My Visit with the President
October 10th, 1976 @ 7:30 PM
MY VISIT WITH THE PRESIDENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-10-76 7:30 p.m.
Now let us turn to the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Romans—Romans, chapter 13. And we are going to stand and read out loud verses 1 through 7—Romans, chapter 13, verses 1 through 7 [Romans 13:1-7].
And if on radio, KRLD and radio KCBI, you are listening with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas and you have a Bible, read it out loud with us. It will do your heart good. Romans 13:1-7. And now let us stand and read the Word of God out loud together:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Now may we be seated together? God’s Word plainly tells us that we are citizens of two worlds. We are citizens of this world. We are citizens of the world that is yet to come [Philippians 3:20]. As such, we are often admonished in the Bible of our duties as citizens of the state as well as our responsibilities to God, as children of the heavenly and enduring kingdom.
We all have a vital stake, far beyond what we realize, in our government and in our national life. I am a member, as you know, of the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance. I take an active part in that worldwide organization. As such, I see in all of our general meetings the representatives of our oppressed brethren who live in Communist lands and under dictatorial dictatorships. My heart bleeds as I see those people. Some of them face trials and persecutions beyond what we could imagine. This very minute, the Lord knows how many preachers of our Baptist churches are now rotting in prisons and in dungeons, how many have their properties confiscated, how many live under great trial and oppression, all because of the governments that rule their nations.
I use that just as an instance of the tremendous stake we have in the kind of a government under which we live. Somewhat further along, I shall speak of some of the things that concern us in our daily lives. For what the government does touches each one of us in the most intimate capacities and relationships that we have in the ableness to have a business, or to pay our debts, or to live our lives, or to build our homes. Because of these admonitions from Holy Scripture, and we read just one tonight, I have taken upon myself to speak of an inside view of our government.
Had I known that the president was coming today, I doubtless would not have done this tonight. But having announced it and having talked to some of my men about it, I felt in their encouragement and in my own heart, that it was something right for me to do. Now I don’t know how long it will be—not too long. But, however it is, I beg of you to listen with your finest minds and sensitivities and judgments. For this concerns you, I say, far more than you realize.
Thursday of last week, I was at the White House from two o’clock in the afternoon until a little after four—a little after four thirty. And we were seated in the cabinet room, each one of us seated in one of those cabinet chairs next to the Oval Office of the president. And before the president came in to speak to us, or, rather, to let us talk to him in a dialogue, in a conservation, there were some of the leaders of government who came and talked to us first.
The first one was Ambassador Frederick Dent, the former secretary of commerce and now head of the president’s foreign trade and development effort, a princely man. He is the convener of the White House prayer fellowships, and he arranges for the groups in the White House that pray together. And he said that almost every department of government has its prayer groups, just as they have in the White House.
The next to speak to us was one of the members of the president’s cabinet, a zealous man and a dedicated man. He said, “It is the sordid that you hear from Washington. The good news is never heard and it never makes the headlines.” He said, “The voice of the bad is ever heard because of the silence of the good.” He said he felt our nation would never perish because no one cared. There are so many people in our country who do care. He said, “The good that these men do, who love God and pray in our government, is crowded out by the bold headlines of the bad.”
Eisenhower’s portrait is there in the cabinet room. And pointing to it, he says, “This man never had a cabinet meeting without first beginning it in prayer. Most of the men in government,” he said, “are men of faith, of religious commitment.”
He thought that, the higher a person rises in his performance, the more openly he falls back on his faith in God. He has seen, he said, President Ford often in deep meditation, asking the help of God, in making a decision. He said there were a lot of people in government just like that. “Only here in America,” he avowed, “is it written on our coinage ‘In God We Trust.’ We are still basically a Christian nation.”
He gave an illustration. He said he went out to the National Airport in Washington. It was a dark gloomy day. The airplane took off and he was completely of course in the hands of the pilot. Then soon they burst into the open sky and into the bright sunlight.
He said, “All the time he was down there in that gloomy world, under those lowering clouds, the sun was still shining up there in God’s sky.” And he said, “We’re never to forget that the sun ever shines upon God’s purposes of grace for us.”
