The Embarrassment in ChiefThe President of the United States, Bill Clinton, has recently been the subject of much debate, attacks, and questions following his affairs with Monica Lewinsky. And the Pacific Ocean is just a bit wet. It is a sad commentary on this nation when the President's sins make the front page news for days and weeks on end, with reports of his behavior not suitable reading for minors, and many are calling for direct punishment. It is a sorry state for our country, to see the leader publicly disgraced from those on the political right, as well as those on the left seeking to merely excuse away his sins as if sins don't matter this late in the 20th century.
Why should all of this matter to any of us? This is just one man sinning and getting caught for it. It's just a private matter between him, his family, and those he committed adultery with, right? Sorry, but I must disagree. With a higher position comes higher responsibilities-- and higher fallout for sins committed. God has held leaders accountable for their sins, and the sins they condoned, such as condemning Israel to the Babylonian captivity for King Manasseh's depravity. [2 Kings 21:10-15] The sins of other kings, such as Saul, David, Solomon and Rehoboam (who caused the Israel/Judah split, as noted in 1 Kings 12) similarly affected their nations.
When the Babylonian captivity was over, the people of Israel had to publicly repent for the sins of their ancestors and past leaders (Nehemiah 10, esp v34-35). Sin is a big matter to God, and even though Jesus's work on the cross enables us to be reconciled to him, people and nations can still be hurt by sin not dealt with.
On the plus side, the prayers and correct deeds from leaders such as Aaron (1 Num 25:11, etc), Kings Hezekiah and Josiah (2 Kings 18-20,22-23) saved the Israelites from obliteration. Even the king of Ninevah's public repentance (along with all of the other inhabitants) saved them from the judgment Jonah had prophesied. [Jonah, chapter 3]
How, as Christians, are we supposed to see and react to all of these events? First, as in all circumstances, lifting our government and our nation up in prayer to God should be done. No matter where you fit in the political spectrum, all of our leaders deserve and should command prayer all the time. Leaders are all fallible, they are all sinners, and they all need God's grace. Even the Apostle Paul asked others to pray for him in 1 Thessalonians 5:25 and other places, as he knew he needed that.
At least daily prayer for our leaders should be widely practiced, but I'd suspect it's not. We are probably the worse off for lack of such prayer.
Next, I believe we should not try and pretend that no sins have been committed. The Bible lays down in no uncertain terms what is right and what is wrong, and pretending the Bible doesn't exist doesn't make the sins disappear. Bill Clinton has admitted to adultery with multiple women (commandment #7), as well as initially lying (#9-- false witness) about those incidents. His actions went well beyond the "looking lustfully at another woman" (Matthew 5:28) that Jesus himself defined as adultery. While there is this 'freedom of religion' in the U.S., and some wrong beliefs may not count those actions as sins, Bill Clinton is a Christian of the Southern Baptist stripe. He is under the Biblical law, and he is guilty of those actions.
Somewhat related to the pretending that sin doesn't exist is the cynical view which seeks to convince everyone that "they're all crooks, and none of them is worth ever trusting." By the problems of a few, all are discredited. Sure, everyone may sin, but some try and stay close to God and do right, and confess sins asap. The Bible does list qualifications for a leader in the Church in 1 Timothy 1-13. We are called to use such qualifications in choosing leaders, and I believe that we should use the same list should be used to help choose secular leaders. The separation between Church and State in the US does not prevent anyone from using any religious standards in making their own personal choices when voting, so take advantage of that. [And don't use the list in 1 Timothy as a checklist for how many ways our current leaders are biblically disqualified.]
While those tending towards the liberal side of religion and politics may try to ignore or whitewash sins and not accept them as sins, the more conservative (tending to be right wing) tend to try and thump others and opponents over the head with the Bible. Strict legalism is wrong, and bashing one's opponent for political and personal gain is also quite wrong. Our call is to attack the sin when it appears.
One of the things that (possibly correctly) inflamed the the right was Clinton's initial refusal to own up to his misdeeds. From his initial "I did not have sex with that woman" claim to the halfhearted apology wrung out of him after proof that a certain dress had his DNA, true remorse has barely been seen from him. Even as of this writing, (9/18/98) Clinton and lawyers are still trying to put out a "What he said was 'Legally Accurate'" line. Does that even begin to approach what the prodigal son said as he returned home? Does that come close to David's psalms pleading God for forgiveness? Not in the least, and it's neither "legally accurate" nor the truth.
With such sins still unrepented of, thinking that political opponents won't latch onto them is like thinking that you could dangle raw steak in front of a starving lion and expect it to quietly nap. Bill Clinton's thankfully started apologizing for some of his actions, but each apology has taken much work, and still does not seem complete. Unconfessed sin will burn away at his heart, as well as hurt the nation, as we can see what is wrong, and be unable to fully set it right. The unwillingness of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) to fully admit their wrongdoing cost them their lives. Only by God's mercy do we all get time to have the chance to come clean; we should avail ourselves of that while we can.
So, if Clinton asks for our forgiveness, we should extend it to him, "seventy times seven" times. However, that does not rule out any civil punishments due to him. Zacheus short-circuited the judiciary system by paying back 4 times what he had stolen-- the extreme end of justice required in case of theft. [Ex 22:1] While ordinary citizens forgive him after various levels of Biblically acknowledging and turning away from his misdeeds, there may be a number of non Christians (or at least those demanding punishment for sin) among the 435 members of congress and 100 members of the senate who might vote if he is qualified to keep holding office anymore. Witness tampering and perjury can earn anyone a "term" of many years in a quality federal building. That is the law of the land.
God has appointed leaders over us, whether we like them or not. Romans 13:1-2 "Everyone must, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." Hebrews 13:17 similarly instructs us to "obey our leaders and submit to their authority." Thus, within the structure of Government that has been laid out, we are to obey all of our leaders and treat them with respect. I don't believe that's happened as much as should be happening, just as with prayer for leaders and proper recognition of sin.
In some ways, the public is the ultimate 'leadership' in the US. We elect those who will make decisions. We vote on how to change the constitution. We make our wishes known. And thus, we bear more responsibility for the leadership we have than those under a hereditary kingship, as Israel was. Israel was a stiff-necked people who refused to listen to and obey God; our culture these days is heading quickly down the same road. Israel had its Babylon to conquer, destroy, and take the nation as captive. Does the US? Pray it isn't so.