Clinton and the Church
The survey we conducted of you, our readers, demonstrated that, based on the Lewinsky affair alone, you were overwhelmingly in favor of impeaching and removing William Jefferson Clinton from office. We expected that a solid majority-probably three-fourths or so-would support impeachment and removal. After all, according to the polls, the only demographic group which backed the House managers was church goers; and, since that included all church goers (including those who attend liberal churches), we thought that those attending conservative churches would be even more inclined to desire the President's conviction. But we were somewhat surprised when our survey revealed that more than 98 percent of the respondents wanted to oust Bill Clinton from the White House.
As we've reflected on the poll data, we've been confirmed in two basic conclusions. The first is that the church in general, and the Reformed church in particular, has increasingly become a pilgrim band in this society. Our culture no longer has even a semblance of Christian thought serving as a moral foundation. Indeed, the popular culture is positively hostile to notions of absolute truth and traditional morality. The treatment afforded the House managers helps to illustrate that we, the members of the Christian community, really are contra mundum-"against the world."
But the second conclusion revolves around the question of how we as a society got to this position. America is known around the world as a "Christian nation." Is it possible that the church is to blame for current cultural decline? Our conclusion is "Yes."
Surveys have long-since demonstrated that there is no significant difference between the church and the world on matters of morality. To cite one example, the divorce rate among professing Christians is not much better than that among non-Christians.
But the problem is perhaps more subtle. Step back for a moment and consider the parallels between the Clinton matter and the situation we find in our own beloved denomination.
In the Presbyterian Church in America today, when a discussion or dispute arises, appeal is often made to the Church's Constitution and the necessity of upholding its provisions. Essentially, this is an effort to uphold "the rule of law." Yet how often have we seen emotional arguments made to ignore the Constitution! And how often has such argumentation persuaded the majority of the church court!
Mr. Clinton's defenders bent themselves out of shape trying to persuade themselves and the American people that perjury and obstruction of justice would not have been regarded by the Constitution's framers as disqualifying the President from office. But today in the PCA, all kinds of liturgical innovation is allowed and even fostered, with no apparent sensitivity to the theology of the Westminster Confession. (Does anyone really believe that the Puritans who wrote our documents would have regarded dance, drama, video clips, and rock music as legitimate parts of public worship?)
The House managers wanted to see justice done-and we applauded. Yet how often in our church courts is injustice done and favoritism practiced!
We decry the incompetence of politicians who seemingly don't understand the Constitution, and who show an unwillingness to follow it. Yet how often are churchmen ordained to office who perhaps have not even read the Church's Constitution in its entirety, much less comprehended it.
We supported the House managers for ignoring the polls and determining to do what is right, according to the rule of law and the U. S. Constitution. Yet how often today are decisions made in the church courts based upon what is popular (or perceived to be popular), rather than on correct doctrine.
We would take to task a politician whose vote was cast out of fear, whether fear of the President and his power, or fear of the populace. Yet votes are often decided in church courts because of who is or is not in favor of a proposal. (Or-dare we say it?-based on fear of reprisals and/or loss of favor with the "powers-that-be.")
"Attacking the messenger" is a common tactic when a person doesn't have a legal leg to stand on, and it was used effectively by the President's defenders. We were disgusted when the House managers had to suffer such indignities. Yet in the denomination today, people who want to follow the Church's Constitution are defamed. Too often they have to suffer character assassination, so that the "lawbreakers" in our midst can continue in their lawless ways.
Several months ago, Joel Belz editorialized in World magazine that instead of impeaching the President, we should "impeach the people." That is to say, the real fault lay with the American people, who elected such a person in the first place, and who continue to tolerate him.
We concur with that editor's sentiment. But to extend the theme, we would suggest that maybe we should "impeach the church."
While it is true that the church has been overly-influenced by the wicked world, it is also true that the world apes the church. The church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth, and the place where judgment begins. Assume for a moment that the society takes its cues from the church. Given the contemporary ecclesiastical standard, is it any wonder that Mr. Clinton is still residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
When we look at the toleration of inconsistencies in the society, we are in many ways merely looking into a mirror. If the Clinton scandal will shock us into an awareness of our own condition and can goad us into a consistent adherence to our own ecclesiastical Constitution, then the church will have been well-served by this sad and sordid affair.
Objective, But Not Neutral
We are very honored by the numerous responses we received to the survey regarding the newspaper. We believe that we have taken all of the comments seriously and, we trust, graciously.
One of the recurring themes in several of the responses was that we are "biased" in our news reporting. The implication is that we have been "unfair."
Let us assure you that we try very hard to be fair in our treatment of the various topics and issues which we cover. It is our usual habit to allow the principle figures in the stories to see the articles before we go to press, to make sure that we have represented those folks accurately. Beyond that, our pages are open for rebuttal or elaboration on the stories; and we welcome anyone who desires to write down his or her thoughts and to send them in.
Our journalistic endeavor is built on the truth that there are "facts" out there to be gleaned. God has acted in space-and-time; all the events in history occur because He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. These are "real" events, which happen as He executes His divine decrees.
Reflective of the reality of these things, we try to report in a straightforward manner concerning them. As Joe Friday used to say on Dragnet, "Just the facts, ma'am."
But what facts are important enough to report on? It is here that choices must be made. And we believe that we make those choices based on our world-and-life view, which is Christianity in general and Presbyterianism in particular.
Even the selection of which stories to tell is informed by our staunch commitment to the theology of the Westminster Assembly. For example, a square dance sponsored by a church on a Friday night probably is not going to be newsworthy. But the same activity on a Sabbath afternoon does attract our attention, since there is an obvious departure from the Constitutional ties that bind us together.
Similarly, a play performed during the week in a church is most likely not that important as a news item (depending on what the play is, of course!). But when a church employs drama for public worship, which practice is an obvious violation of our Standards, we want to bring this deviation to the attention of the church-at-large.
Many of the articles we write are of a more "positive" nature, rejoicing in faithfulness to Scripture and our Confessional Standards. But whether the article is illustrating fidelity, or demonstrating infidelity, we believe that its appearance fits the purpose of our news service, as proclaimed in the Masthead: "to advance fellowship, piety, and orthodoxy . . . through the dissemination of news about and of interest to the PCA and through the publication of articles and editorials which promote historic Presbyterian doctrine and practice."
Are we "biased"? Of course we are! We are "prejudiced" in a decidedly Presbyterian direction, seeking to be fully conformed to our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, and to foster the same conformity throughout the denomination.
So, we are not "neutral." But we would submit that we are "objective." And we would encourage anyone who detects that we are not following the objective standards of the Presbyterian faith to let us know the details.