?

Faced with the information he had about Clinton’s email server, he believed he needed to inform the nation, through its congressional leaders, even though the 2016 presidential election was just days away. And, understanding the nonpartisan nature of his FBI office, he refused to place himself in peril or behave in a partial manner. If these are true, Comey made tough choices from an ethical place that maybe neither Trump nor Clinton had in reference to the situations for which Comey has caught such heat.

The world is watching and waiting to learn what Comey has to say. After all, he had such phenomenal power, and we hope that he did not misuse or abuse it. Yet, each of us has great power and most of us have a challenging job with vast responsibility where we wrestle with doing the right thing. Parents are confronted with difficult choices in granting freedom or permission to their adolescent children in reference to social behaviors; they struggle with larger decisions that pertain to their children’s education, health, or trajectory of development. Professionals and employees engage in dealings that may come close to crossing the line of fairness or justice, whether reviewing colleagues’ performance, granting pay raises, or offering recommendations on someone’s future. The choice to participate in idle gossip that could have unintended consequences for another’s reputation calls into question whether gossip is ever idle.

From what space within ourselves—our conscience perhaps—do we make important choices? To splice means to join at the ends. We may recall being corrected in grammar school for a comma splice where we brought the wrong things together in a sentence. As disciples, in our ethical living, we are called to bring together our faith and our choices in order to do the right thing.

To paraphrase St. Francis de Sales, a truth that is not charitable is a charity that isn’t true. Telling hard truths does not mean they are not charitable; it just means the stakes are high. As we wrestle to speak tough truths, let us use charity and clarity to live Jesus in those difficult moments of our days.