Access: The Key to Pardon

for the week of February 5, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

At the end of an administration marred by scandal, Bill Clinton exited the White House by generating still another one. This one is about pardons granted under the extraordinary power vested in our nation's highest executive officer.

The furor is bipartisan in nature. Mr. Clinton released some low-level drug defendants. He set free some politicians convicted of crimes such as bank fraud. He pardoned some religious figures who set up a fraudulent entity that bilked the U.S. government out of millions of dollars. He pardoned his brother, Roger, of a 1980s conviction for distributing cocaine.

The most disturbing of all the pardons focuses on a fugitive financier who fled to Switzerland in 1983 to avoid 51 counts of tax evasion, racketeering, and conspiracy. Senators John Kerry and Tom Daschle, both members of the same political party as the former president, criticized this one. Some members of Congress are vowing to examine how such a pardon came about.

Take a deep breath now: What I want to say about all this has nothing to do with politics. I'm not a Democrat or a Republican. I am a genuine Independent who votes for people based on my impression of their suitability for a local, state, or federal office. Party affiliation is not my index of fitness for office.

Regardless of how you feel about all this, there is a theological point embedded in it. It jumped out at me from a headline attached to an article on the front page the Washington Post for January 22, 2001. Proclaimed the headline: "Key to Presidential Pardon Is Access." Do you catch the theology in that?

Christians tend to lapse all too easily into theories of good works for pardon, worthiness for pardon, and even skepticism over pardon. The religion of Jesus Christ in its orthodox form, at least has never tied pardon to merit or worthiness. Pardon depends on access to the one with the power to forgive. Nothing more. Nothing less. And access to divine pardon is not sold, bartered, or secured through a deal. It is a gift of grace totally undeserved by anyone who has ever received it. Access to the throne of God's mercy is through God's Son.

"I am the way," said Jesus. "And I am the truth and the life. The only way to the Father is through me" (John 14:6, New Century Version).

For all of us, the key to pardon is access. And access is spelled J-e-s-u-s.

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