Character Assassination

  The apostle Peter says Christians are aliens and strangers in the world. I can't remember a time in my life when I felt more like an alien in my own land than I do today, and the reason is the way people are responding to the White House crisis. This is not the America I know, which values honor and decency. A recent poll reveals that by a two-to-one margin, Americans say that even if the president had an affair, and even if he lied, it doesn't matter: It does not affect his capacity to be president. Shockingly, many religious leaders are saying the same thing. One said President Clinton is a good husband, and if he made a mistake we shouldn't be too upset over it. Another, whom I greatly admire, said that since the president is an attractive man—well, these things happen, and we ought to forgive him. I don't get it. The Scripture I read says we are required to forgive, of course—if a sinner acknowledges his sin and repents. To be sure, we still don't know if anything improper took place between the president and Monica Lewinsky. But are we supposed to forgive him in advance—just in case he did something wrong? The polls tell us, as well, that a majority think that while lying in general is wrong, it's okay to lie to cover up private, sexual sins. Really? Would it also be okay to cover up private racism—of a secret hatred of blacks or Jews? What someone is lying about is not the issue; the sin is lying itself. And then we heard Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott say that if the prosecutor has a case, put it forward; otherwise, shut the investigation down. This, of course, is the same majority leader who, when told that Air Force pilot Kelly Flinn would be disciplined for adultery, said, "Adultery? Get real. This is the nineties." What all this tells us is that Americans are absolutely engulfed in postmodern relativism: moral anarchy. We have morality by polls, not by principles. I, for one, have been praying for a quick resolution to this controversy. It is awful that five-year-olds are hearing about sordid sex acts on the news. And the longer the scandal drags out, the weaker our president will become. He is entitled to a presumption of innocence. But at the same time, the judicial process must continue and the American people must support it if we are to be a nation of laws. Yes, we want to get this squalid matter cleaned up—but far worse would be to say that adultery and lying don't matter. That would betray our heritage. Remember that the chief characteristic of our Founders was character. Washington was chosen as our first president because he was a man of virtue. Historically, there has always been a bond of trust between the American people and their president—something that the people, the politicians, and even the preachers all now seem to be forgetting. There has been at least one voice of sanity in all this: Bill Bennett's. He is our philosopher king, our reigning moralist. Bennett recently wrote a brilliant article in the Wall Street Journal, in which he explains why we'd better care about adultery and lying. As he pointed out, the "willingness to make judgments about things that matter… is a defining mark of a healthy democracy." Bennett—and our Founders—are right. Character does matter. To say it doesn't is to deny the most fundamental truth that has been the bulwark of our freedom, a biblical truth: righteousness exalts a nation.


Chuck Colson



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