"Judgment Day at the White House: A Critical Declaration Exploring Moral Issues and the Political Use and Abuse of Religion" by Gabriel Fackre

Thomas Fawell
Thursday, July 5th 2007
Jan/Feb 2000

The wake of the Clinton impeachment left a number of casualties, including distortions of Scripture and standards of morality. In response, 140 theologians and ethicists signed a two-page statement-the "Declaration Concerning Religion,

Ethics, and the Crisis in the Clinton Presidency"- which addressed the misuse of religion in politics. The substance of this book is a pastiche of twenty essays, eleven supporting the Declaration, six opposing it, and three which do not address the Declaration but which are topically related to it. Gabriel Fackre also provides useful background material by reprinting the Declaration, the President's televised statement of August 17, 1998, and his comments at the White House prayer breakfast of September 11, 1998.

The book is directed toward those who have considered critically the impact of these recent events. The essays plumb Christian views of confession, forgiveness, and responsibility; the biblical and historical concepts of honor and integrity in government; purported distinctions between "private" and "public" morality; and related issues.

Supporting the Declaration, Robert Jewett discusses the biblical concept of honoring those who are in government. He notes that as a nation we have been asked to judge the President by his "public" and not by his "private" morality. In response, he sets out both biblical and historical arguments to assert that we ought first to discern whether honor is due. While acknowledging the scriptural call for submission to authority, Jewett argues that to accord honor to one who governs when no honor is due is not only contrary to Scripture but destructive to society. Jewett next examines the Christian tradition of confession and governments' historical attempts to manipulate clergy. Jewett agrees that the reality of repentance is a matter between the sinner and God. Yet he also warns that clergy should exercise discernment lest they become a tool of governmental propaganda. Did the prayer-breakfast clergy play the role of Jehonadab to Clinton's Jehu? In answering yes, Jewett reminds us of Hosea's prediction of national catastrophe when the Church allowed itself to be debased by the politicians of the day.

Speaking in opposition, Nicholas Wolterstorff takes exception to the Declaration's third point, which asserts that Clinton abused ethical standards that "are central to the survival of our political system." Wolterstorff argues that the Declaration overstates the case because while Clinton's sins were deplorable, they did not rise to the level of a national threat like acts of treason or bribery. He goes on to assert that the true threat to the political system lies in "the pervasiveness of interest group politics." With respect to Wolterstorff's first point, one wonders whatever happened to the power of the "Bully Pulpit" to influence national behavior and judgment. With respect to his second point, James Madison would have agreed with Wolterstorff's lament of factions, but also would have directed his attention to Federalist Paper #10 in asserting that such is the stuff of a vibrant and free republic.

Attention ought to be given to the last essay by Shelby Steele, who criticizes the notion that politically correct, publicly expressed morality can sufficiently atone for, or render irrelevant, private behavior. Dubbing the phenomena "A New Idea for Good," Steele examines this ethic as well as its flip side which demonizes those who think otherwise. Finally, Steele traces the baby-boomer-era journey that has led us to this state of affairs. In closing the book with Steele's essay, Fackre has given us much to ponder.

Thursday, July 5th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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