Where is the President who campaigned on traditional values when we need him most?

The George Bush we have seen lately looks a lot different from the one we saw in 1988. That George Bush campaigned heavily on traditional moral values, the family, and a “kinder, gentler” America—stuff most Americans love to hear. For evangelicals, that kind of talk worked: 80 percent of us voted for him. Now we are not so sure where Mr. Bush stands on the issues he at one time thought were important to us.

Exhibit A. On the issue of abortion, the President has gone from being a vocal opponent to a timid observer. He seems satisfied with the views of Vice-president Quayle and Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater that the Republican tent is big enough to include strong prochoicers. As Fred Barnes observes in the New Republic, Mr. Bush says his views haven’t changed, but cannot bring himself to say what those views are. True, he vetoed legislation that would have expanded federal funding for abortions, but as acting RNC spokesman Charlie Black admitted on “Face the Nation,” “The prolife plank of Mr. Bush’s party is merely a gesture toward the prolife position.” The brave, moral leadership we were told to expect on this issue just hasn’t been there.

Exhibit B. To help celebrate the signing of the Hate Crimes Bill, our President made history by inviting prominent gay-rights activists to participate. With the White House doors finally opened to those who would like to see all restrictions to a homosexual lifestyle eliminated, it was not surprising that gay-rights activists attended yet another high-level White House function last month. From a President who courted evangelicals with warm words about the family, this landmark invitation is both puzzling and alarming.

Exhibit C. Okay, we shouldn’t beat up on the President for finally admitting he will have to raise taxes. A Democratic-controlled Congress would never have given him the budget cuts he wanted. But his flip-flop on this issue makes us wonder if we misread his lips about other things—like Exhibit D.

Exhibit D. We really wonder just how kind and gentle this land will be if Mr. Bush gets his way at the budget summit. One of the proposals is to seriously scale back (or even eliminate) the tax deduction for charitable giving. Much of that charitable giving helps pay for many of the “thousand points of light” he held up as an inspiration during his campaign.

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In fairness, Mr. Bush has shown occasional flashes of his old campaign self. His appointments to the FCC and the Department of Health and Human Services, his vow to veto a forthcoming child-care bill if it threatens religious day care, and his accessibility to evangelical leaders all give us reason to hope. But the momentum seems to be in the other direction.

Mr. Bush apparently learned our language to ensure our vote. Although that is disappointing, our yearning for a President who would stand up to attacks on the family, the unborn, and the church made us ripe for the picking.

The lesson to learn from all this is that in the world of hardball politics, pragmatic pressures are fierce, and idealism and principle sometimes get left behind. We can no longer afford to be naive.

At the same time, we must remember that the game Mr. Bush is playing is not the only one in town. The church is still best at lighting the way where darkness prevails. No President or platform can do it for us, and we would do well to remember this whenever we are tempted to let George do it.

By Lyn Cryderman.

Sadly, the story was one all too familiar to our news department: A leader at an evangelical institution had resigned due to moral failure. When contacted by one of our news editors, both the person involved and the institution’s representative confirmed the accuracy of the report. Both also begged us not to publish a story. After several hours’ worth of deliberation and debate, we chose not to run the news.

Second thoughts aside (and there have been more than a few), the episode left us troubled on several counts. One obvious cause for concern is the frequency of moral failure among Christian leaders (since that incident, we have heard of three other reports of clergy who have acknowledged similar problems). In fact, we hear so many such reports (most of them true) that we have been forced to set criteria to decide which ones are newsworthy. Frankly, one reason we did not run the story mentioned above was that the individual was not a top-level leader—a fact that, while it may detract from news value, in no way lessens the tragedy of the transgression.

Keeping It In The Family

Another concern—worth an editorial of its own—is the speed and the breadth, if not depth, of the evangelical “grapevine.” Reports of the leader’s fall came within days of his resignation, and from points across the country, with notable variations. Why are we who are messengers of the Good News so eager to spread bad news?

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But what is perhaps most disturbing was the insistance by the parties involved that the matter had been dealt with by the institution’s “family” and that no one else need know—or would know—about it, if we did not publish the story. In other words, “Don’t interfere with our damage control.”

Whether driven by naïveté or a baser desire to put a better “spin” on a story, coverups are always wrong. They seldom survive the scrutiny of an information-hungry culture such as ours, and biblically, there is no justification for hiding wrongdoing. Surely the televangelist tragedies, as well as those less-publicized scandals of other leaders, have taught at least one lesson: The story (if not the truth) eventually will come out.

The abrupt departure of any high-profile leader from an influential organization is going to be noticed by someone. And no matter how vaguely the official statement reads, or how closely the community guards the story, it will spread. More often than not, time only serves to allow distortion of the truth and add the cloud of a coverup to the situation.

Yes, these cases deal with a Christian brother or sister. They should be handled with sensitivity and respect for the individuals involved. But when those individuals are in public ministry, they and their organizations should recognize that secrecy rarely serves their best interests. And secrecy seldom lasts.

The best way to deal with the unpleasant realities of Christian life is forthrightly to speak the truth in love. Truth does not call for sordid details. Nor does love demand that failure be hidden. But restoration requires honest confession—the sooner the better for all involved.

By the editors.

In the name of religion, human beings wear funny hats, restrict their diets, and adopt bizarre haircuts. Sometimes conscience drives religious adherents to violate laws regulating marriage, drugs, or medicine. How should our government relate to this wide variety of practices—practices that are of vital importance to a fervent minority of the population, but that depart from the conventional mores of society?

• Should orthodox Jews be allowed to wear a yarmulke while serving our country in uniform?

• Should African-American inmates who convert to Islam be allowed to observe their religion’s times of prayer and strict diet?

• Should believers of any stripe who believe God has set aside a specific day for rest and worship be allowed to refuse work on that day without putting their jobs in jeopardy?

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• Should members of the Native American Church who were fired for the sacramental use of the hallucinogenic peyote be denied unemployment compensation?

Earlier this year, in writing the majority opinion on that last f’r instance, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia tossed out key guidelines the Court had been using for nearly 30 years to sort out such tricky questions (“When Religion Makes Us Nervous,” CT, June 18, 1990, p. 17). Those guidelines, established in the 1963 case of Sherbert v. Werner, directed the Court to determine (a) whether a law has imposed a burden on the free exercise of religion, (b) whether the state interest is strong enough to justify the burden, and (c) whether the state has no other way of accomplishing its goals. After Justice Scalia’s Employment Division v. Smith opinion implied that the state had no obligation to show that it had a compelling interest and no other means of accomplishing its goals, religious leaders became deeply concerned and asked what hedge was left to guard the Constitution’s free-exercise guarantee.

Once again our system of checks and balances is at work. Twenty-three members of Congress, including Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) and Paul Henry (R-Mich.), have cosponsored a bipartisan bill to restore the “compelling state interest” test. H.R. 5377, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1990, was introduced just two weeks before this writing and referred to judiciary committee. Given the recent unpredictability of the judicial branch, we consider the passage of this bill to be an important safeguard for all freedom-loving Americans.

By David Neff.

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