By David Tulis
The re-election of federal Rep. Scott DesJarlais to an East Tennessee district puts us in mind of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties that the Puritan founders in the colonies drafted in the 1640s to codify a new social order.
In that era influenced boldly by the Christian gospel, the people outlined a body of liberties that so valued the sanctity of marriage that it imposed capital punishment on adulturers. But the laws governing Americans have drastically changed since the decline of Puritanism, and a humanistic, unitarian and statist has order replaced it. Many of the liberties protected under the old law drawn from the scripture — even the liberty of life itself — are badly corroded.
In the Lord’s prayer, Christ teaches us how to petition God: “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil ***.”
Calling the doctor’s licentiousness sin may appear judgmental to some, as if somehow we are speaking of him with prejudice and are unwilling to grant him a fair hearing. But I can easily do so today, since his political enemies have pushed the matter into public view in their attempt to oust him as sinner and hypocrite.
Still, to be generous, let’s refer to his adulteries, his fornication, his abuse of trust, his complicity in the deaths of unborn children as something else. As the Lord does in His model prayer — as debt.
Dr. DesJarlais is a man of many debts. They are ethical in nature, and payable to God, his creditor. You and I share with Dr. DesJarlais the sin problem: How to service or carry that debt — or eliminate it through a vicarious atonement.
A man of the people
The record of Dr. DesJarlais’ escapades is extensive. He supported abortions by his first wife, Susan. He had illicit sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage with several women, including two patients (in apparent violation of medical ethics rules), three co-workers and a drug rep while he oversaw the staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn. Democrats sought to have published before the election a 679-page transcript from a 2001 divorce trial, but the document appeared only after he won re-election Nov. 6.
How does Dr. DesJarlais view his debt load? A Nov. 22 report of an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel says Dr. DesJarlais “deeply regrets” the abortions and that he used “very poor judgment” in his marriage with Susan and during their divorce case. The conservative anti-abortion and family-values politician says charges of hypocrisy over the right to life are unfair since his views have changed since the divorce 14 years ago.
“I guess as a physician, I was a fairly objective person,” Dr. DesJarlais told the News Sentinel. “I try not to be a judgmental person. (Abortion) was just not something that I put as much thought into as I should have, in retrospect. Going back, if I could change and do things differently, certainly I would.” He pleads human frailty. “I am human. **** I don’t think I ever put myself out there to be somebody that was perfect. I put myself out there as somebody who wanted to serve the public.”
His taking up the pro-life position in Washington evolved from his experiences with Susan and his marriage to a widow, Amy, 10 years ago. Mrs. DesJarlais had a young son out of wedlock whom she had decided to bring to term as a teenager. The South Pittsburg couple have two children together and are members of Epiphany Episcopal church in Sherwood, Tenn. On abortion, Rep. DesJarlais says “all life should be cherished and protected. We are pro-life.” On his campaign website he says, “Marriage is traditionally defined as being between a man and a woman and we feel this distinction is important to the well-being of the American family.”
Ultimate standards and debts unpayable
A minor officeholder, Rep. DesJarlais is one of 435 members of the American house of commons in a national congress whose disrepute is perhaps at an all-time high. He has less real power than the local sheriff, though elections to that august body garner much more media attention. He votes generally in favor of free markets, the family and the preservation of what’s left of our ancient common law liberties.
And, insofar as those votes go, Dr. DesJarlais is a better representatives than his rival from the other controlling party. But his ethical debt seems unpaid.
His published expressions are tears of sorrow, not of repentance. We might liken him to Esau, whom the writer of Hebrews indicates wept bitterly for the loss of his birthright, but to no lasting effect. “[L]est there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:16, 17). The ungodly often are wracked by tears of sorrow, as Judas was when he betrayed Christ and in a “remorseful” agony at his evil deed cast the silver coins paid to him by the temple priests and committed suicide.
