Monday, May 19, 2014

One Of The President's Men

This past week marked the death of one of the most interesting figures to intersect both the political and the theological arenas in the history of the United States.  He was a man of soaring intellectual giftedness (earning degrees from Williams College, and the University of Chicago), while at the same time seeming at times to lack the most basic modicum of common sense.  He was an individual of deeply rooted spiritual depth, while also having the capability for extreme graft and corruption.  He was a person who rose to the heights of political power in this country, and who would also sink to the deepest depths lostness.  He would be incarcerated in a federal prison, and will always occupy a place in the footnote of the worst moments in our country's history.  And yet, today as I write about him, he is with God forever in heaven.  He was the;

Rev. Jeb Magruder

In March of the year 1972 (two months before I was born), Jeb was working as a White House communications advisor and deputy director for President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign.  Depending on which account you believe (there were three different accounts that Jeb himself offered during his own lifetime), Jeb was either asked indirectly by one of Nixon's other campaign aides (G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt), or directly by Nixon himself to burglarize the Democratic offices located in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, DC.  He was then asked to furtively bug the phone of Lawrence F. O' Brien, the Democratic party chairman.  According to last week's obituary in the New York Times; "In later testimony, Mr. Magruder denied giving the burglars any assignment concerning the Democratic headquarters.  When that was shown to be a lie, he was convicted of perjury and given a 10-month to four year prison term.  Hugh Sloan Jr. later testified in federal court that Mr. Magruder had told I'm to disburse $199,000 to Mr. Liddy for 'intelligence gathering'".  Magruder's roll in Watergate hotel break-in would eventually lead to President Nixon's resignation, the first ever of it's ilk in the history of the American Republic.  Jeb was responsible for one of our country's most nefarious moments.

It is what Jeb did after he left prison in 1975 that is so interesting.  Jeb went to seminary and became a Presbyterian minister.  He served as a pastor in San Mateo, California (not far from where my family have served as ministers for four generations), in Columbus, Ohio, and in Lexington, Kentucky.  When I asked my father, who is an ordained Presbyterian minister in Sacramento, what he remembered about Jeb's ministry, he said; "Jeb was just a good pastor.  He wasn't a razzle dazzle 'stem-winder' of a preacher, or a particularly memorable leader, but a just a good churchman, a good person, a man committed to his calling."  Jeb would later go on to serve on ethics boards and panels of pastors who considered deeply the influence of corruption in religion and politics.

The intersection between politics and religion is of course not a new thing.  For years politicians have become pastors (Mike Huckabee is probably the most popular recent example).  And for years pastors have have entered the political arena (John Danforth, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson are some popular examples).  This is nothing new.  And corruption is nothing new.  One finds both large and small examples of corruption and dishonesty - all the way from "K street" in Washington to, sadly, the elder board rooms of many, many churches in America.  As the apostle Paul said in the book of Romans, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

What is deeply interesting to me about the life-story of Jeb Magruder, 41 years after the fact, are two aspects: (1) the means by which Jeb engaged in evil in the Watergate scandal, and (2) the way in which he became "saved" from that evil activity.  Jeb's exact roll in the Watergate cove-up was the disbursement of money.  Jeb is accused of the oversight of $199,000 to be dispersed to the burglars.  It was the apostle Paul again who said, "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).  Money and power and control are always at the heart of the worst evils to befall humankind.  It was the desire for control that caused Adam and Eve to stray from God's perfect life for them in the garden, and it was the love of money that propelled Jesus' death on the cross (Judas' handful of silver coins).

Years later, Jeb would write a book about his roll in the Watergate scandal entitled, "An American Life:  One Man's Road to Watergate".  In it he would admit to the sins of his early political life.  In Christian terms we would say that he "repented".  Here's how the repentance came about.  A small group of Christians, called the Yokefellows just cared-for and loved Jeb.  Jeb wrote that; "The Yokefellows, unlike most people, accepted the prisoner as brother, in fact a wounded brother in need of special care.  None of them made any speeches or wore any labels, but each time they came, their presence was telling me that I was a person, someone worthy of Christ's love and forgiveness.  They didn't have to tell anyone they were Christians; in the simple giving of their love and care, they said it all."

Through repentance, and forgiveness in Christ, Jeb was saved, and now, as we speak, lives eternally with God.  This same means of salvation is a free gift for all people, no matter what they have done in their lives.

This is good news for all of us!

All For Now,

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