The Gospel According to Nigel Wright

What is Matthew 6 really all about? Why did the Prime Minister's former Chief of Staff cite it?

Nigel Wright

Nigel Wright

Yme Woensdregt

If you’ve been following the trial of disgraced Senator Mike Duffy at all, you will know that Nigel Wright has been on the stand for six days, five of them under cross–examination.

Wright was Prime Minister Harper’s former Chief of Staff. He was forced out of his position after it became clear that he had written a $90,000 cheque so that Duffy could repay questionable expenses which he had claimed.

Wright was supposed to be the star witness for the prosecution, but Duffy’s defense lawyer, Donald Bayne tore into him during the cross–examination. Bayne suggested that Wright and the Prime Minister’s Office helped create a “deliberately deceptive scenario” for Canadians when the public was led to believe that Duffy had repaid his questionable expenses.

Apparently the original plan was that the Conservative Party would cover the bill for Duffy’s expenses. But when it became clear just how expensive the claim was, Wright paid the $90,000 out of his own pocket to save the government from another embarrassing scandal. Wright is a very successful businessman and lawyer, and the $90,000 barely made a dent in his finances. He’s clearly part of the 1%, and seems not even to have blinked at the amount which would be staggering to most of the rest of us.

When asked why he did this, Wright said he was following the advice of a Bible passage which counsels helping others, but to do so quietly, without fanfare. He was being generous but keeping it quiet because of religious principle. He quoted Matthew 6: “Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” and “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6: 1, 3)

Wright, who has described himself as a devout Anglican and a lay leader in a local church, said, “I was doing a good deed, and this is sort of Matthew 6 … You should do these things quietly and not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

However, this is such a self–serving claim that it staggers the imagination. Wright conveniently quotes only those parts of Matthew 6 that bolsters his own claim, and in doing so completely misinterprets the whole passage.

Here’s the whole passage. “Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6 is not about keeping secrets as Wright claims, and certainly not about a government lying to the people. This whole section of Jesus’ teaching is about giving alms, which by definition has nothing to do with covering up illegitimate expense claims made by Canadian Senators who earn a minimum of $140,000 a year.

On CBC’s “The National”, Chantal Hébert speaking with the At Issue panel commented that “for many people, the Biblical reference of ‘I’m doing this because I’m a good Samaritan’ will [not be believed] by most people, because it’s really hard to jibe the notion of being a good Samaritan, trying to help the public purse with encouraging people to lie to the public and to weave a web of deception.”

Matthew 6 also contains these words: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also … No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6: 19–21, 24)

Wright has been a very successful and highly intelligent businessman who has used his intelligence to store up considerable treasure on earth. A $90,000 cheque to cover questionable expense claims has nothing to do with “giving alms”. It had everything to do with protecting a secretive government which seeks above all else to hold on to power — another form of serving wealth (or traditionally “Mammon” in the old King James translation).

When Wright quoted Matthew 6 in his testimony as an attempt to justify his actions, he simply piled one more scandal on top of all the other scandals which has marked the current government of Canada. Thank God there’s an election coming up.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook