Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


White House God 2

posted by xscot mcknight

Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford each opened the door to the influence of the Christian faith on their Presidencies though they did so in discreet enough of ways not to offend the public nor to offend the principles John F. Kennedy articulated. Chp 2 of Randall Balmer’s fine God in the White House sketches God in the White Houses of Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.
Any comments on the faith commitments of Johnson, Nixon or Ford?
One of Balmer’s themes is the presence, even if he wanted to downplay his influence, of Billy Graham in these three Presidencies. Here are some highlights of this chp:
1. Lyndon Johnson was Disciples of Christ, never really found institutional religion of much use, but was a man of the golden rule and the need for the strong to help the weak — and Balmer points to its good impact in the Civil Rights and Voting Acts and its destructive impact in the Viet Nam Conflict. His commitment to the latter, Balmer argues, minimized the former.
2. Graham was deeply committed to Richard Nixon and — this point is made a few times by Balmer — did not seem to have the ability, perhaps because of his closeness to Nixon, to see the darkness in Nixon. Watergate, of course, led to the conversion of Charles Colson.
3. Gerald Ford was a born-again Christian about whose faith there was not as much commentary. Ford had a friend, an odd one, named Billy Zeoli, who talked too much about the President’s faith and his spiritual advisory role and had to be shut down. Ford pardoned Nixon for theological reasons — he thought God’s mercy to him implied that he needed to be merciful to Nixon. The decision became a circus.
For me this period reveals a period in American history when the separation of Church and State was lived out by our Presidents. Faith was a private matter; it had influence but it was not advertised. But the foibles of Nixon would lead to Jimmy Carter who would bring faith much more to the center of public discourse, esp as it had to do with candidacy issues, and our country would never be the same.



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Duane

posted January 24, 2008 at 6:39 am


Johnson’s actual commitment to the Golden Rule is suspect. His revenge on the Kennedy advisors is legendary. Some are unprintable. I recall a story of when Conrad Adenauer visited the ranch and LBJ put a oversized cowboy hat on Schlesinger (so it fell down over his ears) and had him walk behind the mule the Chancelor was riding with a shovel. And the daily briefings he required from some of thsse advisors making them sit on the edge of the bathtub while the Prez did his morning “ablutions.” Of course he had suffered great ridicule at the hands of the “Camelot” crew.
I haven’t gotten the book yet, but was wondering–does he leave out Eisenhower? As I recall did not IKE come to personal faith in Christ while President (maybe after his heart attack) and was he not baptized in the White House?



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Bob Brague

posted January 24, 2008 at 9:04 am


I am almost 66 years old. What an interesting take on the Johnson-Nixon-Ford era. Almost like the fiction that you dislike so much. The quote I remember most from LBJ was, “We’re going to take from the haves and give it to the have-nots who need it so much.” Reads almost like a page from Hillary Clinton’s playbook (“I want to take those oil profits…”). On the humorous side, LBJ also said, “Uncle Sam will keep her word” (in The Strange Case of the English Language, a CBS documentary narrated by Harry Reasoner).
Nixon was a Western Quaker whose viciousness certainly didn’t reflect his upbringing. He did open the door to trading with China (maybe good, maybe bad). Most poignant moment: Pat’s face during her husband’s resignation speech.
Ford was a Heisman trophy winner, I think, at least an All-American from Michigan. His pardon of Nixon infuriated most of the populace, whether it was “for theological reasons” or not. Ford was considered a bumbler because of continual minor physical mishaps.
If any of them had “faith commitments,” it seemed to be Ford. They led in the days before Jimmy Carter, whose “born again” stance made headlines.



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Tom Hein

posted January 24, 2008 at 9:29 am


A local editorial piece in the Des Moines Register was bashing Mike Huckabee for his presumed potential of crossing the line of separation of church and state. My response was that all people operate out of some kind of world view that influences their policy decisions. And, for many Americans, that includes some kind of religious/church experience. So, the church/state separation is sometimes used by the liberal left as a weapon to try to shut down the expression of conservative values informed by faith.



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ChrisB

posted January 24, 2008 at 10:59 am


I recently read that LBJ was basically strong-armed into the civil rights act. LBJ and Nixon both seem to be great examples of compartmentalized faith.



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Drew

posted January 24, 2008 at 12:53 pm


Himmelstein gives a very nice contribution to his discussion. In To the Right Jerome Himmelstein (1990) examines the rise of the New Religious Right noting that the dovetailing of new social issues such as the ERA and abortion with the mobilization of evangelicalism through mass-media crystallized a segment of the population that merged into the mainstream of American politics and religion. One of the catalyzing forces for the rise of this movement was the perceived failure of the self-professing evangelical President of the time, Jimmy Carter, to increase the political influence of the evangelicals who rallied around him. This became one of the issues, along with a fumbling economy, that would eventually shift the evangelical vote in favor of the Republican party in 1980. Part of this story is the rise in fundamentalist higher education through Jerry Falwell?s Liberty University and Pat Robertson?s Regents University which were both founded in the 1970?s largely on the hill of prosperity offered up by the faithful of their broadcasting empires? virtual congregations across the country.



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Phillip Scoggins

posted January 24, 2008 at 2:54 pm


Where is the line crossed?
I am a firm believer of separation of church and state. With that being said it is impossible for an individual’s faith not to have an impact on their decisions of policy and specifically moral legislation. Gay marriage is one of those issues where an individual?s faith can play a great role on their thought of endorsement or lack of endorsement for an amendment pertaining to this issue.
For me, issues can be so ambiguous that it is terribly difficult to ascertain when that line is crossed. It is obviously very relative. Most would say religion should not be endorsed or enforced by our government. That is a very ambiguous statement. When do politicians as individuals try to be Christ rather than be like Christ? When do politicians use their faith as a moral compass rather than enforce there faith in the mold of a theocracy?
In the former question, my dissillusionment of late rests with the perception that Christ is only a stepping stone to individual or party benefit.



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Phillip Scoggins

posted January 24, 2008 at 3:19 pm


Correction to above, question was:
When do politicians as individuals try to be Christ rather than be like Christ?
Should be:
When do politicians as individuals try to use Christ rather than be like Christ?
Sorry, I should proof read before I post rather than after posting.



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Drew

posted January 24, 2008 at 11:57 pm


Phillip,
I think that the line is somewhat blurred, but that is part of why we have checks and balances – to avoid policy from being a function of one subjective judgment. There are tests as well such as the Lemon Test from the Lemon v. Kurtz case in which there are a series of legal propositions against which decisions regarding religion can be tested. The main one is that of an undue entanglement of law and specific religious convictions. This kind of test enables lawmakers to have a set of objective standards against which to measure legal decisions.
As a politician you are free to propose just about anything especially if your constituents want to see you support and enact legislation that favors a particular religious conviction. But such policy has to go through a lot of hands before it comes even close to being the law of the land.
Regarding something like gay marriage, it is extremely difficult to find a legal argument that does not have at its foundation a specific kind of religious belief that substantiates it. To my mind such a foundation for policy when measured against the Lemon test fails on legal grounds. But this is an oversimplification of the political spinning that actually takes place apart from what might seem to be a rather cut and dry distinction. DOMA proves that.



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Peggy

posted January 25, 2008 at 7:43 pm


I find it VERY interesting that Ford’s pardon of Nixon is cast as theological. I have both heard and read Ford stating emphatically that he did it because it was the best thing for the country. That we didn’t need to be mired in or distracted by the spectacle, but to let it go and move on. He did it even knowing that it would probably cost him the election. That is how faith informed his presidency–in self-sacrificial leadership.
I think we could take a play from that great Michican football player’s book and learn when to let things go and move on to restoration and reconciliation. And he wouldn’t have been remembered as a bumbler if the press had let a little stumble go rather than making it the big news forever. Something like “he who is without sin cast the first stone” comes to mind.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted January 25, 2008 at 10:49 pm


Interesting. I admire much what I’ve learned about Gerald Ford, living here in Grand Rapids.
I do think it’s important to keep the sense of separation between church and state, as our nation was certainly founded in part on that- to avoid the state church imposition of the Old Country.



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Bob Robinson

posted January 26, 2008 at 9:42 am


ChrisB (in comment #4) says, “LBJ and Nixon both seem to be great examples of compartmentalized faith.”
This is the problem, in my estimation, with an anabaptist approach to politics. This approach says that politics are “of this world,” and that faith needs to be compartmentalized into the “private” realm of the politician. While we have seen the problem of those with faith trying to theocratize the government, this dualistic approach to engagement with society has its own set of problems.
Perhaps we need another approach: One that clearly says, “I’m a Christian in office,” while embracing the idea of “Principled Pluralism:” “Recognizing that governments have not been ordained by God for the purpose of separating believers from unbelievers, giving privilege to Christians and the church, or serving the interests of one nation over others.”



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Drew

posted January 26, 2008 at 10:01 am


Bob,
I think that is the principle behind the establishment norm. Every political judgment will be invariably conditioned by one’s formative values. And if these values happen to be religiously motivated it is near impossible to fully bracket them. However, cooperation and negotiation take place in which the political judgment must step outside of the bounds of one’s own value set in order to make purchases on the value set established in the Constitution. When you look at what the founders really envisaged here, it is hard not to see the genius in its dialectical nature which equilibrates the entire decision making process even when we see failures, it still corrects itself on some level.



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Peggy

posted January 26, 2008 at 3:31 pm


I didn’t take the statement about “great examples of compartmentalized faith” as an ideal, just a statement. We cannot compartmentalize our faith–unless we choose to live our lives pluralistically…and then, we are not being like Christ.
He was able to be God and Man…and his Holy Spirit indwells us and empowers us to be like Christ. To be like Christ is not to spiritualize politics, but to act like Christ in each and every situation we encounter. And sometimes that means we have to slow down and keep to the path than to be overwhelmed by popular hype.
I wonder at a people who will not allow an individual to ponder a question and give it more than a sound-bite, simplistic answer. Somehow, we have come to expect instant answers to complicated questions. No wonder our leaders often find themselves unable to deliver on their campaign promises.
We don’t have to step outside God’s values in order to value the opinions of others. We are called to listen and to love and to care and to feed even our enemies! How did it get so difficult to do with our fellow countrymen?
Personally, I think it is an issue of becoming a half-empty people. Of believing only the worst about everyone and every situation. About being so in the present that we have no remembrance of the past and no respect for the future that we cannot yet see.
That doesn’t mean we have to be Pollyanna-ish. It does mean that we have to recognize the complexity of society and respect humans as God’s image bearers. We have to stop “othering” and start listening and actively looking to think through our problems deeply enough to find common ground for all humans and start from there.
Sigh…it’s very hard work, but totally worth it…and truly hopeless otherwise. Any takers?



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Drew

posted January 26, 2008 at 7:12 pm


Peggy,
Regarding this statement:
“To be like Christ is not to spiritualize politics, but to act like Christ in each and every situation we encounter. And sometimes that means we have to slow down and keep to the path than to be overwhelmed by popular hype.”
What does this look like? Does it look at all like Christ’s relationship with the authorities of his day? It’s fine to say this, but I am not sure what this looks like in actual organizational practice. That is to say, to put something into practice, you need to make judgments. To make judgments you need to exclude as you include. How does this basic function of organizing ourselves around principles and functions look when compared to how Christ acted in kind when he walked with the disciples in what were numerous confrontations with various authorities?



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Peggy

posted January 26, 2008 at 10:57 pm


Drew,
Well, we cannot totally equate Jesus’ policital situation to our own because he had a system within a system–Jewish law within Roman law. Our brilliant system was founded by men who had the advantage of pondering the effect of Christ’s work over hundreds of years of history. They had access to the Bible in English and could (and did) read it themselves. They were adamant about separation of church and state because of the terrible corruption in England (and elsewhere in Europe) that made the state the enforcing arm of the church…and that was why folks fled to these shores to escape and begin anew.
What I meant was that we are to act according to the Jesus Creed in all our actions. We are not to be pluralistic in the sense that we may bracket out God in one place and not for another. We are to always love God with all we are and we are always to love our neighbor as ourselves.
This means that we must always look at the choices we make and the courses we undertake from all the sides involved. And this take much more energy and time than many (most?) are willing to spend.
Heck, I can’t even get members of the same church to spend this time and energy…but that doesn’t mean that there is any other answer.
It is hard work to embrace the “other” and want to hear and see as they do so that we can live together in shalom. The crazy thing is that most folks in the US understand the appeal to working for everyone’s best interest…and it doesn’t have to be attached to the words Jesus Creed, either. It is just hard work to do in practice because it is easier to appeal to folks self-interest and shun and demonize the other by appealing to their fears.
This is what makes me frustrated about politics…when it stops being an attempt to cooperate for everyone’s best interest and becomes special interest group “pork” focused wheeling and dealing
Sorry for the venting…and all this in defense of Gerry Ford, who really did a great job his whole life of doing what I’m talking about.



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