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Who’s Morality?

This week has been one of heavy moral debate. Three public figures have been under the spotlight for what they or their families have done and the media has been filled with moralising even though nothing illegal was revealed in any of the cases.

The first involved the Prime Minister and his late father’s ‘unit trust’ fund. The second concerned Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s relationship with a prostitute and the third was Archbishop Welby’s discovery that his father was not whom he thought.

Documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama based law firm revealed, amongst a lot of other information, that David Cameron’s father Ian had established an offshore investment fund. It was registered with HMRC but tax was only paid when money was transferred into the UK. How had the Prime Minister benefitted from this and had he declared it in his tax return? Angered by slurs on his father’s probity, he claimed it was a private matter and delayed answering press questions. Eventually he recognised and admitted the inadequacy of this and published details of his tax returns and family finances, more than any previous Prime Minister had ever done.

Underlying this controversy is the morality of tax avoidance even when no law is broken.  In his letter to the Roman Christians Paul urged them to submit to the governing authorities and to pay taxes (13:1-7). In this he reflected Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 22:15-21). That does not preclude gifts within families that avoid Inheritance tax if they are made more than seven years before the giver dies. Helping one’s children is widely seen as a legitimate parental act but socialists disagree because they favour high taxation to redistribute wealth to the poorest.

John Whittingdale is single and met online a woman living near him. They started a relationship but he ended it when he discovered she is a dominatrix and a journalist who wanted to write a story about the relationship. This all took place before he was a Minister but Opposition critics say it renders him unsuitable to be Culture Secretary responsible for media regulation.  Four newspapers knew about his relationship and chose not to run it as a story.  Those who want tighter press regulation think he is compromised and question his independence in making decisions about the media. Now that the episode is public knowledge this objection seems weak.

DNA tests revealed that Justin Welby’s father was not Gavin Welby whom he had always known as father but Anthony Montague Browne, a private secretary to Winston Churchill for whom Welby’s mother also worked. She gave birth nine months after marriage to Gavin and believed Justin to be his son. Rather than hide behind the claim, this was a private matter;  the Archbishop cooperated with Charles Moore who made it public and attracted applause for his grace and openness.

We live in a broken world and things happen that we might wish did not. Ultimately there is no such thing as total privacy and the day will come when all will be revealed and judged by a just and gracious God. The challenge for us now is to live our own lives as if everything is in the open and to respond graciously to those who slip up. God is the judge, not us.

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