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Jewish World Review / Sept. 15, 1998 /24 Elul, 5758

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas Repenting when
the end is near

WATCHING PRESIDENT CLINTON being "baptized'' with forgiveness by a carefully chosen group of theologically and politically liberal clergy last Friday recalled a similar event 25 years ago.

Richard Nixon held Sunday "morning-worship'' services in the White House attended by theologically and politically conservative clergy. As a young reporter I covered these strangely sterile events, which were devoid of hellfire and brimstone and any criticism of Nixon's Vietnam or domestic policies. That's because, like last Friday's liberal conclave, the guests were carefully screened.

All presidents, regardless of party, love to wrap themselves in men (and women) of the cloth, especially when their presidencies are unraveling.

President Clinton's advisors clearly made the case to him that the sawdust trail was a preferred path to trod. So, the president attempted to emulate Jimmy Swaggart with his own version of "I have sinned.'' He parsed the scripture a bit when he spoke of having a "broken but strong heart.'' The correct reference was to King David's "broken and contrite heart.'' But President Clinton vowed to again "sic'' his lawyers on Ken Starr, the House of Representatives and public opinion in order to hold on to power.

Only God knows a person's heart, but the rest of us can discern certain clues from a penitent's behavior. The credibility of repentance diminishes the closer one gets to being found out. In President Clinton's case, his came on the day the Starr referral arrived on Capitol Hill. Repentance also appears more genuine when it doesn't have to be extracted but is freely offered --- when it comes from the heart and not from focus groups.

Worldly sorrow is being sorry that you got caught. Godly sorrow acknowledges how short one falls from God's standard and brings with it a turning away from old patterns of behavior to new and better ones.

That point is eloquently made by the devotional writer Oswald Chambers in his classic work My Utmost for His Highest. Chambers says a truly repentant person "proves he is forgiven by being the opposite to what he was, by God's grace. Repentance always brings a man to this point: I have sinned. The surest sign that God is at work is when a man says that and means it. Anything less than this is remorse for having made blunders, the reflex action of disgust at himself.''

As for those who claim that the president should be granted immediate absolution by the public because he said the words some wanted to hear, the passage of some time is necessary to judge the sincerity of a man for whom truth has not been a strong suit. After his impressive televised performance, Jimmy Swaggart returned to the arms of prostitutes. In spite of Richard Nixon's White House church services, he resigned rather than face impeachment. The tape recordings of Oval Office conversations revealed that Mr. Nixon was more gifted in the language of the devil than he was at utterances pleasing to the Lord.

President Clinton's spiritual life is between himself and God. The president's political future is between himself and Congress. Without any insights into or conversations with the Office of the Independent Counsel, I have a suspicion that last week's referral is not the final word from Ken Starr. Emerging from a Saturday meeting with the president, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) seemed cocky when he said that Starr had fired his "best shot'' and it was a blank.

Don't look now, congressman, but the next sound you hear may be the dropping of additional evidence of wrongdoing by a man for whom sexual sin is only one failing in a totally dishonest individual.


9/11/98: Faithfully executing: Congress vs. the President
9/10/98: The degrees of separation between Dan Burton and Bill Clinton
9/08/98: Joe Lieberman and the Democrats' conscience
9/04/98: Clinton vs. Reagan and the struggle for power
9/02/98: If only Bubba had been a Boy Scout
8/31/98: Liberal clergy and the Lewinsky affair
8/27/98: Combating the terrorists among us
8/25/98: The president as 'Chicken Little'
8/20/98: That was no apology
8/18/98: Big government's crab grab
8/14/98:Untruths, half-truths and anything but the truth
8/12/98: Lying under oath: past and present impeachable offenses
8/10/98: Endangered species
8/04/98: In search of an unstained president
7/31/98: The UK is ahead of US in one area...
7/28/98: Murder near and far
7/21/98: Telling the truth about
homosexual behavior
7/17/98: One Nation? Indivisible?
7/14/98: Who cares about killing when the 'good times' are rolling?
7/10/98: George W. Bush: a different 'boomer'
7/08/98: My lunch with Roy Rogers
7/06/98: News unfit to print (or broadcast)
6/30/98: Smoke gets in their eyes
6/25/98: Sugar and Spice Girls
6/19/98: William Perry opposed
technology transfers to China
6/19/98: The Clinton hare vs.the Starr tortoise
6/17/98: The President's rocky road to China
6/15/98: Let the children go
6/9/98: Oregon: the new killing fields
6/5/98: Speaking plainly: the cover-up continues
6/2/98: Barry Goldwater: in our hearts
5/28/98:The Speaker's insightful remarks
5/26/98: As bad as it gets
5/25/98:Union dues and don'ts
5/21/98: Connecting those Chinese campaign contribution dots
5/19/98: Clinton on the couch
5/13/98: John Ashcroft: another Jimmy Carter?
5/8/98: Terms of dismemberment
5/5/98: Clinton's tangled Webb
4/30/98: Return of the Jedi
4/28/98: Desparately seeking Susan
4/23/98: RICO's threat to free-speech and expression
4/21/98: Educating children v. preserving an institution
4/19/98: Analyzing the birth of a possible new nation
4/14/98: What's fair about our tax system?
4/10/98: CBS: 'Touched by a perv'
4/8/98: Judge Wright's wrong reasoning on sexual harassment
4/2/98: How about helping American cities before African?
3/31/98:Revenge of the children
3/29/98: The Clinton strategy: delay, deceive, deny, and destroy
3/26/98: Moralist Gary Hart
3/23/98: CNN's century of (liberal) women
3/17/98: Dandy Dan
3/15/98: An imposed 'settlement' settles nothing
3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.