Real Repentance

For only the second time in American history, an impeachment trial has begun unfolding in the U.S. Senate. It's a trial nobody wants—and a trial nobody can avoid. Clear and compelling evidence that the president committed perjury has been presented, and, like it or not, the Constitution itself dictates that there must be a trial. This is no partisan vendetta; it's a matter of clear constitutional law. It's also a tragic moment for the country, one that weighs heavily upon us all. There is now only one way that the country can be spared this agony—and that is if the president resigns. In fact —after much prayer and reflection—this is what I believe the president must do. I don't say this because I don't like him. I had an extended conversation with Bill Clinton at President Nixon's funeral, and he's engaging and charming. I don't say it because I disagree with his policies; the election settled that. I say it because stepping down is the honorable thing the president can do for the country—and, just as importantly, for the sake of his own soul. From the beginning of the impeachment process, the issue has not been sex; it has been perjury. President Clinton's problem is that he, a confessing Christian, has been unwilling to acknowledge that. But to repent means to acknowledge your sin, to change your ways, and willingly accept the consequences of your sin. So until President Clinton looks the senators in the eyes and says, "I lied under oath, and I'm willing to accept the consequences," he remains unrepentant. I suspect the president knows he's in a box. For to admit perjury now would be to lose the credibility of his presidency—at home and abroad—and he could later be prosecuted. So he maintains the charade, quibbles over words, and refuses to give the senators what most deem necessary to limit his punishment to a censure, that is, a direct answer. But my concern, as well, is pastoral: what this unrepentant attitude does to Clinton personally. Repentance is essential to get right with God, as I would tell anyone who came to me for counseling. Christian leaders need to send this message to President Clinton. Otherwise, we're failing both him and the Church. We become enablers, condoning what theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer called "cheap grace," the idea that you can sin and be forgiven without consequences. The issue is so grave that 157 religious scholars have signed a remarkable statement called "Declaration Concerning Religion, Ethics, and the Crisis in the Clinton Presidency." The signatories are not the so-called "Religious Right." They are mostly mainline scholars from leading seminaries and include many outspoken Democrats and Clinton supporters. As these scholars put it, "we believe that serious misunderstandings of repentance and forgiveness are being exploited for political advantage… We fear," they said, "that the religious community is in danger of being called upon to provide authentification for a politically motivated and incomplete repentance that seeks to avert serious consequences for wrongful acts." Would that this nation be spared further agony; would that God's demand for repentance not be mocked. It's tragic that Clinton's own behavior has brought us to this point, but, in his own interests and in the country's interests, this is the time for him to do the right thing: Resign the presidency.


Chuck Colson



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