My colleague said a radio reporter had made that assertion. Further, the reporter contended, O’Brien’s faith had sustained him in the wake of his current situation. The mayor was charged criminally in connection with allegedly trying to induce a rival to quit last year’s Ottawa mayoralty race.
My response was fairly guarded, because I am only aware of these kinds of things third hand. But I am aware that, among O’Brien’s friends and business associates, there are some Christian business people who have been quite willing, in the past at least, to encourage him to develop spiritually and to meet with others for Bible study and fellowship.
Nothing too complicated about that. O’Brien was a senior executive and entrepreneur in Ottawa’s high tech community before running for the mayoralty last year.
There are a fair number of workplace Bible studies and fellowship groups in that community, as well as in other business sectors in the national capital.
Some of them have been influenced by the PromiseKeepers movement — a group that encourages men, in particular, to keep their promises to God, their spouses, families, churches, communities — and to their nation.
Keeping promises is a natural part of doing business Christianly. Undoubtedly, O’Brien has been encouraged by some of his Christian friends to live out his faith if he has one, and that one of the ways of showing the faith is keeping promises.
My journalist friend continued his query. He asked, rhetorically, I suspect, whether a real Christian leader could be a crook — in this case, to offer an opponent a bribe.
My response was that it would seem to me to be quite difficult for a Christian politician, in all good conscience, to offer a bribe.
That said, I wondered if it was possible for a Christian politician who had been a Christian business person to be misunderstood, precisely because he or she was trying to keep promises. Christian business people are sometimes less than cut throat in the way they treat competitors. They might even help out a competitor who is having a rough time, because they have made a promise to God that they would always try to do so.
Not knowing what conversations — if any — actually took place between O’Brien and his opponent, I constructed what I considered to be a reasonable scenario, depicting a hypothetical conversation. Please understand that I am trying to illustrate an ethical principle here, rather than to claim that O’Brien actually said what follows.
So here goes:
Candidate and Opponent happen upon each other in a Tim Horton’s parking lot (Okay. Starbucks or Hy’s would serve just as well for the illustration.)
Opponent: This is a tough campaign. I have spent $100,000 and you are so far ahead in the polls that I almost feel like giving up. I never had any idea when I started that you would run such a strong race.
Candidate: Are you serious about giving up? Is there any way I can be of any help to you?
Opponent: Well, I don’t know. I have all these expenses. And if I give up, I need to be sure I have some way of continuing to support my family. My oldest is heading for university next year, you know.
Candidate: Let me see what I can do on both counts.
The next day, the candidate talks to his lawyer, who hits the ceiling, figuratively speaking.
Lawyer: Who in the blazes do you think you are? There is no way you should have even had that conversation. It might be legal for a business person to help a competitor out of a jam but not a political candidate who has to keep the public trust in mind. You’d better get your butt in gear, get back to Opponent and tell him that, in no way, shape or form, did you make that offer. Otherwise, if he decides to make something of it, you could be in jail quicker than the cat’s pyjamas.
(Note: I am assuming that Candidate’s lawyer is a good clean-living, clean-talking Christian. That is why his expletives are quite mild.)
Of course, Candidate has to decide, at that point, whether to take his lawyer’s advice. He probably should. That will not necessarily stop Opponent from bringing an action against Candidate later, either out of pique or principle. But it may be enough to convince a judge that this was not a true offer of an inducement, but an extending of condolences, out of good will.
Situations like O’Brien’s might become more commonplace, in the wake of the sponsorship scandal that brought down the federal Liberal government last year.
Particularly, people who are either conservative, Christian or both will be watched like hawks for any ethical weak spots.
When watching Brian Mulroney on television this Thursday, December 13, it might be good for Christian viewers to keep in mind the above hypothetical conversation.