Saturday, July 9, 2011

Roger Clemens and Telling the Truth

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Matthew 5:33-37

Have you heard the latest on the Roger Clemens trial?

Me neither.

In an article in the New York Times, William C. Rhoden asks, “Where is the outrage?” I didn’t read the article but I think he is upset that fans are not as critical of Clemens as they were (and are) of Barry Bonds.

Neither Clemens nor Bonds have ever been beloved by the fans, and neither one has ever tried very hard to cultivate a relationship. But Bonds’ great crime is that he broke the home run record, which is something that baseball fans care about. Passionately. He flew by Babe Ruth’s 714 and broke Henry Aaron’s record of 755 career home runs. Those records matter, or they used to matter. No one cares which pitcher won the most games. That’s not true, some people do care, but the records are not as important.

If Barry Bonds had not taken steroids, he would be embraced by the baseball world in spite of his unwillingness to act like a nice guy. The records would speak for themselves. But he did (or at least we think he did). And now those records are forever tainted and we will never be able to make real comparisons.

But back to Clemens.

There was a time when I thought that Roger got a lot less credit than he deserved for the magnitude of his achievements. How many Cy Young awards did he win? And no one ever voted for him because they thought he was a nice guy.

But Clemens’ unpleasant side was revealed early in his career, when he threatened to quit baseball and complained about how hard things were for the players who had to CARRY THEIR OWN BAGS at the airport.

One of the reasons that no one cares about the trial is that there is no one rooting for Roger. And that’s sad.

But as a citizen, I have to wonder about the wisdom of spending millions of dollars on this. Aren’t we worried about the deficit? How can this possibly be a priority?

Roger is charged with lying to Congress.

Is that not the most absurd thing in the world? If the members of Congress did not lie to each other on a regular basis, Jon Stewart would be out of business (that observation comes from daughter Carolyn).

Two points on this. The first one is social and political commentary, and the second one is theological and biblical.

First, Roger Clemens would not have lied to Congress if a Congressional committee had not been investigating the use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. Why was Congress investigating steroids in baseball? How is that in the national interest? Don’t they have enough to do?

Second, his alleged crime is not simply lying, but lying under oath. It isn’t a crime to lie to Congress (or to anyone else). It’s only a crime to lie under oath.

For Christians, truth telling is a fundamental moral imperative, regardless of whether or not we “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” It’s not an absolute. We can all think of multiple examples of situations in which telling the truth is just plain wrong. But it’s not about whether or not we are “under oath.” We are called, as Paul said, to “speak the truth in love.” Because truth matters, and it may matter much more in those times when we are not asked to “raise your right hand, and repeat . . .”

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