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America’s Character and Ours

Lily Tomlin said something funny about politicians and about those who elect them in the following - little joke. She said, "Ninety-eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hardworking, honest Americans. It's the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity. But then, we elected them." My apologies to the many sincere, decent, hardworking politicians in America. Elected officials have a very difficult job. They live in a fish bowl, and a scandal-hungry media is always nearby, just waiting to whiff something rotten and smelly so they can splash the stink on screens and in headlines for all the world to see. And the public always seems eager to sniff it up. Tomlin's joke brings a smile to our faces due to the fact that political scandal is, sadly, a reality and a fairly routine part of public life in America. The last several years have seen a number of people in high places mired in sex scandals, the most notable including former president Bill Clinton (1998), former New Jersey governor James McGreevey (2004), Congressman Mark Foley (2006), Idaho Senator Larry Craig (2007), former New York governor Eliot Spitzer (2008), and former North Carolina senator and democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards (2008). The most recent scandals involved former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (2011) and New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. There is nothing new in this, of course. From modern times back to ancient ones there have been people who occupied high places who ended up displaying some really common and low-down character. The Bible itself, accused by some of being out of touch with real life, tells us the story of David's sordid and scandalous affair with Bathsheba.

Yep. America's leaders can at times be a pretty rotten bunch. But that's only half the story. As Lily said, we elected them! Could it be the character of America's leaders is a reflection of the character of America's general public? President James A. Garfield (who was also a Gospel preacher) once made this pointed and uncomfortable statement about where the buck really stops: "The people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body is ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people -tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities. . . If the next centennial does not find us a great nation . . . it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces" (Gospel Advocate, September 2008, p 6). Today, a growing number of Americans insist no one should impose their religious or moral values on us. But, as. Judge Robert Bork points out, "What many fail to realize is somebody's religious, Or at the very least, somebody's moral values will be imposed -- if not voluntarily on ourselves, then through legislation and judicial action on everybody" (Slouching Toward Gomorrah, pp 272, 281). America's moral character does not matter to many American politicians or citizens who elect them. But it ought to. As America observes her 235th birthday, let us remember this timeless principle - "Righteousnhess exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:14).

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