The message from the Clinton scandal seems clear: No summer vacation this year. Inch by inch the Starr offensive advances, as the president fails in his attempt to save himself by distorting the doctrine of executive privilege. Inch by inch Ken Starr and his lieutenant, Hickman Ewing, ignore Clinton administration anti-Christian name-calling ("religious fanatic") and continue to compile evidence.
It's hard to know what will happen. Polls still show most Americans wishing this huge national embarrassment would all go away. President Clinton knows how to use contemporary impatience to his advantage; the strategy of delay, delay, delay may still work. Much depends on reactions from two crucial groups, journalists and evangelicals.
Many journalists remain uncomfortable with accusations against the president that also point to their own sins. Geraldo Rivera, a reportorial laughingstock several years ago, has a new $5 million contract with NBC and is "Clinton's most articulate TV defender," according to Newsweek. Mr. Rivera wrote about numerous extramarital affairs in his autobiography, Exposing Myself, and is "sure something probably happened" between Mr. Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, but "even if [Mr. Clinton's] done everything, he's a hypocrite. So what? Get over it."
Most Washington reporters have already gotten over what they believe at the most to be low crimes and misdemeanors, but the Clinton trip to China next month will test their willingness to bring up potentially higher crimes. Will the networks connect the Chinese government's attempt to manipulate American politics with President Clinton's approval of sensitive technology transfers to China, against the advice of the Department of Justice and the Pentagon? And what of the new CIA report showing that China may have up to 13 nuclear missiles targeted on U.S. cities, while Mr. Clinton still opposes congressional attempts to improve our missile defense?
Clinton-approved technology transfer has also aided the Chinese government's persecution of Christians, pregnant mothers, and political dissidents (see WORLD cover story, Sept. 14, 1996). Will the networks next month quote Mr. Clinton's statement that we should be at ease because Chinese President Jiang Zemin "knows a lot about Christianity," and then ask if the dictator has gained his information by sitting at the feet of pastors, or cutting off their toes one by one?
Is that a harsh statement about Mr. Clinton's good friend? And are we being harsh in regard to the president himself? Here's where Christians, called to be truly salt and light, have such a critical role. Several readers have sent in letters and taped messages suggesting that strong criticism of President Clinton is unbiblical because "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1), and because we are told to "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men ... honor the king" (1 Peter 2:13, 17).
Those verses are of course binding on us, as is all Scripture. Of course we should honor President Clinton because of his official role; no one should refuse to shake hands with him. But those who say that Peter recommended honoring a dictator like Nero, and we should thus say nothing bad about even a bad president, are missing vital understandings about the primary rule of law in America, and the secondary rule of a plurality of authorities, not just one.
First, who is the king of the United States? God, of course, but under God, the Constitution is the supreme authority instituted among Americans. The Constitution deserves our honor and respect, and each of us, including the president, must submit himself to it. President Clinton has sworn to uphold the Constitution and to execute the laws of the United States, and if he fails in that duty he-not those who hold him to biblical and constitutional standards-is opposing Scripture.
Second, we must honor the Constitution's division of authority and its emphasis on checks and balances. The Independent Counsel office is a far-from-perfect attempt to ferret out the evidence so that courts will be able "to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right" (1 Peter 2:14). The Clinton-Starr war drags on because the president's men and women have so skillfully bottled up evidence-but despite those attempts, the testimony of many more than two witnesses has piled up (see WORLD cover stories, Feb. 7 and March 28, 1998).
Evangelicals who want to wait until all the evidence is in should be criticizing not Mr. Starr and his supporters, but those who have refused to produce information. Sadly, the latest Clinton delaying tactic seems to involve starting a religious war against conservative Christians. We should not stoop to that level, but continue to insist, without mincing words, that the president submit himself to the governing authorities, as should we all.