Lyndon Baines Johnson
It is hard to escape the conclusion that Lyndon B. Johnson deserves some low marks for his term of office. He campaigned for the presidency in 1964 as the peace candidate and won a monumental victory, then promptly set about doing the opposite of what he had led the people to think he would do. No doubt hard realities that faced him offered some justification for a change of mind. And he probably got poor advice from an American military with little knowledge of and no experience in guerrilla warfare. The fact remains that he had the ultimate responsibility, and that he used poor judgment in committing as much of this nation’s resources as he did to the conflict in Viet Nam.
A big question also hovers over the tall stack of social legislation he was able to push through Congress. We applaud the part that secured long overdue civil rights for blacks. And perhaps some of the money programs can be counted a plus for the nation. But coming as these did in conjunction with unprecedented arms spending, the result was greater inflation, and the people who suffered the most were those who were poor to begin with. High-salaried defense contractors and corrupt administrators of hastily set-up social-service contracts came out best of all.
Johnson was known for relatively regular church attendance and his association with certain religious leaders. Yet he was also an exceptionally profane speaker. One radical anti-war columnist who has had little respect for Johnson found some common ground in that both “knew how to make obscenity a tool of eloquence.” That fact notwithstanding, he was a good family man.
And it must be remembered that few presidents have occupied the oval office in stormier weather. Some presidents faced graver crises, but at least they had a united citizenry. Johnson was ushered into office by a tragedy; he was forced out by another tragedy; and in between there was almost constant tumult. It is a tribute to the man that he could bear up under such pressure.
Dr. George Davis of National City Christian Church recalls Johnson as a man of prayer with whom he knelt. Davis says prayer came very naturally to Johnson, that he did not simply resort to it in desperation. Johnson’s interest in spiritual things grew out of an experience he had at a revival meeting at the age of eleven.
Johnson often said that it is not hard to do right, but it is hard to know what is right. This again underscores the unusually difficult circumstances under which the thirty-sixth president was called to serve. His marks may be lower than those of other presidents, but the grading standards were vastly more demanding.
The President Asks For Our Prayers
While one does not expect definitive pronouncements in inaugural addresses, the newly elected President does, presumably, try to set some sort of tone or give some kind of direction to the nation in this speech. President Nixon in his second inaugural rightly acknowledged that “we shall answer to God” for our actions, and he commendably asked for our prayers that he “may have God’s help in making decisions that are right for America.” We would hasten to add that the Congress and the judiciary, co-equal branches with the executive (believe it or not), should also have divine guidance. Moreover, we hope decisions that are seen as right for America will not be wrong for any of the other nations with which we share this fragile spaceship earth.
We especially commend the President’s attempt to stir the people “to ensure better education, better health, better housing, better transportation, a cleaner environment—to restore respect for law, to make our communities more livable—to ensure the God-given right of every American to full and equal opportunity.” These are not utopian or millennial goals, nor do they unrealistically or irresponsibly from a fiscal viewpoint specify how much “better.” The only qualifier—and a very significant one—is that every American is to have “full and equal opportunity” to benefit from these improvements.
Of course it goes without saying that material betterment is of no everlasting value. It pales in comparison to the gift of eternal life. Nevertheless it is important, as Christians recognize when they do not voluntarily give away so much of their material wealth that they are left at subsistence level. The only Christians who have the right to dismiss the temporal concerns of others are those who have shown by their own levels of consumption that “money doesn’t matter.”
There is, however, a theme of the second inaugural over which we have reservations. It concerns pride. Three times in a row the president began statements with the call, “Let us be proud.…” He asserts that “America’s record in this century has been unparalleled … for its responsibility, for its generosity, for its creativity and for its progress.” Yet the God whom we know through Christ repeatedly censures human pride and self-praise. From Genesis to Revelation, pride is portrayed as the downfall of men and angels.
Paul reaffirms the Old Testament teaching, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). If citizens of other nations want to praise Americans, let them do so. But we feel it is as inappropriate for a group (whether as small as a congregation or as large as a nation) to brag of itself as it is for an individual.
Admittedly, the President was reacting to those who have been, in his view, overly censorious of the country and its record at home and role abroad, and of the generation that currently directs the country’s affairs. But the way to respond to what one thinks is false criticism is not to go to the other extreme of bragging.
Many nations, besides God’s unique nation of Israel, are mentioned in Scripture. So far as we know, none of them, especially not Israel, is ever told by God to be proud or to boast of itself. Moreover, nations, like individuals, are not told to compare themselves with others for the purpose of saying “we’re better.” Indeed, they are warned against this all too human practice. The fact is that “none is righteous, no, not one … no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10, 12). The people of this land, and of every other, stand under the judgment of God. Even those who will be spared eternal wrath will escape not because of their own merits but because of the merits of Christ. Our nation should be less concerned with bragging over any good it has done and more concerned about the bad done and the good left undone.