Then pointing to the portrait of Abraham Lincoln at the other end of the cabinet room, he said, “When times were hard for Abe Lincoln, he fell on his knees in prayer.” He said, “Washington often was on his knees in prayer. Eisenhower was often in prayer. Basically,” he said, “we have a good nation run by good people.”
Then, he gave an illustration of a lawyer—a famous lawyer, employed by the Supreme Court and assigned to Justice Felix Frankfurter. And the first thing the justice of the Supreme Court did was to give the great lawyer a Bible, saying, “Read it.”
Then, after days passed, he asked, “Have you read it?”
The lawyer said, “Yes.”
And the justice said, “Have you really read it?”
And the lawyer said, “Yes.”
And the justice said, “Well, what have you learned?”
And when man replied, the justice said, “No. You haven’t learned it. For what we learn from reading the Bible is, that you cannot separate religion from the law and law from religion.”
How do you like that? You men who live in the legal world: law is based upon religion. And without it, law disintegrates before the very eyes of the people.
The next one to speak to us was Jerry Thomas. He’s undersecretary of the Treasury. He’s forty-six years old, a handsome young man. And he’s on the board of directors and chairman of eleven banks. He became a Christian in Dallas at a great convocation here in our city. He prays. He reads the Bible every day. He opens each session of his Board of Director’s meetings with prayer.
He said, “There are many Christians in government in Washington who pray.” He said, “I feel comfortable in my religious faith with the president of the United States.” He said, “If I could not openly espouse and express my faith, I would leave the service of government immediately.” He said, “Some wear their religion on their sleeves, but others try to wear it in our hearts.”
Now he told a joke. And I have found out that those fellows in their high tribunals and cabinet meetings joke a great deal. Now I’m going to tell you two of the jokes that they told. This is one: he told this one in his speech. You realize I’ve just kind of summarized what these men have said. He said there was a plane that lost the power of its four jet engines—you know, propulsion by that hot air that comes out of the back of the engine. Hubert Humphrey was on the plane. And he went up to the pilot and said, “Is there something I can do to help?” And the pilot replied, “Yes, indeed. You open the back door of the plane and start talking, and keep on talking and talking.” And the pilot was asked, “Well, did you land safely?” And he replied yes—except they overshot the runway.
The next one to speak to us was James Lynn, who is the president’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. He has the job of managing the huge federal budget. He practiced corporate law in Ohio for eighteen years. And this is that vast federal budget that he manages; all of these figures are in millions and in billions of dollars. And he showed us a diagram of the waste of the federal government. I could not believe what I was looking at in the diagram. And when he was through I asked him for it with the book, and he was kind enough to give it to me.
I don’t suppose you can see this back where you are, but this is a diagram of the overlapping of the agencies of the federal government. You cannot believe it. There are agencies in agencies about agencies that have to do with other agencies. And the squandering of federal money in that bureaucratic labyrinth and maze is unbelievable and almost incalculable. And that is one of the things that they’re trying to do is, with the help of the Lord and the wisdom from heaven, to stop the ever-increasing monstrous expansion of the cost of American government.
Now this fellow, James Lynn, who is as shrewd and smart as he can be, and who is a lawyer of tremendous proportions, told a joke about lawyers. It was this: he said that there were three men who were shipwrecked and stranded on a little island about one hundred fifty yards from shore. But the water between the little island and the shore was infested with sharks. They could see them swimming around there all the time. They drew straws as to which one would swim to the shore for help. One was a minister, one was a doctor, and one was a lawyer. And when they drew straws to see which one would swim through those shark-infested waters to go for help, the lawyer drew the short straw. So he jumped into the water to swim to the shore to call for help. And when he did so, all of the sharks in the sea made a beautiful corridor lining up on each side for the lawyer to swim through to the shore. When the minister saw it, he raised his hand to God and said, “It is a miracle from heaven.” And the doctor sarcastically replied, “Not so. It is just deferential preference shown by these sharks to one of their fellows.”
He said, “If government more and more makes our decisions, we shall ultimately lose our personal freedom and also our academic freedom. The man who works at the desk, at the plow, at the sewing machine, produces our wealth. The money spent by government is not wealth. If we try to solve all our problems by the government treasury, we shall hurt, most of all, those we seek to help. Better a return for those who produce, that they may build better homes, have lower taxes, more to spend for themselves, than that they be supported by the government.
