Back to the Future: John MacArthur on the ‘Moral Authority’ of the Presidency
“Not a position of moral authority”
Much can be said about John MacArthur’s recent interview with Ben Shapiro, particularly regarding his comments about the 45th President of the United States.
During the interview, MacArthur remarked that Christians should not expect the presidency to be “a position of moral authority.” Analogous to how we should not be concerned about a brain surgeon’s moral life to determine his work, MacArthur argued that Christians should not be concerned about the moral life of the President when it comes to the work he does.
Instead of embarking on a potentially long-winded interaction and commentary with MacArthur’s remarks, I thought that it would be insightful, if not slightly entertaining, to see MacArthur from the past interact with MacArthur from today. We can just imagine ourselves jumping in with ‘Doc’ Emmett Brown and Marty McFly in their flux-capacitor-equipped DeLorean, hitting 88 miles per hour and zapping to September 20, 1998.
“A position of moral authority”
On that day, in a sermon titled “The Destructive Sin of Lying, Part 1”, just before former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment was initiated, MacArthur preached against the moral failings of Clinton.*
MacArthur begins by stating how Clinton’s pattern of lying goes against what Americans (including Christians) should have expected from someone who holds the “prominent and critical” office of President:
“In the last several weeks as a nation, and certainly across the world we have been overexposed to the extensive pattern of deception and lying engaged in by our president. To put it mildly, this is greatly disappointing to all of us who would have hoped that a man of character and a man of conviction and a man of integrity would have arisen to such a prominent and critical place of leadership. What we have come to find out, however, is that we have a man in the White House who has for his life a habit in which he has engaged, and that habit is a habit of lying and deception and hypocrisy.” (Emphasis Added)
Why is this important for MacArthur to call out from the pulpit? Why can’t he “just preach the gospel” and remain silent on this matter? MacArthur explains that the habit of lying, deception, and hypocrisy are dangerous because it has dragged other people connected to Clinton into his lies:
“…he has brought all the people who touch his life into the potential category of joining him in the lie. His wife has lied for him, his friends, his cabinet, his White House staff, loyalists, the media has lied for him, congressmen have lied for him, senators have lied for him. He has lied and deceived, and he has embroiled all kinds of people in lies and deception.”
Above all, MacArthur believes that God is clear in the Bible about what he thinks about leaders with moral failings. MacArthur urges his congregation to think about what God specifically has to say about leaders who are liars. According to MacArthur, the Bible teaches clearly that a lying ruler is a serious matter to God that must be addressed.
“What I would like to know is what does God think about this? What has He said about it? To put is simply, to have a ruler who is a liar is an extremely serious matter. In Proverbs 29:12, God says, “If a ruler is given to lies,” this is translated a number of ways, but this is the basic Hebrew of it, “If a ruler is given to lies, all his servants become wicked.” We would put that in the simple category of “birds of a feather,” what? “flock together.” When a ruler is given to lies, he will accumulate around him people who can tolerate lying. A corrupt leader draws around him corrupt people. Allow lies and you will be tolerated and surrounded by liars.”
Furthermore, MacArthur comments that the combination of the immorality of Clinton and his high approval ratings at the time demonstrate that the United States has become an anti-Christian nation that God has given up because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The high approval rating of Clinton demonstrates how dangerous of a state Americans are in.
“I’m not surprised that the president’s approval rating is so high. Because the people who approve of what he does are the people who do what he does. And that’s largely the way our nation is. That approval rating is tantamount to the percentage of Americans who do what he does. That’s what we have. If we have a 62 percent approval rate, then 60 percent of Americans approve of that because they practice those things. Lying, deception, fornication, adultery, whatever. We shouldn’t be surprised, that’s us. In fact, I don’t want to be unkind, that’s not my intention, but I would say that Bill Clinton is the man for this culture in every sense. He is a reflection of the mores of this society. He is the man who represents what these people practice. That’s why they’re not offended by it. How did we get to this place? Well, because of what it says in verse 24 of Romans 1 down to verse 32; let me show you how we got here. Verse 24, “therefore God also gave them up.” Verse 26, “For this reason God gave them up.” Verse 28, “Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,God gave them over,” or gave them up. We’ve got a problem here. God’s given us up. That’s what it says.” (Emphasis added)
Not only is Clinton no longer fit to be President, but MacArthur goes on to question the legitimacy of Clinton’s profession of Christian faith based on his pattern of life:
“The president said some weeks ago that nobody should be concerned about his sexual sin. It was an issue, he said, between himself, his family, he said, and our God. Let me tell you something about his god. His god is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is not pro feminism, pro homosexual, pro lesbian, and pro fornication, pro adultery. That’s not the God of the Bible. He’s not pro deception, He’s not pro lying. You see, he has the same god that all who reject the true God have and you can meet him every morning; he’s there in your mirror.”
Apparently, and most ironically, MacArthur had been interviewed a bit before this sermon and was asked a similar question that Shapiro asked him recently. Instead of claiming that we shouldn’t be worried about the President being a moral authority like he did with Shapiro, MacArthur claims that Clinton should no longer be President due to his moral failings:
“When I was being interviewed by ABC television the other day the reporter said to me, you know, “What is your attitude toward the president?” And I said, “Well, I don’t think he should be the president. I think he has breached every, every position of dignity and integrity that that office would call for.”
Not only is Clinton’s faith not credible to MacArthur, and not only should Clinton no longer be considered qualified for the office of President due to his moral failings, but Clinton is “Satan’s man” and “an antichrist type person” due to his pattern of deception while “feigning a faith in Jesus Christ that is not real”:
“And I really believe he is Satan’s man, he’s the man who fits the time. There are many antichrists in the world, and this is one, who feigns a faith in Jesus Christ that is not real. Who appears as a peacemaker, who appears as a great leader who can win the confidence of people, but underneath is a deceiver. This is an antichrist type person.”
Back to the Future
As we jump back into the DeLorean, step off in December 2018, and wave goodbye to Marty and ‘Doc,’ we have to ask the question: What happened between 1998 and today? One possibility is that somewhere in the space-time continuum, something changed in the course of events that led to a skewing of the events into an alternate 2018, leading to a complete change of events where MacArthur says something completely about-face from what he said twenty years ago.
Or, the possibility that is more likely: it’s never really been about “just preach the gospel.” It’s been about maintaining power, regaining power, and thwarting others’ attempts at power, all in the name of Christ and his kingdom.
*A very special thank you to Marcos Ortega who writes over at Reformed Margins for doing the hard work of finding this sermon by MacArthur and passing it off to me.