There’s been no report of Dr. DesJarlais having undergone church discipline and open repentance for public sin. Dr. DesJarlais, it seems, gives little evidence of having wept the tears of sorrow that Peter evidenced when the cock crowed or that the sinning woman poured upon the Lord’s feet at the meal at the Pharisee’s house.
I mention the Massachusetts Body of Liberties because they represent a system of law drawn from the Word of God. These laws of our forbears, lifted with citations from the Old Testament, used the death penalty to protect several categories of life and liberty.
Life is protected against murder, marriage is protected against adultery and homosexuality, a woman’s body against rape, a person’s free movement against kidnapping, the livestock from the confusion of buggery. The popular conception of law in the colonies was that if God’s law is enforced, liberty will control and be as expansive as possible, given man’s ethically fallen condition. Today, memories of these statutes adopted from the Hebrew republic survive — for example, in the right to confront witnesses at trial or the relief afforded in bankruptcy (harking to the year of Jubilee). But much of the meat has been gnawed off, and the skeleton is partly rotted.
Any system of law, as theologians and others have pointed out, is a picture of the god of the people who wrote it. Law reflects morals and mores. Humanistic ideas, as imported into the U.S. Code, the Tennessee Code Annotated and other systems, reflect a religious origin, a conception of good and evil.
Pressure builds; scale of unresolved business enormous
Christianity, in its teaching of a sovereign God who expiates the sins of offenders and makes them new through Christ Jesus, gives ample warning about such a burden. In the past day it was calculated by an enterprising writer how much debt the federal government created after a one-day rest in borrowing on Thanksgiving day.
Terence Jeffrey, writing for CNSnews.com, calculates the rate of red ink created from thin air by U.S. borrowings on Black Friday, the big shopping day. “The U.S. Treasury increased the net debt of the United States $24,327,048,384.38 [F$24.3 billion] on the day after Thanksgiving, which equals approximately $211.69 for each of the nation’s 114,916,000 households.” Mr. Jeffrey goes on to stab further into the math, down to the penny.
“Friday was also the first time in the history of the United States that the debt has topped $16.3 trillion. When President Barack Obama first took office on Jan. 20, 2009, the national debt stood at $10,626,877,048,913.08 [F$10.6 trillion]. Since then, it has increased by $5,680,611,894,651.15 [F$5.6 trillion]. That means that since Obama has been president, the national debt has increased by about $49,432.73 per household.”
The actual level of federal obligation is F$212 trillion, as reported elsewhere, an amount ostensibly on the people’s account that is too great to pay. Dr. DesJarlais is elected by voters in the fourth congressional district. But covenantally speaking he represents us all, an America whose debts have risen to heaven, in areas explored by Dr. DesJarlais as well as in the United States’ aggressive foreign wars, its police state surveillance, its war on the liberty of religious conscience and many other evils. Are we asking God to forgive us our debts?
Are we forgiving the debts of others and overlooking their slights and offenses, as Christ teaches in His prayer? Perhaps a candidate whose life is marked by holy living and fear of God might offer himself. Perhaps people should petition God for developments in that direction.
This essay first appeared at Chattanoogan.com, and is used by permission.
James Harrison, “Rep. Scott DesJarlais plans to run again in 2014,” Nooga.com, Nov. 26, 2012
Michael Collins, “DesJarlais: Regret past actions, no plans to resign[;] ET lawmakers talks divorce revelations,” Knoxville News Sentinel, Knoxnews.com, Nov. 22, 2012
Terence Jeffrey, “Black Friday: Treasury Borrowed $211.69 Per U.S. Household on Day After Thanksgiving,” CNSnews.com
Rousas J. Rushdoony, This Independent Republic (Nutley, N.J.: The Craig Press, 1964) and The Nature of the American System (Fairfax, Va.: Thoburn Press, 1978). See also Benjamin F. Morris, The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (Powder Springs, Ga.: American Vision Press, 2007, 2010).
A brief description of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties is here.