Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
Much has been written, broadcast on radio and television, and discussed concerning the president of the United States. Is there real scandal, and will it bring down the president? Or is there a “right-wing” conspiracy to destroy this president? What of the intern with whom he was presumably involved? Were there others who were involved in a “relationship” with the president? And if this president is guilty, and if he is lying, is he not doing exactly what many past presidents have done—howbeit without the close scrutiny of the press? And how does one explain all of this “news” to the young children of our households?
And then, there’s the governor of Colorado—but that’s another story.
This article, however, is not going to add to the confusion and proliferation of writings which speculate and evaluate and then express judgment. Time will tell what is the final outcome of these sordid affairs.
There is another aspect of all of this which some writers rightly have pointed out. The concern is not, first, what the president did or did not do. Rather, what do all of these affairs say about the people, the citizens of the United States of America? How must we evaluate and judge them in light of all of these reports?
Cal Thomas, writer for Los Angeles Times Syndicate, in an article appearing in many newspapers, including the Loveland Reporter-Herald, February 3, 1998, presents his penetrating comments in an article titled, “Morally speaking, it’s mourning time in America.” He writes:
When King David of Israel committed adultery with the beautiful Bathsheba and sent her husband off to the front lines to be killed in battle, the prophet Nathan confronted the king and exposed his immoral behavior. This led David to confess his sins and repent. Today, David would have hired a good criminal defense attorney and used his palace staff to spin for him and smear the prophet.
…Virtuecrat William Bennett accused Clinton of corrupting the morals of the American people. This is a common lament among many who believe the cause of our decadence is in the White House. They reason that by replacing the leader, the followers will become more virtuous. If this were so, 12 years of Ronald Reagan and George Bush should have made us morally better. It didn’t—because presidents lack the power to transform hearts toward good or evil.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle told the Conservative Political Action Committee convention last week that our nation is crying out for moral leadership. If it is, the cry is a muffled one. Polls show as many as 73 percent approve of the job President Clinton is doing, including a significant majority of women who might be expected to have been offended with his “of course I’ll respect you in the morning” behavior. Along with Hillary Clinton, we’ve put our concerns about morals and character “in a box,” and prefer to worship at the altar of the economy. If the economy is all that matters, then we really are stupid.
The prophet Hosea admonished the ancient Israelites when they governed themselves according to their equivalent of “polls” and how they felt rather than the laws of God. This was his indictment: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds…. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away…. Israel is corrupt.”
…If many of us saw ourselves, or at least saw how we would like to be, in Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton reflects who we really are. To indict him is to indict ourselves. He is a mirror that reflects our darkened souls.
Forget whether the latest charges are true. Bill Clinton’s lack of character and candor is beyond dispute. Even his defenders talk like lawyers instead of prophets. Clinton will probably hang on to the end of his term, but his chance to be a moral leader, which is an essential component of the presidency, has been foreclosed.
Hosea pronounced a verdict on another nation that lived like this: “a people without understanding will come to ruin.” It’s mourning time in America.
Nor is Cal Thomas, a religious and conservative commentator, the only one concerned. The Denver Post, February 7, 1998, contained a front-page article titled, “Ethics worry theologians.” At the very least, there are some who are observing the real moral meltdown in society. The article stated:
America’s morals are breaking down and the public doesn’t seem to care, Colorado religious leaders said Friday.
“I’m perplexed and disturbed about the breakdown of ethics that have been the fabric of our culture,” said William Klein, professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. “And many Americans don’t seem to be bothered by the peccadilloes or failures of their leaders because they want a lowering of the standards applied to them also.”
Klein and other church leaders and theologians made their comments in response to Colorado Gov. Roy Romer’s statements that he has had a relationship with a woman other than his wife for the past 16 years.
In the days since President Clinton was first suspected of having a sexual affair with an intern, many Americans have said they don’t care what the president does in his private life, and some are already saying the same thing about Romer.
“There used to be a consensus about the bad things that moral people didn’t do,” said Klein. Churches “seem to have an increasing inability to influence people about moral issues,” said Klein….
…The reaction to reports of public scandals “is a true assessment of people’s real values,” said Dave Thomas, graduate professor of community leadership at Regis University.
“Money has a higher value than marriage and family or people. There’s been a terrible unfortunate shift in mores,” said Thomas.
Thomas thinks Americans are losing the sense of “moral outrage.” In fact, he thinks that people would be more upset if Clinton cheated on his income tax than on his wife and that they were more upset about selling the Lincoln bedroom than about his morals, said Thomas.
