What a whirlwind of events: in the space of seventy-two hours, Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft feels compelled to apologize for a vanilla funny about skunks and moderates being found in the middle of the road; an extramarital affair on the part of Rev. Jesse Jackson comes to light; a sitting president strikes a deal with the forces of justice in order to spare him the indignity of indictment; and then this president, minutes from the relinquishing of power, extends pardon to Susan McDougal, who dummied up to spare incriminating that president. There is a word which links these events together and illustrates the essence of 21st-century liberalismâ€™s hypocrisy. That word is accountability.
Modern-day liberalism, in a nutshell, is an escape from accountability. Excuse me, I have over-spoken; it is rather an escape from accountability for those willing to wear its mantle–while at the same time, it fails to extend the same grace to those foolish enough not to play its game. We saw this in the rush to excuse the outrageous behavior of Mr. Clinton; why, didnâ€™t he say he was sorry? Why put the poor man through such misery? Isnâ€™t it Christian to forgive and forget? This impeachment thing, it was partisan cheap-shotting, nothing more, the vendetta of the vast right-wing conspirators, much ado about so little.
On the other hand, we see the intense scrutiny of Ashcroft bordering on the ridiculous. He has been held accountable for, seemingly, every breath he takes, and even then will not be found to pass muster by a fair number of Senators. His crime? Having the audacity to live a life consistent with his Christian profession–that, and his unwillingness to go along with the liberals. Of course, there are many of us who equate the two. There is no allegation of extra-marital hanky-panky, of criminal conduct, of ethical lapse; in short, of any of the things for which modern liberals have fallen over themselves in giving Bill Clinton a pass on. And yet liberal forces will fight tooth and nail to hold Ashcroft accountable for his â€œoffensesâ€, real or imagined.
Now the story of Rev. Jacksonâ€™s â€œlove childâ€ (does anyone else find the irony in that term?) is made public. No compassionate person can wish any other than for Rev. Jackson and his wife to rebuild the trust which has been breached. It certainly is not my point to kick this man when heâ€™s down. But there is a point to be made here, and it is this: as an ordained minister, there is a responsibility incumbent upon his ordaining body. That responsibility is called â€œaccountabilityâ€. It is altogether necessary that this body maintain this function. We saw an attempt at this in the Jimmy Swaggart case; his ordaining body, the Assemblies of God, attempted to demand accountability from Mr. Swaggart. His refusal to submit to this accountability constituted the greatest of his crimes, dwarfing his dalliance with the hooker and rendering him an illegitimate spokesman for God.
True compassion for Rev. Jackson would lie in his Baptist brethren calling him on the carpet and instituting restorative disciplinary procedures. The loving thing to do would be to help him in the rebuilding process by holding his feet to the fire and demanding genuine repentance and change. But the rub comes here: a body which would sanction the liberalism which Rev. Jackson espouses will be hard pressed to hold him accountable. It was an ominous sign to note the standing ovation he received a week ago Sunday from the good folks of Chicagoâ€™s Salem Baptist Church, and it was downright inconceivable that he could be invited to address the congregation from the pulpit and lead in prayer. Inconceivable, yes, but surprising, no.
Lest I be accused of pointing out only the sins of those on one side of the spectrum, I must add that this pernicious redefinition has infected even the most conservative of American congregations. Just a few months ago, the good folks of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta rose to their feet and applauded their own pastor, Rev. Charles Stanley, when he announced that he was going back on a pledge made to his congregation. Rev. Stanley had several years previously assured his nervous flock that he would step down from the pastorate of the church if and when he were ever divorced from his wife. But when the time came to make good on his word, he reneged. Love would have demanded accountability–and removal.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it â€œcheap graceâ€; it is the extension of forgiveness without commensurate accountability. It is Jesus saying â€œhe who is without sin, cast the first stoneâ€ without any reference to â€œgo and sin no more.â€ Sadly, cheap grace has become the coin of the realm to many today. We have bought into this truncated notion of forgiveness, and it is to our shame. Liberalism has, sad to say, succeeded in the defining down of moral expectations and of moral accountability.
Conservatives believe in freedom but, unlike liberals, understand that absent the proper restraints of responsibility and accountability, freedom ceases to exist, dissolving instead into anarchy. The American experiment has always been about seeking the proper balance between these. We ignore to our own peril the essential check on unrestrained freedom that is provided by accountability.