August 2, 1999
"God Decides Who Goes to Heaven, Not George W. Bush"
-- Martin E. Marty
Unfair! That is what we would have to say in response to a July 21 column by Michael Kinsley, who writes for (and edits) SLATE, the Internet magazine of opinion. Eric Greenberg, of the JEWISH WEEKLY, called it to our attention and asked for comment as he prepares an editorial on Kinsley.
Unfair! We comment. We say that in defense of Texas governor and U.S. presidential aspirant George W. Bush. We say that not in political but religious defense of Bush. Unfair is unfair, bipartisanly.
Unfair? Kinsley thinks Bush is courting the religious right by means of theological point scoring. The efficient way to court the right, however, is by reference to issues: school prayer, anti-abortion, pro-family, nervous about homosexuality themes, and the like. What did Bush do wrong? In 1993 he told a HOUSTON POST reporter that around age 46, he had made a decision to accept Christ as his personal savior. The reporter paraphrased Bush as having said that "heaven is open only to those who accept Jesus Christ."
Kinsley explores this in an attempt to define what Bush believes about Jesus. Kinsley admits that there is "no evidence that George W. is an anti-Semite." "At worst, Bush never condemned Jews specifically to hell," Kinsley writes about Bush's heaven statement; he condemned all who do not accept Christ to hell or "anywhere outside of heaven."
Kinsley reports one account in which Billy Graham told Bush: "Never play God" on who gets into heaven. And Graham "cautioned against spending much time worrying" about having the final answers about final dispositions. Bush himself: "My faith tells me that acceptance of Jesus Christ as my savior is my salvation, and I believe that." Not good enough for inquisitor Kinsley. He sneers at Bush's further comment: "It is not the governor's role to decide who goes to heaven. I believe that God decides who goes to heaven, not George W. Bush."
"This won't do," proclaims Kinsley. He argues that not knowing God's mind on this subject is only pretending to believe. Or "George W. is lying either when he professes his faith or when he denies its implications. Or he hasn't really thought it through, which itself would cast doubt on the depth of his faith," a "particular dishonesty." He is a "pol caught in pandering gridlock," "has to fudge his faith" in this "balancing act." Hypocritical tolerance is at fault, Kinsley claims.
I'd argue: no, it's theological modesty. I told Greenberg that I am 71, a lifelong Christian, who has long hung out with theologians, and most of them and I have not "thought it through." We are thus in the company of Billy Graham and the pope and the majority of thinking Christians. We can confess Christ as the way, even the "only" way, through which God saves people and still not play God by working out corollaries shrouded in mysteries best left not for humans to decide and can thus refrain from claiming divine knowledge.