On Sunday, April 15, 1906, at the laying of the cornerstone of the Cannon Office Building in Washington D.C., President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech which not only should be the standard of living for all journalists, but for all who bear the name of Christ.
It was a call to arms, a call to be in hungry pursuit of the truth, not to engage in "whitewashing" or "muckraking," but the truth as we find it in the Scriptures. "Jesus saith unto him, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me'" (John 14:6). Roosevelt, in the opening paragraph of his speech, recognizes man's human nature in sin, saying, "Over a century ago, Washington laid the corner stone of the Capitol in what then was then little more than a tract of wooded wilderness here beside the Potomac. The material problems that face us today are not such as they were in Washington's time, but the underlying facts of human nature are the same now, as they were then. Under altered external form, we war with the same tendencies toward evil that were evident in Washington's time, and are helped by some of the same tendencies for good. It is about some of these that I wish to say a word today." He then offers a fitting portrayal of today's news media, found in John Bunyan's allegory Pilgrim's Progress, "You may recall the description of the man with the muckrake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muckrake in his hand, who was offered a celestial crown for his muckrake, but would neither look up, nor regard the crown he was offered but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor."
All too often, we are set upon that which is evil or filth, whether our purpose is to expose it or to be preoccupied with it. We are like the man who would not forsake the muckrake, even when offered the celestial crown. Roosevelt is not condemning the man whose goal is to expose the filth of this world, such as those Christian journalists whose job it is to bring light into darkness.
"The man with the muckrake is set forth as an example of him whose vision is fixed on carnal, instead of spiritual things. Yet he also typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing," says Roosevelt.
We oftentimes hold onto a bit of our sin. How often do we fully surrender all to the infallible will of God? We keep our mite of filth, which slowly eats away at our morality until we are fully rotten. For "…what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness, or what fellowship has the light with darkness?" asks the Paul in 2 Cor. 6:14-15, "Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?" Yet, in 2 Cor. 6:16-17, God says, "'I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God and they shall be My people. Therefore come out from their midst and be separate,' says the Lord." We are called to "abhor what is evil; and cling to what is good" and to "be ye therefore in the world, but not of it."
Roosevelt continues, "Now it is very necessary that we should not flinch from seeing what is vile and debasing. There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muckrake, and there are times and places where this service is most needed of all services that can be performed. But a man who never does anything else, who never thinks, or speaks or writes, save of his feats with the muckrake, speedily becomes not a help but one of the most potent forces for evil."
Nowhere in the Bible are Christians called to sit by idly while evil is being committed. If there is filth, corruption, or evil, God does not call us to ignore it, rather He calls us to be a light in the darkness. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). "There are," says Roosevelt, "in the body [of] political, economic, and social, many great evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether in politics, business, or social life." The call is as clear for Christians now as it was for them who lived in 1906 to "stand firm" against the evils of this present age. Evil is being committed everywhere. In the time it takes you to read this paragraph three children will become fallen victims of abortion.1
It is time for us, as Christians, to unite and stand firm against the evil of this world, of which abortion is one of many. It is time for us to stand up and enlist for the war, for in the kingdom we are "all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."
It is time we, as one kingdom, focus on exposing the evils in this age. Roosevelt said, "I hail, as a benefactor, every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in a book, magazine, newspaper, with merciless severity makes such an attack, provided always that he in turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is truthful, …It puts a premium on knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth."
How then do we prepare to launch such an attack against these evils? We should be equipped in the full armor of God and know that if we make a stand, the wicked will tell all types of slanderous lies to muddy the character of him who "stands firm with his loins gird about with truth, and has on the breastplate of righteousness; and his feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith he shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked. And he takes the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…"
"One of the chief counts against those who make indiscriminate assault upon men in business or men in public life is they invite reaction, which is sure to tell powerfully in favor of the unscrupulous scoundrel who really ought to be attacked, ought to be exposed, who ought, if possible, be put in a penitentiary," Roosevelt says. "An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon the character does no good, but great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed."
The armor is useless unless it is fully applied. Without the Gospel, we have no higher hope, nor promise of heaven. Without faith, why bother? Without righteousness, our character is doubted. Without salvation, we have no reason to stand, and without prayer, we have not the Holy Spirit to direct our words. We are not to turn back from the battle, but to keep at it, as there is no armor for the back, as to indicate fleeing. Paul wrote, while in bonds that, "…many of the brethren in the Lord, having grown confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak with Word without fear."
How often are we bold to speak the Word without fear? Are we "ashamed" of the truth? The truth of Christ is that which we need to pronounce in every aspect of society, truthfully. We cannot bend or even exaggerate the truth, even against the "scoundrel" but live in the Truth, the truth of the Word of God.
"It is because I feel that there should be no rest in the endless war against the forces of evil, that I ask the war be conducted with sanity, as well as resolution," Roosevelt says. Every day we are in endless war for the pursuit of the truth. However, For the Christian, the war ends when we receive the celestial crown the muckrakers refuse to acknowledge. In our dealings with Christians, how often do we demand truth as a primary virtue? How about with the unbelievers? With ourselves?
The war is not against the flesh and blood (although it can be used by Satan) but it is against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in the high places. The "high places" mentioned by Roosevelt and in Ephesians 6, both have their roots in the evil of this world, in darkness, but by the truth that we "may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
Yea, we are called to dwell upon what is lovely and pure, but this is not a call to ignore the evil society we live in, in which the murder of children is legal, in which the emphasis of our society is "if it feels good, it must be okay," in which children daily are being corrupted in our nations finest institutions, in which murders, suicides, and rapes occur. Christ does not call us to sit back and watch our nation go down the tubes. We have a call to action in 1 Cor. 16:13: "Be on alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong."
It is impossible to "be strong" while kowtowing to rampant social and civil wickedness. We cannot "stand firm in the faith" if we are standing by while our children are being slaughtered by the masses. Is standing by "acting like men"?
Roosevelt believes, "The foundation stone of national life is, and ever must be, the high individual character of the average citizen." High individual character doesn't get people to heaven, but it probably would prevent abortion, euthanasia, murders, suicides and rapes, among the other evils of this world. "Spiritually and ethically we must strive to bring about clean living and right thinking. We appreciate that the things of the body are important, but the things of the soul are immeasurably more important," Roosevelt says. Our goal should not be to pull down the evil men, but rather to lift them up in prayer and pray that the Lord may bring them into the flock.
"If a whole picture is painted black," elaborates Roosevelt, "there remains no hue by which to single out the rascals for distinction from their fellows. Such painting finally induces a kind of moral color blindness and people affected by it come to the conclusion no man is black, and no man is white, but they are all gray."
"The men with the muckrakes are often indispensable to the well-being of society, but only if they know when to stop raking muck and look upward to the celestial crown above them, to a crown worthy of endeavor. There are beautiful things above them and round them, and if they gradually grow to feel the whole world is nothing but muck, their power of usefulness is gone," finished Roosevelt.
If the muckraker would only stop raking muck for the sake of raking muck, and rather rake muck with his eye on the Light, thus giving the raking of muck a Providential purpose.
1. Taken from www.biblia.com, which states that over three abortions are committed, every minute and 1,500,000 per year in the US.
- Robert Wolverton