All Christians should honor the President’s requests for prayer, but one of our chief prayers should be that all of us, individually and collectively, be truly humble and leave no place for pride or boasting. Only as people humbly recognize how far they are from true righteousness is there hope for them accepting the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ.
First “Maude” devotes two titillating half-hour shows to the ribald joke of middle-age pregnancy and the boon of abortion. This supposedly proves that TV has come of age and can at last handle adult topics with sophistication. Then, to the surprise and horror of CBS, an anti-abortion group called the Long Island Coalition for Life protests, pickets, and demands equal time on the network.
It is certainly a knotty problem for CBS or the FCC or the courts to determine whether jokes (dirty or otherwise) demand answers. So much of TV is slanted to an ethical, social, or political point of view that it is virtually impossible to provide equal time to every group quarrelling with an issue overtly or covertly presented. The Holy Name Union, however, makes a good point in insisting that abortion is clearly a controversial issue and that “Maude” represented only one side. The argument may win the case.
The Christian viewer must be concerned with the issue behind the legal technicalities, the appropriate sources of laughter and entertainment. Although many modern films and shows have grown out of a macabre kind of apocalyptic laughter—when we reach the end of our sympathy and break into a kind of hysteria—“Maude” presented no such unbearable tension. On the first show, the laughs derived from her sex life and her abhorrence at the prospect of an enlarged belly. She went on to worry about the ludicrousness of motherhood for her. But the final decision grew out of her husband’s disinterest in progeny. Although some serious problems about dangers to her health and to the baby were broached, they were quickly covered by the larger concerns of convenience, appearance, and preference. Maude and her husband decided on the abortion with no apparent pangs of conscience, no concern for the death of the unborn child, no psychological or physiological after-effects.
So life goes its brittle, sterile way in that vast wasteland of TV. The Richmond News Leader suggested a course of action for the concerned viewer: “Switch channels, and abort ‘Maude.’ ”
Threescore Years And Twelve?
Among many groups wanting to gain recognition as churches and thus benefit from tax exemption is one in Chautauqua County, New York, that proclaims a bizarre doctrine: human beings should voluntarily commit suicide on reaching the age of seventy-two; in case of non-compliance, death should be “imposed” at 144.
Most proponents of euthanasia begin by asserting the individual’s right to decide when he wishes to be put out of his misery, but then go on to define, for the “borderline” case, the right of his family or other “competent authorities” to make the decision for him. And the Chautauqua County society’s doctrine fits in pretty well with the emerging world pattern that stresses “voluntary” compliance with “guidelines,” with enforcement “imposed” only in case one fails to volunteer. An interesting aspect of the proposed guidelines is the gap of seventy-two years between voluntary suicide and “imposed” death.
At the present time, of course, the threat of imposing death at age 144 rings hollow, for except for the long-lived inhabitants of Soviet Georgia, it threatens virtually no one. So if these or similar supposedly religious “guidelines” ever were made official government policy, it is likely that the seventy-two-year gap would be severely narrowed—probably in the direction of the lower limit.
If we take seventy-two as a not unlikely cat-off point and apply it to history, we see that it would not only have deprived the Hebrews of Moses as the leader of the Exodus but the church of Anna and Simeon as witnesses to the arrival of the Messiah. We would lose many who are still valiant for the truth in our own day, such as Corrie Ten Boom, L. Nelson Bell, and Cornelius Van Til. West Germany would have had no Konrad Adenauer to guide its reemergence from the ashes of the Nazi holocaust, nor Israel a Golda Meir to steer a precarious course today.
Rejecting suicide and euthanasia on biblical grounds, we cannot entertain seventy-two or any other age as a guideline for voluntary or mandatory imposition of death. But the suggestion of a definite date serves one purpose at any rate: it reveals the impossibility of choosing a “guideline” neither so high as to be meaningless nor so low as to deprive mankind of some of its most valuable servants.
Who Cares About Church Machinery?
Several major American denominations are now overhauling their internal structures. Part of the reason for these reorganizations is undoubtedly the need for more streamlined operation with better coordination and more efficient flow of communication. The financial pinch that a number of big church bodies have experienced in recent years is also a factor: tightening up will save lots of money, especially if it gets rid of overlap. Good management practices have been getting increasing attention from church leaders.
A word of caution also is needed. Are the reorganizers giving the constituency a good accounting of the changes? Is a conscientious effort being made to make the changes understood? And is the rank and file trying to be sensitive to, for example, the distribution of power?
Sometimes laymen think that organizational issues are over their heads and they avoid involvement. Sometimes they are indifferent simply because charts and job descriptions are seldom interesting—who wants to bother? But taking the path of least resistance is irresponsible. The people in the pews must speak up when crucial organizational changes are being made. Such changes very likely entail theological presuppositions that will yield theological consequences.
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