Cheney: Violating the Code of Ethics for Retired Ministers…And the Tradition of Respect Held Sacred by Former U.S. Chief Executives

Every professional association that I have belonged to has a Code of Ethics.  It is one of the hallmarks that not only defines what the profession stands for but also guarantees to the public, whether customer, client, patient, parishioner or whomever, the standard by which that professional will act with integrity.

In light of recent comments by former vice president Dick Cheney blasting the new administration’s policies on national security, I wondered if there was a Code of Ethics that applies to the the nation’s two top executives?

In an interview on CNN (quoted in the NY Times), Mr Cheney said,cheney-snarl

“He is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack,” Mr. Cheney said of Mr. Obama in an interview on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

UPDATE:  March 29, 2009:  Today, on the CNN Political Ticker website both U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Gen. David Patraeus take issue with Cheney’s inappropriate comments and breach of professional ethics by spouting off about the Obama administration’s changes on national security.

UPDATE #2: March 29, 2009:  The fallout from Dick Cheney’s unethical criticism of the Obama administration continues to generate backlash.  Former President Bush made this statement in response to a question about Cheney’s remarks:

“He deserves my silence. I love my country a lot more than I love politics. I think it is essential that he be helped in office.”

I spent an evening Googling and scouring Wikipedia, but came up with, well, not a thing.  Now,  maybe I missed it; and there are laws that apply to federal employees.  Just about every state in the Union has a code of Ethics for its Executive Branch.  President Obama signed into law a new code for his administration in January.  And, of course, there is the United States Constitution, but we all know that Cheney never let a little thing like that interfere with anything he decided he was right about.

But a code of ethics that applies specifically to the president and vice president of the United States apparently has never been written. (If there is a code of ethics either historically enforced, or currently in place, not including Obama’s new one, I’d love to read it.  Send it to me!).

You might ask, “So what?”  As an ordained minister, one of the conditions of my standing with my church, the Disciples of Christ, I have to abide by a Ministerial Code of Ethics.  All major denominations have such codes.  That code is structured so the pastor not only ministers in an ethical manner during the time he or she is serving a congregation, but also after the person has left to serve another local church or retired from active service.  Pastors develop a strong rapport with their members, and when they leave to work at another church, even if it is one across town, the pastor is responsible for maintaining the professional boundaries so the new minister can work freely to develop a new trust and rapport with the church.

The same principle is true for when a minister retires.  While I was in seminary, I was the youth minister for a church whose senior pastor had retired after over thirty years at that church.  Even though the church was located in a city of nearly three million people and the retired minister moved to another part of town, he did not set up and strictly abide by those ethical boundaries.  The new senior pastor, with whom I worked, was constantly having to “defend” his actions to those members who were calling the old pastor and getting a sympathetic ear.  It was a lose-lose situation.  A year after I had graduated from seminary, the church fired the senior minister.  In all honesty, he never had a chance to succeed.

Here are the two statements that are relevant to this discussion from the Ministerial Code of Ethics:

  • supporting and at no time speaking maliciously of the ministry of my predecessor or another minister in the congregation in which I hold membership;
  • encouraging the ministry of my successor upon my retirement or other departure from a ministry position, without interfering or intruding, and by making it clear to former parishioners that I am no longer their pastor.

With these two precepts so deeply engrained in my professional life, I find Mr. Cheney’s statements inexcuseable.  Because I believe he so blatantly violated the trust of the American people in his open disdain for the United States Constituion, as well  as the Oath of Office he took as Vice President, in his retirement, he should remain silenced for the rest of his life.  He has violated the Code of Ethics by both interfering and intruding with the actions of his successors.  He is no longer our vice president and I thank God he was never our pastor.

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