…Paul Jessen of Colorado for Family Values asks, “What’s happened to sin?”
He said many teenagers have told him they like to hear about famous people using drugs or being sexually active “because that means they can do those things.”
Jessen … quoted Harry Truman: “If a leader is unfaithful to his wife, he will be unfaithful to you (the voters).”
…Doug Groothuis, professor of ethics and philosophy of religion at Denver Seminary, said he is “puzzled over the artificial separation between public and private life. That’s a false dichotomy.”
“Americans should care about whether a leader keeps his promises to his wife,” he added. “The Ten Commandments are still in place. They haven’t expired, and adultery is still on the list.”
But should anyone be surprised at what President Clinton may or may not have done—and the current reaction of the citizens of the country? Should it be surprising that “prosperity” should be the standard of judgment of the person rather than “morality”? The writers above were very correct in evaluating the sad state of affairs in society today.
But no one ought to be surprised.
Consider how that for over a generation now the country has been bombarded with drama on television and movie that parades immorality for entertainment. Sexual “relationships” apart from or in addition to marriage are presented as the norm. Homosexuality is considered a “right” and termed an “alternate life style.” Many churches agree.
Consider how that for over a generation now divorce and remarriage has become the standard solution for a “bad” marriage. If over 50 percent of the people so freely can break their marriage vows, why should they condemn a president if he happens to do so too? Who cares anymore? Vows can be taken and broken at will.
Consider how that for over a generation now the churches have basically come to accept this “solution” to marital problems. Should church members be concerned with immorality in high places when they accept that commonly within their own membership? If church members can break their vows, if they can marry another (which Christ calls “adultery” —Matt. 19:9), who is going to condemn the wayward politician? Who will cast the first stone?
Consider how that for over a generation now the Bible has been excluded from the public schools and the ten commandments are not allowed on the walls of its classrooms. If a generation arises which knows not the Word and the law of God, on what basis would it condemn a wayward president? What then ultimately matters is not obedience to God’s law, but how much food is available for my stomach.
The whole emphasis on eliminating the basis for true morality is illustrated by an article appearing in World magazine, October 25, 1997:
How far is a California school district willing to go to shield its students (and parents and baseball fans) from the Ten Commandments? A business man in Downey (near Los Angeles) says he’ll match the district’s efforts and will fight as long as it takes to get his sign re-posted.
Edward DiLoreto, the 83-year-old owner of an engineering firm, was approached by the Downey High School baseball booster club in 1995. The boosters were sell
ing ad space along the outfield fence. Coca-Cola had bought space, as had some local businesses. Mr. DiLoreto wrote out a $400 check and submitted his sign. It contained 10 “Rules to Live By,” also known as the Ten Commandments. That was nothing new; he’d used the “Rules” in his ads in Downey High School football programs and in the year-book.
But this time, school-district officials balked.
First, officials stalled; they said they feared allowing the sign would be unconstitutional. Eventually, the state attorney general issued an opinion saying the sign was legal. “If a school district sells commercial advertising space on a fence surrounding its high school baseball field, it may not refuse to accept an otherwise appropriate advertisement which contains the Ten Commandments and clearly identifies the advertising party,” attorney general Dan Lungren concluded, nine months after Mr. DiLoreto paid for the sign.
Next, the district cited potential lawsuits from the ACLU or offended parents, but no one came forward. And even if someone had come forward, Mr. DiLoreto offered to hire three attorneys to defend the district. (Later, in fact, an ACLU attorney told district officials that if they rejected Mr. DiLoreto’s sign, Mr. DiLoreto could sue and probably win.)
Still, the district removed all the signs from the outfield, rather than suffer the children to see the Ten Commandments.
“We are in existence to educate, not to get involved in religious demands,” the school district’s lawyer told the Los Angeles Times. ” I can think of a lot of different entities that would like to come in and push their messages on kids. We felt the interests of the district were not being served.”
Mr. DiLoreto has filed suit against the district on the grounds that they violated his civil rights, and his freedom of speech. It is thought that the case may go all the way to the Supreme Court. The school district now complains that this case forces them to use monies, which otherwise would be used for the education of children, to defend their position before the courts of the land.
One wonders if those who insist that “personal lives” and “morality” really do not matter, truly know what morality even is? Could they recite the ten commandments? Too many have never even heard of them. Yes, the country gets what it desires and must live with the consequences. This too is another of the signs of the times.