Monday, August 8, 2011

What we should have learned from Watergate -- but didn't

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.
-- Psalm 146:3

Today marks the anniversary of the fulfillment of the first prophecy I ever made, in 1974.

That spring, as a seventh-grader at a Christian academy in suburban Pittsburgh, I was telling anyone who would listen that then-President Nixon "would be out of office in six months" -- and, like a lot of prophecy, no one took that seriously at the time. (I would soon leave the school and, with that, my "voice" was silenced.) However, I turned out to be right, as he did resign his office in disgrace after evidence surfaced as to his participation in the coverup of the Watergate scandal.

I wasn't simply a being a soothsayer, however. To get my drift, you have to understand that the families of almost all of my classmates were Nixon supporters, as I learned the previous academic year -- the teacher had polled us as to whom we favored in the presidential election then and I was the only one who definitively said, "McGovern." And while it was never stated openly, I did detect a sense that Nixon, who at the time had been friendly with Billy Graham and courted evangelicals, was somehow "God's candidate."

Having been burned, Mr. Graham subsequently, and permanently, removed himself from partisan politics. However, that episode with Nixon hasn't stopped some Christians from seeking yet another political Messiah, the next one being Ronald Reagan, whom Christians supported even more openly. Yet Reagan's actual record as president was at best spotty -- he raised taxes more often than he cut them, did little if anything to address social issues that evangelicals supported and presided over arguably the most corrupt presidential administration in my lifetime, with four members of his cabinet leaving under a cloud. Then you had George W. Bush as the next "anointed one" -- he even "spoke the language" -- but we as a nation are still paying through the nose for his mistakes. Right now some folks are calling Texas Gov. Rick Perry to get into the race, with perhaps more than a few convinced that he's destined to win.

That can go the other way as well. In the early 1990s, Operation Rescue head Randall Terry prayed for the death or Christian conversion of Supreme Court justices. Many conservative Christians willingly participated in the smear campaign against President Bill Clinton, and Philip Yancey, retelling the story in his book "What's So Amazing About Grace?", mentioned that he received a ton of hate mail in a response to an interview he had done with the president that placed what some would have considered positive spin and which was published in Christianity Today. And just before the end of the general election campaign of 2008, I received an emergency prayer request calling on God to defeat Barack Obama. (I called that prayer blasphemous.)

Bottom line, we Christians can't afford to be Manichean in our attitude toward political candidates, suggesting that "our guy is necessarily good and our opponents are hopelessly evil." Sin in the human heart is far more pervasive than we want to admit; occasionally we've even seen outspoken Christians who become powerful fall into temptation (e.g. Tom DeLay). Whomever we support is a matter of opinion and personal preference; let's never say, however, that having or removing (depending on our preference) so-and-so from office will by definition cause our nation to become more prosperous and moral. To do so is to put our ultimate trust in the political process -- and God will never allow that for very long.

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