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Olasky, Land underscore history of private character affecting nation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Private character and public performance are inextricably linked, Marvin Olasky, professor of journalism at the University of Texas, stated during a three-day appearance on the nationally syndicated radio program, “For Faith & Family.”
“There is a connection between a president being a good husband and being a good president,” Olasky, also editor of World Magazine, told Richard Land, host of the daily program produced by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Olasky told Land the timing for the release of his new book, “The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision from Washington to Clinton,” was nothing short of providential, given the events of the last year in Washington.
“Actually, when I began the research for the book, I had no idea that the nation would be in the middle of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal,” Olasky said. “I desired to look afresh at the lives of the presidents and view their lives from a biblical perspective. I had no idea that we would be in the midst of a controversy of such magnitude that this book might seem to be written to highlight and teach lessons from the Clinton scandal.
“Nevertheless,” Olasky continued, “as I was finishing the book, I had to talk more about sex than I would have, had the Clinton scandal not been so paramount. This is such an important area of our lives. If we fail to keep a promise and remain faithful in this relationship, it will become easier for us to break promises to others.”
There has been a decided evolution in the nature of the U.S. presidency during the 20th century centering on their affinity for the Scriptures, Olasky said during his March 17-19 interview on the ERLC weekday broadcast.
“The way they [the presidents] read the Bible, if they read it at all, became more selective,” he said. “More and more, Scripture became a political tool read more selectively and less literally. When this occurred, other areas of life became questionable and open to manmade excuses for sinful behavior.”
As evidence of that premise, Land, president of the ERLC, cited the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. “Here was a man who grew up Presbyterian, in the manse, with a strong biblical and moral upbringing, and yet, failed in strategic areas.”
Olasky agreed, adding, “… while [Wilson was] president of Princeton [Univ.], at the age of 50, he had an affair. From that point on, he never admitted he was a sinner. He began to read the Bible more selectively. He no longer took seriously the commandment, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’”
Further abetting an already sinful situation, Olasky noted Wilson actually “stated the commandment doesn’t mean adultery if the woman is lonely and you could comfort her. His selective reading of that commandment transferred to other commandments so much so that before long he was lying to the country much in the same way he lied to his wife.”
“Private conduct does influence public policy,” Land echoed. “Yet the practice of trashing presidents with the statement that ‘everybody does it’ is simply not true.”
Olasky noted George Washington insisted on high moral standards at a critical time for the nation, citing his strength at Valley Forge. “If he had not exhibited a strong moral character, the men would not have remained through the tough times,” he said.
Commenting on contemporary culture, Olasky lamented, “We, as a nation, do not take sin seriously. We dare not discipline anyone for their conduct.”
“For many reasons,” Land said, “the coverage of the recent scandal evidenced an apathy by those who were reporting or speaking on behalf of the president, largely in part because if they were not doing the same thing, they wished they were.”
“The role of journalism,” Olasky responded, “is to report accurately what is transpiring in such a way that sound judgment may be exercised through the accuracy of the reporting by the journalists involved in the process of finding the truth.”
President Warren G. Harding is hardly remembered except in the pages of history books, yet he was acclaimed to be outstanding during his day, Land said. “Largely, his conduct was questionable, but he looked presidential, gave convincing speeches and attempted to enact good legislation. Nevertheless, he was known to be a liar and adulterer. It caught up with his presidency. Today, he is virtually unknown,” he explained.
“That is how I think Bill Clinton will be remembered, for many of the same reasons,” Olasky said.
“We do live in a time when certain actions could result in great gain for the nation morally,” Land said, with Olasky agreeing, “Scripture’s command is to be salt and light. There is great promise that God might relent from judgment and help us.”
“In order to be faithful to the commands of Scripture,” Land said, “we must be active in the culture, always engaging in humble service to God. Our conduct and actions can make a difference to stem the tide of evil and restore moral vision to the nation.”
Olasky’s book, “The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision From Washington to Clinton,” and the tape of the entire interview is available from the resource center of the ERLC at 1-888-FAITH-50.

Baker is a consultant with the ERLC.

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  • Douglas Baker