With this article, we begin a new weekly feature from the editor of our sister publication Christian History.

In old westerns, white hats and black hats clearly distinguish the heroes from the villains. But in real life—particularly political life—that distinction is much more difficult to make. How should we evaluate someone whose public accomplishments are coupled with serious personal failings?

Take the famous King James for example. On January 12, 1604, he presided over a meeting at his Hampton Court estate of English bishops and the leaders of the Puritan movement. The purpose of the meeting was to address the Puritans' call for church reforms, as defined in their Millenary Petition (so named because it bore 1,000 signatures). One of their concerns was the need for a new Bible translation, which James, a student of theology himself, promptly approved. "I have never yet seen a Bible well-translated," he said.

Work began in 1607, and the first copy appeared in print in 1611. Though famous as the "Authorized Version," the translation was only authorized by its own title page, which declared it "Appointed to be read in Churches." Its authorization, in a practical sense, was given by the King's Printer, which ceased producing any other version in a large (folio) edition suitable for church use. However, its merit was also a factor: it was a big improvement over the earlier Bishops' and Geneva Bibles, even though it relied on flawed New Testament manuscripts and a hazy comprehension of Hebrew. King James became a hero and we in the United States honor him every time we mention the KJV (it's still called the Authorized Version elsewhere).

But just how honorable was James? Not very. Though he agreed with the Puritans on the Bible issue, he was enraged by their other demands, which included a desire to be free from the rule of the bishops. James liked bishops, and he skewed laws in their favor so they wouldn't object to his immense personal faults: horrible table manners, frequent drunkenness, gross conceit (he told Parliament in 1610, "If you will consider the attributes of God, you shall see how they agree in the person of a king"), and blatant homosexuality (it should be noted that his homosexuality is still a source of great debate). He would much rather keep the bishops' loyalty than accommodate the Puritans—a choice that eventually contributed to civil war.

So here we have a man who knew theology but considered himself nearly godlike, supported church leaders but only the ones who supported him, and took one great step forward in Bible translation while setting England back several paces with his wholehearted rejection of the Puritans and their ideas. A mixed legacy indeed. But if God can use the pagan king Cyrus to bring the Jews back to Egypt, he can certainly work through a corrupt monarch to proclaim his message anew.

Related Elsewhere

More Christian History, including a listing of events that occurred this week in the church's past, is available at ChristianHistory.net

For more on James I and the King James Version, see Britannica.com.