Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Walter Jones on Election

The headline is not a typo.

Occasionally you hear a speaker who is passionate, articulate, principled, and unfortunately, wrong. I had to conclude this listening to Congressman Walter Jones, the representative who drew headlines for, of all things, the name "Freedom Fries" suggested as a protest against French intransigence against our efforts to curb Mesopotamian terrorists, then "surprised friend and foe alike" by his strong swing to the left in opposition to the Iraq war.

Give him full credit -- I do -- for standing on principle even against his own party and president. It is no small thing for a Republican who has generally been an old fashioned social conservative, at least in my hearing, to take a position with the Murthas and Pelosis of the House, and against the Marines and airmen who live in and deploy from his 3rd Congressional District.

Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, "I could wish that you were cold or hot"; maybe more to the point, Martin Luther wrote that Christians may "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly".[1] I think this is where Jones is standing.

One of the most striking comments he made was his answer to an advisor who cautioned him to consider the consequences of an unpopular stand. Jones said, "I told him there is only one election that I care about, and that is my election into Heaven, that I see my Lord and Savior on the throne, and He tell me, 'Welcome into My Kingdom, because you wanted my people to know the truth ...' "[2]

Jones received polite applause but his position on the war was not popular with the audience, even though he steered clear of it in his remarks. After dinner that evening, a conference participant who saw my media badge came up and asked, "Did you see the people who walked out on Walter Jones this afternoon?" I told him no, from my position on the far side of the room I hadn't seen them. "About eight of us walked out on him. When he left the room afterwards we turned our backs on him." He said that several of them were former military and some had sons still deployed in the war, and challenged Jones to take a break from visiting wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital and go see the rescue and cleanup workers dying from exposure to toxic dust and materials at the site of Ground Zero.

Jones may be in for some serious trouble in the earthly election next year. A Republican leader who attended the 3rd District convention recently told me that while Jones was their headline speaker at the meeting, he received only the same light applause that greated him in Raleigh last week. His declared challenger, on the other hand, had the room in his hands and drew an enthusiastic response from the delegates there. Whether the voters will respond the same way remains to be seen, but the activists were clearly with the challenger that day.

[1] I realize this is a controversial statement of Luther's, as well. For a fuller discussion of the context and meaning of it, see James Swan's defense of the Reformer's purpose for saying it. Swan says, "Luther was prone to strong hyperbole," and continues,

[The] comparison Luther makes between “sinning boldly” and believing and rejoicing in Christ “even more boldly” comes clear. When assaulted by the fear and doubt of Christ’s love because of previous sins or the remnants of sin in one’s life, one is thrust back into the arms of Christ “on whose shoulders, and not on mine, lie all my sins…”. Rather than promoting a license to sin by saying “sin boldly,” Luther’s point is to simply compare the sinner to the perfect savior. Left in our sins we will face nothing but death and damnation. By Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the world, we stand clothed in His righteousness, the recipients of His grace, no matter what we have done.
[2] Jones is a former Southern Baptist who converted to Roman Catholicism. For a minute there I thought he might be a fellow Calvinist.


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