It was to be expected that segments of the press, both secular and religious, would seek to identify religious events and trends that contributed to the tragedy of Watergate. This falls within the function of a free press. To the surprise of no one, some journalists took the way of the easy answer. Typical of this was the assigning of major responsibility to what is variously called Personal Pietism, the American Style of Religion, and White House Religion.
At first the liberal religious press traced the scandals to individual pietistic conditioning. This is, of course, shorthand for personal and public evangelism that presses for personal conversions, personal commitments to Christ. The assertion is made that this emphasis leads inevitably to privatistic understandings of religious faith, and to blindness to corporate or systemic evil.
Lying behind much of this allegation is the implication, frequently left unexpressed, that the East Wing religious services, and President Nixon’s personal acquaintance with conservative-evangelical ministers, actually led to Watergate. What is lacking, to date at least, is any clear evidence that such men as Messrs. Dean, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, or Magruder were regular attenders at such services. More difficult to establish would be any contention that such men were interested in what was said there.
It is easy to allege that the East Room services produced a “climate” in which illegal and unprincipled conduct followed as a matter of course. The challenge lies in trying to produce any solid supporting evidence.
Then the testimony of Jeb Stuart Magruder before the Senate Watergate Committee compelled a shift of emphasis, particularly upon the part of the established religious press. Mr. Magruder ...1
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