Repent or Resign

On his program last Wednesday, Larry King asked his guests, the heads of four religious groups, myself included, "You preach forgiveness. The president has said he sinned. Why don't you let it go?" A fair question, and one that lots of folks are asking. My answer was, "One condition for forgiveness is repentance." What Clinton has done is give a defiant speech in which he blamed Ken Starr for his problems. I pointed out that President Clinton is making the identical mistakes made by the president I served: Richard Nixon. When Mr. Clinton addressed the nation three weeks ago, everything in his words and body language spelled not contrition, but defiance. Just the attitude Nixon maintained to the end. Clinton could have told all, asked forgiveness - genuinely - and the entire scandal would be over. Just as with Nixon. The tawdry behavior of the President with Monica Lewinsky is reprehensible, but not in itself impeachable. If Starr reports anything to the Congress, it will not be about sex, it will be about perjury, obstruction of justice, abuse of power - and as I told Larry King - the very same offenses that sank Nixon. And there's one more impeachable offense already committed, the most serious perhaps. Clinton has lied to the American people, breaking the fragile bond of trust between himself and the people. A bond that gives legitimacy to any presidency. There have been rogues in the White House before, and people have forgiven their abuses. But people don't forgive a President looking into the camera and telling them a bald-faced lie. That's what brought Nixon down. Remember, lying to the American people was one of the specific counts in the Bill of Impeachment of Richard Nixon. "But what about forgiveness?" King insisted. Well, this scandal has revealed, not only the President's moral weakness, but our own weakness in understanding repentance. Admittedly the President has made one or two lukewarm apologies in recent days. And he says he's asked for forgiveness, though I haven't heard him ask it of the American people. And he still maintains that attitude of defiance. But what Mr. Clinton and the nation need to understand is the true meaning of the word "repentance." The Greek word for repentance is metanoia. Meta means "to change or shift" and noia means "perspective." It literally means a change in the way one views things. Repentance means not only saying you're sorry, it means you are going to genuinely change and mend your ways - which brings me back to the perils of Nixon and Watergate. Nixon could never bring himself to level with the people and amend his ways. President Clinton may still have time to do what Nixon did not - come clean. But he needs to forthrightly repent. That's what millions of Americans are waiting for. Then forgiveness and healing would be possible. So, if I could say anything to the President it would be this: Apologize to your family; to the loyal minions you sent out to lie for you; to the people you lied to; even to Mr. Starr, whom you have maligned. And when you do it, let the people see genuine repentance so it will restore the moral authority of the office you hold. Jesus' words say it best: The truth will make you free. And, the longer you wait, Mr. President, the more likely that the parallels with the Nixon presidency will be carried to their ultimate conclusion. There are only two honorable choices, sir: repentance or resignation.  


Chuck Colson



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