Repairing The Real Breach

What is the president up to now? That’s the question Washington media hounds have been asking the last two weeks, as both President and Mrs. Clinton have reached out to America’s religious leaders. Even Nightline devoted a program to it, during which I was interviewed. What the president is up to began when Rev. Robert Schuller sent the president a congratulatory note after the election. Schuller quoted Isaiah 58:12—a verse that says, in part, “Thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” Apparently Clinton liked this verse, because he used it during his inaugural address. He said that Americans “call on... us... to be repairers of the breach.” In the next few weeks, the president made several more references to the need to heal the breach. The Clintons also met with various religious leaders. “What’s going on?” the press asked. “The president quoting Scripture, reaching out to religious leaders. Is this some kind of political ploy?” No, I don’t believe it’s a ploy. After all, a president quoting Scripture is nothing new. Presidents Bush, Reagan, Carter—and even President Nixon—did it. And the president is right to reach out and try to heal America’s racial and religious divisions and, particularly as a Christian, to heal the ranks of his own church. But by quoting Isaiah 58, or just saying we want to heal things, the president is missing an essential ingredient. The most famous rebuilder of walls is Nehemiah. But before Nehemiah undertook this task, he prayed that God would forgive him. He repented of his own sins and asked forgiveness for the sins of his fathers. President Lincoln once did exactly the same thing. During the Civil War, a time when both America and the church were bitterly divided, President Lincoln didn’t talk about healing breaches. Instead, he called the nation to repentance. “It behooves us,” Lincoln said, “to humble ourselves before [God], to confess our national sins and pray for... forgiveness.” This is the lesson for President Clinton—that healing America’s breaches won’t take place unless we repent first. Otherwise, it’s cheap grace. And it has to begin with both sides. If the president were to say to the country—and especially to his own Baptist church—that he was wrong to defend partial-birth abortion, and wrong to ignore persecuted Christians in China and Sudan, the reaction in this country would be electric. I personally would rush to him as a Christian brother and offer my love. I suspect that many of us would ask to be forgiven ourselves. In fact, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us set aside some time to repent of our own sins. We evangelicals could repent of our arrogance and triumphalism. Political leaders might repent of condoning practices contrary to God’s will. If this happened, I suspect that there would be a healing like this country has not seen in this century. Had President Nixon done it, Watergate might have been a footnote in history. Presidents, however, don’t do these things easily. As I told Nightline, yes, President Clinton is right to try to repair the breach. But the answer is not in rhetoric or quoting Bible verses. The answer is for each of us to seek forgiveness—first from God, and then from one another.


Chuck Colson


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