AST MONTH, I read David McCullough’s fascinating historical book, The Wright Brothers. 1 (Actually, I listened to the CD audio version, read by McCullough, himself.) I have always loved flying and airplanes, and I thought I knew a lot about Wilbur and Orville Wright. This engaging account, however, taught me all kinds of new things about them, their family, and their engineering feat. I was particularly interested to learn more about the Wright family. One of the other children, for example, a sister name Katharine, played quite a significant role in the success of Wilbur and Orville.
The father of the family was Bishop Milton Wright, who was a prominent leader in the United Brethren Church until 1899, when an institutional struggle over the acceptance or rejection of Freemasonry led Bishop Wright to establish a new church, known as the “Old Constitution Church.”
In 1901, Bishop Wright discovered that a clergyman in his new church was using church money illicitly to pay his own personal expenses, amounting to some $7,000. The suspected offender was Rev. Millard Keiter. Bishop Wright enlisted the help of his son, Wilbur, to perform another audit of the finances. Wilbur concluded that Keiter had, indeed, mishandled the finances, using church money to pay his insurance premiums, buy clothes, and build a home. Bishop Wright and his son, Wilbur, had a hard time convincing the church’s board of trustees that their charges against Keiter were valid. The discrepancies were chalked up to mere carelessness, not dishonest dealings.
Wilbur was steadfast in encouraging his father to expose the criminal activity of Keiter. For the good of the church, itself, Wilbur felt that it was necessary to let the truth be known. In a letter to Bishop Wright, Wilbur wrote pointedly:
The question of whether officials shall rob the church and trustees deceive the church for fear of injuring collections, must be settled now for all time. In the long run nothing can be gained financially by deceit. To cheat the people by lying reports is more dishonest than Keiter’s stealing, and so far as church interests are concerned, the penalty will be greater. 2
Bishop Wright continued his pursuit to expose the truth about Keiter’s misdealings. As a result, he was much maligned and ostracized. In the end, though, Bishop Wright was proven right, and by 1904 he was exonerated of the counter-charges Keiter had brought against him. The bishop had spoken the truth, suffered greatly as a result, and ultimately won vindication.
The straightforward sense expressed in Wilbur Wright’s letter, quoted above, strikes me as especially pertinent in the wake of the sorrowful McCarrick Report.
This is not the place for an exhaustive assessment of the report, with its various strengths and weaknesses. If one thing emerges clearly from its pages, however, it is the value of truth telling. Saying what one knows to be true—without any shade of deception or massaging or elision—is a simple, but immensely important habit of Christian living. Failing in this habit can have dastardly effects.
May the Church, our Mother, be renewed by bringing the truth to light!
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven and see, and visit this vineyard;
protect the stock which Thy right hand hath planted.
They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of Thy countenance!
Let Thy hand be upon the man of Thy right hand,
upon the son of man, whom Thou has confirmed for Thyself!
We shall never depart from Thee;
Thou shalt quicken us, and we shall call upon Thy name.
O LORD God of hosts, convert us,
and let Thy face shine, and we shall be saved.
— From Psalm 80 —
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 All the historical information in this post is drawn from David McCullough, The Wright Brothers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), 72-75.
2 McCullough, The Wright Brothers, 73.