Why politicians like to act saved
Bill Clinton cultivated many admirable religious traits as a youngster. He regularly took himself to church as an 8-year-old, which he remembers in his folksy memoir “My Life.” By 10, he took Jesus as his Lord and Savior, making public his reception of salvation. When Billy Graham led a crusade in town, young Clinton asked his Sunday school teacher to take him. He wanted to be saved over and over again.CBS anchor Dan Rather sees himself as a hard-hitting questioner rather than a talking head who reads news from teleprompters. In a “60 Minutes” interview with Clinton, Rather seemed convinced of the former president’s religious sincerity. They sat in a pew of the Little Rock church where Clinton first found his salvation. Rather asked whether the former president prayed. Clinton said he prayed every day from boyhood through his time in the Oval Office. He still makes time for prayer in his life. When events were rough in the White House, Clinton leaned upon Jesus. When life smelled like springtime roses, the president placed himself safely in the arms of Jesus by praying.Americans prefer their president to show a religious bent to his character. Our citizens do not widely accept politicians who use religion as a club to knock down others. But Americans do want their president to rely upon God and show a familiarity with the Bible.A recent survey conducted by Pew pollsters found that those Americans who believe politicians should be mum about their religion are outnumbered 2 to 1. A majority of Americans prefer their candidates to share their journey to God, just like 8-year-old Bill Clinton took himself to church.Since many Americans desire their politicians to wear the badge of salvation, let’s not be naive about what salvation entails. What it means to be saved is not as obvious as Americans assume. When “salvation” is plastered on bumper stickers, I become suspicious. Bumper sticker lingo is usually clever, cute and crisp but seldom correct. Bumper stickers that do a terrific job of boiling down what’s true usually settle for what’s simplistic.A car with a bumper sticker on the trunk roared by. I barely had time to read this bit of religiosity: “Your soul is my sole concern.” Nice play on words. So catchy that a candidate who speaks from the heart recruit supporters waving campaign signs announcing, “Your soul is my sole concern.””That driver doesn’t know me from Adam,” I mused, “and still he claims to be concerned about my soul.” A car parked alongside the freeway a few miles up seemed concerned about how fast the driver’s soul raced. A policeman flagged him down and ticketed him when I passed by. What does that bumper sticker mean, “Your soul is my sole concern?”Traditionally, being concerned about one’s soul and wondering if a person has been saved meant that life was a preparation for heaven. Salvation was the ticket God issued to those who kept their faith in Christ. As the Apostle Peter testified of Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12).According to the Bible, how should we accurately translate what the bumper sticker asks about our salvation? As a boy raised in a conservative Christian home and church, salvation meant insurance which, when cashed in, gives a mighty fine retirement in eternity.Like many, I recited every night the childhood prayer:Now I lay me down to sleepI pray the Lord my soul to keep.If I should die before I wakeI pray the Lord my soul to take.This prayer, along with the bumper sticker, contains a faulty notion of what salvation is. Salvation consists of more than getting to heaven.Part of the problem is that salvation has changed its meaning for the worst in the last century. Words do switch meanings as fast as a chameleon changes colors. For instance, when St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was finished, the architect displayed it to the king. Whereupon the king called the Cathedral amusing, awful and artificial. The architect was overjoyed at the royal compliment, for in those days “amusing” meant “amazing,” “awful” meant “awe-inspiring” and “artificial” meant “artistic.”Words change meaning. Today salvation has been distorted into preoccupation with eternal welfare. “Soul concern” is the way a bumper sticker zings this message.The Biblical synonym for salvation is “health.” A person finds salvation when God’s wholeness permeates how he thinks. A believer finds salvation in this life when he upholds true values, sees beyond the trivial to the essential, works hard to eradicate injustice, and strives to keep open lines of communication with God. Salvation is not something we find, or decide for. It is a gift God gives to those humble enough not to be preoccupied with where they shall end up after death. The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister with Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing worship through story telling and dramatic presentation. His book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes” is available at local bookstores for $7.95.
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