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Watergate And The Fifth Commandment

It is not the purpose of my brief remarks to enter into a prolonged analysis and discussion of the Watergate fiasco. I suppose that we, who live in a democracy, are obligated in some sense to pass judgment on what transpired. But it is difficult to know the truth of the matter. The news media are not to be trusted by any means. Many who are crying the loudest for justice and the impeachment or resignation of the president are not men whose works can stand the light of day. It is all a reminder of the old adage: the pot is calling the kettle black. But my concern is not to investigate in how far the president is guilty of any crime, if indeed he is guilty at all. 

Nor do I think it proper to engage in a kind of national self-incrimination and national confession of sin. There are those who write for the ecclesiastical press who think that the opportunity has come for this. One writes: “The paranoia that led to Watergate and the black veil of deceit that was subsequently laid upon it bespeak our national sinfulness. The determination in Congress and in the Justice Department to expose this sinfulness to public view and to label it as sin bespeaks the grace of God, which, even in judgment, is healing and redemptive in its effect. 

“It is to be hoped that through Watergate the American people will be both sobered and renewed.” (Reformed Journal, July-August, 1973). 

C.S. Lewis, in essay on “Dangers Of National Repentance” discusses the fact that particularly the intellectual “youth” of England were fond of engaging in national repentance for the sins involved in the Second World War. He writes:

The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a Foreign Secretary or a Cabinet Minister is certainly a neighbor. And repentance presupposes condemnation. The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing — but, first, of denouncing — the conduct of others. If it were clear to the young that this is what he is doing, no doubt he would remember the law of charity. Unfortunately the very terms in which national repentance is recommended to him conceal its true nature. By a dangerous figure of speech, he calls the Government not ‘they’ but ‘we’. And since, as penitents, we are not encouraged to be charitable to our own sins, nor to give ourselves the benefit of any doubt, a Government which is called ‘we’ is ipso facto placed beyond the sphere of charity or even of justice. You can say anything you please about it. 

You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practicing contrition.

It is this latter which has bothered me in recent months. The news media must bear a large part of the blame. Terribly evil things are being said about the president; unseemly jokes and cartoons are printed almost every day which hold up to ridicule the man whom God has placed in authority over us. It is time then to remind ourselves that the fifth commandment is still in force. Our own Heidelberg Catechism interprets, correctly, the fifth commandment as requiring of me that “I show all honor, love and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it please God to govern us by their hand.” 

It will perhaps be argued that the president has lost the right to claim our “honor, love and fidelity.” Two things need to be said. There has been as yet no court decision which has found him guilty of any crime. He has only been tried in the news media and found guilty. Nothing more. But apart even from that, the obligation to honor, love and respect him does not rest in the determination made by us or others as to whether he is worthy of this. It rests in the command of God. As long as he is president, we owe him this. God has set Nixon in the White House. God is ruling us through him. We must recognize this by obeying the fifth commandment for God’s sake. Peter called the Church of his day to just this obligation; and he was writing when Caesars sat on the throne of the Roman Empire — Caesars who were persecuting the Church and who had become guilty of every moral and legal crime. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the. ignorance of foolish men.” I Peter 2:13-15. “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God Honour the king.” I Peter 2:17. And this is, of course, what Paul writes in Roman 13. 

It has been argued that because we live in a democracy, the final responsibility for ruling this country rests in the people. From this it is supposed to follow that since the people have put their president in office, these same people have the right to take him from office. Hence, it is perfectly proper for the populace to try the president in the court of public opinion. Apart from the fact that our Constitution provides the necessary machinery for impeachment, the fact remains that, whether we live in a democracy or not, God has placed the president in office. Whether God has done this through the majority vote of the populace or in some other way, it makes no difference. The fifth commandment is not abrogated in a democracy. 

We must be afraid of such a violation of the fifth commandment. We live in a lawless age as it is, where the fifth commandment has all but ceased to exist. If we openly flout this commandment in our homes, in the Church, in our conversations with others, we shall reap a bitter harvest, for we shall find that we have planted the seeds of disrespect for authority which will grow into an awful harvest of a breakdown of authority in every sphere of life, including our homes and churches.

Key 73 – A Failure 

It seems as if Key 73 has flopped — badly. This is evident from several considerations. For one thing, no one hears much about it any more. The shouting and the tumult has died — with a whimper. Even though the year has not yet officially ended the campaign, almost nothing is being said about it. For another thing, the financial support for the program was so meager that many important projects had to be dropped, and the budget was, at last report, still in the red. Since another evidence of the demise of this program is the fact that those who claim it was a successes. Mention is made of what was accomplished in such language as:

40 million Scripture portions were distributed (Denver was among the cities saturated, and more than six tons of Scriptures were handed out at the 35,000-student University of Toronto). In Quebec, 22,000 French-Canadian Catholics gathered for two “love feasts” that featured preaching and Bible study — and an altar call. Success stories were reported from a number of other communities and from even the committee’s hotel dining room, where a waiter sought to be converted. 

Christianity Today, Nov. 9,1973

This is a far cry from the announced aims of the leaders to confront all North America with the gospel in 1973 and to begin a continent-wide revival which would sweep the land with the fires of repentance and conversion. 

The blame is being parceled out; and it is not surprising that a great deal of the blame for the lack of success falls, upon those who opposed this movement. It would be good if this were true; we gladly would assume such blame. 

But leaders are not convinced that the idea should be dropped. Already plans are being made to hold meetings to diagnose the ailments of Key 73, take corrective action and proceed on with new plans for 1974 and subsequent years. 

It would be better if it could be said of Key 73 what was said of Jehoram, king of Judah: “And he departed without being desired.” II Chron. 21:20.

Growth In Private Schools 

An interesting article appeared in U.S. News And World Report recently concerning the spectacular growth of Protestant private schools. Among the points made by this article were the following: 

Tens of thousands of students are transferring from public schools to private schools. The reasons are not only because of integration and forced bussing, but also because of academic laxity, robbery, drug abuse, classroom disruption. 

Private school enrollment is, generally speaking, on the decline registering a drop of nearly one and a half million in the last ten years. But this is primarily due to the fact that nearly 3000 Roman Catholic parochial schools have closed their doors in the last eight years. 

It is therefore nonpublic schools other than Roman Catholic which are multiplying. Some of these private schools are not church-affiliated. But many are. Especially the Lutheran Churches have been adding schools and increasing enrollment in existing schools to keep up with increased demand. 

It is obvious, however, that this growth is not the result of a growing interest in Christian education, but is merely a reaction against the deplorable conditions in existing public schools throughout the land.