Q & A: Timothy Goeglein on Redemption After Plagiarism
Did you feel like plagiarizing affected other Christians or the reputation of Christians in government?
I was the point man for people of faith during my time with President Bush. Faith is real, but so was my deception. What I did does not compromise the truth of Christianity but it did expose my own hypocritical acts. When you are a public figure and a representative for the President, you have an obligation of high standards. I failed. But grace and mercy are real. So is forgiveness. My brothers and sisters in Christ forgave me; I did not deserve that forgiveness, but they offered it out of love. So did the President. We need men and women of faith in government more than ever, and we have a duty for excellence.
What kind of church do you go to, and did that shape you in your response?
I am a cradle Missouri Synod Lutheran, a serious Christian. I'm very involved in the life of our parish, and I had a very serious [discussion] with our pastor over time and also with a group of three men in Washington where I really had a chance to be away, to open up.
You wrote, "This gave me great hope, because hope drained the toxicity from professional life that kicked into overdrive; it gave me new perspective." What was the toxicity in your professional life?
Politics at any level can be toxic. After two high-profile Senate races in Indiana, I certainly experienced that. You pray that your motives are as pure as they can be. But when you're in it, it can be rough and tumble. There was a lot of toughness. A lot. When you genuinely step away from it, and things come to an end—you start to reflect and realize, wow, it's a blessing to step away.
After you left the administration, did you read literature or consider a theology of redemption? What resources did you seek out?
It's one thing to read the Scripture or to read the sort of poetic or philosophical descriptions of Scripture, but when you are actually, proverbially, daily in the midst of a self-imposed, self-created crisis, you are drinking the Cross. In the Christian life, to use a cliché, when you come to the end of your rope, you learn that Christ is there. I learned that in a very personal way. You learn about the centrality and love of your family and friends. A formal confession gives a sense of genuine confession, of genuine absolution.
Have you found some kind of resolution?
We are all sinners. But we are also made saints at exactly the same time. We don't work out our redemption. Christ redeemed us. But this side of heaven, yes, it is an ongoing process for all Christians.
You write, "It is as if God worked through me for years and then one moment allowed me to be stripped of worldly masks, reformed and new." What masks were stripped away?
The capacity for self-deception can be huge, and it can be incremental. I came to a moment where I was truly exposed, and I had a choice. The choice was to continue along that trajectory or to admit that what I had done was an absolute failure in my life. In that was my confession, not confessing to a friend or confessing to a pastor or confessing to a confidante, but confessing in a way that you know will become public.