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Edgar: Abramoff scandal could have been avoided
if Congress adopted bipartisan ethics guidelines

New York, January 4, 2006 -- Lobbyist Jack Abramoff's decision to cooperate with federal investigators in what is being called Washington's biggest ethics scandal in recent memory has sent tremors throughout the capital.

None of this is surprising, said the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, but it could have been avoided if Congress had adopted "a universally accepted and enforceable code of ethics."

The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar called on religious leaders -- including those on the religious right -- to demand that Congress begin working on those ethical guidelines now.

Edgar called on Dr. James Dobson to join in such a call Sunday night (Jan. 8) when he addresses millions of his followers on the Justice Sunday III broadcast.

"As a Christian minister and a former member of Congress," Edgar said, "I am convinced that a universally accepted and enforceable code of ethics -- not just promises and empty words -- is the best assurance that we the people will be honestly served, and that politicians will be led away from the moral pitfalls of unchecked temptation."

Edgar made it clear that religious leaders are not calling for a code of ethics out of a sense of moral superiority.

"Our ancient scriptures make it clear that sin is a basic flaw in the human character, correctable only by humble obedience to God and adherence to God's law. The New Testament makes it clear that 'all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.'"

"In these treacherous times," Edgar said, "the sinful have included politicians, industrialists, judges, attorneys, and, yes, even servants of the church. As dismayed as we are by the behavior of politicians who flocked to Jack Abramoff's bountiful trough, church persons know we are not qualified to cast the first stone against them."

But religious leaders do call for "a strict and comprehensive set of ethical guidelines that can be agreed to by politicians, government officials and public servants of both parties at every level of government."

The full text of Edgar's statement follows:

Jack Abramoff's admission in federal court Tuesday that he is guilty of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud may be creating tremors among Washington officials -- Democrat and Republican -- with whom he has been entangled. But it comes as no surprise to people of faith.  

Our ancient scriptures make it clear that sin is a basic flaw in the human character, correctable only by humble obedience to God and adherence to Godís law. The New Testament makes it clear that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." In these treacherous times, the sinful have included politicians, industrialists, judges, attorneys, and, yes, even servants of the church. As dismayed as we are by the behavior of politicians who flocked to Jack Abramoff's bountiful trough, church persons know we are not qualified to cast the first stone against them. 

What we do call for, however, is a strict and comprehensive set of ethical guidelines that can be agreed to by politicians, government officials and public servants of both parties at every level of government. As a Christian minister and a former member of Congress, I am convinced that a universally accepted and enforceable code of ethics -- not promises and empty words --  is the best assurance that we the people will be honestly served, and that politicians will be led away from the moral pitfalls of unchecked temptation.

 

The scandal now developing in Washington calls for a bipartisan commitment to reform. Whatever is done must transcend party and transcend ideological points of view. I call on all religious leaders to join together to insist that Congress must undertake the immediate drafting and implementation of bold, comprehensive and cleansing ethics guidelines. 

 

I call on my friend, Dr. James Dobson, to take advantage of his platform this Sunday, when he addresses millions of faithful persons during Justice Sunday III to join with us in publicly demanding that Congress take this step toward ethical reform. 

 

One of the reasons such egregious scandals by our elected officials are possible is that politics and greed have conspired to prevent the formation of ethical guidelines. Common Cause, a non-partisan public advocacy group, has advocated ethics reform legislation that would slow the revolving door between Congress and the lobbying industry, strengthen lobbying disclosure requirements, and curb the excesses in privately funded trips and gifts for Members of Congress and their staffs. There may other proposals worth looking at, but this would be a good place to begin. 

 

The Abramoff Scandal in Washington is a clear signal that the time to begin is now. With the Prophet Amos we pray: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." [Amos 5:24 NRSV]

_____ 

Cartoons of dishonest politicians in another century by Thomas Nast.

Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252, or Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350


 

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