“Inflation is a tragedy,” he said, “for the elderly. It is no less so for the poor. When things go up, they’re unable to buy. The rate of the growth of the federal government must be stopped.” He referred to George Meany, the president of the AFL and the CIO, who said we must have a one hundred billion-dollar deficit. And this lawyer said, “He does not realize it, but it hurts most of the people that he is trying to help.”
Then came into the cabinet room the president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford. He spoke so warmly and so courteously and graciously with us. And he said, “My Christian commitment is deep, not in a public way, unless I am asked.” Then he began to talk to us, saying that he was sorry Dr. Henry Kissinger was not there.
I listened to Henry Kissinger for about an hour and a half one time, speaking about our foreign relations and the policies of our federal government in that very place. Henry Kissinger, he said, at that moment was delivering an address before the United Nations, but he would be there. But, as the time wore on, word came out of the Oval Office that after he had finished his address he was not able to come because he was detained by ministers of foreign governments in New York City.
So the president began to speak himself of our foreign policies and our relationships with foreign governments. And I thought you might like to know some of the things that our government is pursuing under the direction of our president.
Regarding Africa he said, “We have not in years past been as actively interested in Africa as we should have been. The Soviet Union and Cuba now dominate Angola.” What comes of this? He said, “Of that communist influence in Africa, the radical left nations become more radical. And the leaders in the moderate sections become less able. The Soviet Union will surely dominate Africa, if we do nothing.”
“Dr. Kissinger,” he said, “is seeking to hammer out a policy in the most touchy situation we have ever faced. We are dealing with nations which have just emerged from colonial relationships, with no experience in running a country. It is a most complicated mission. But, if we are not successful, there will be a frightful bloodshed and foreign intervention.” He said, “There will be a million lives lost in these wars in Africa, if America is not successful in bringing a peaceful solution.”
He said, “We have about a 60-40 possibility of success in Africa. Our proposal in Rhodesia,” he said, “is for a transitional government, then a permanent government, under the guidance of Great Britain. We believe the governments of Africa will corporate with us. If we succeed, we shall avoid bloodshed, and we shall have thwarted the intrusion of the Soviet Union. Our government is involved with Africa because it is in the best interest of the free world.”
Then he began to speak of Korea. And the reason for the speaking of Korea: the question was raised about those two American officers who were killed in the DMZ. We were referring to the show of strength of the United States—all the forces of America were alerted when that happened. And our great navies, and these aircraft carriers, began to stream to the Sea of Japan. And our great bombers were on alert. And our men were brought up to a readiness and an alert.
Then he said several times, “We meant business in Korea.”
And I like that. “We meant business in Korea.”
He said, “I fully believe that the presence of our armed forces in South Korea is vital. Any further reduction would have a severe impact upon Japan. It would give a signal that we have abandoned that part, the Oriental part of the world. We’re trying to build up South Korea in this, in their own strength. For us to withdraw would be a signal to Red China and Russia to take over. We’ve had twenty-five years of peace, because we did not want to destroy that hope. And we’re going to stay in South Korea.”
I have watched this foreign situation for years, as you have. And this is what I have found. There has never been a time when America stood up, but that the communists bowed down. There’s no exception to that. It’s only when we give in and give in and give in that they finally take over and destroy us.
Why, I believe what General Westmoreland said. If the government of the United States had given General Westmoreland, in South Vietnam, the open door to fight that war to a conclusion, Westmoreland said, “I can conclude this war within a matter of days.” He said, “I would say to North Korea, our seventh fleet is being rendezvoused beyond your shores. And I’m bringing my army up to the DMZ. And if you don’t take your troops out of South Vietnam, we will bomb you out of existence and we will invade your country.” He said the war would be over in a few days.
Why didn’t we do that? Because of the pussyfooting pusillanimous pinko’s and fellow travelers in the government of the United States at Washington. Consequently, a little nation brought our flag down in disgrace. And for the first time in the history of America we lost a war.
Concerning the Middle East, I asked the president, “Was the trouble in the Middle East due to the age-long hatred between Arab and Jew, or because of the dark hand of Russia?”
And he said a word of hope, “Russia has fared badly in the Middle East. We pray that the same thing will happen ultimately in Africa,” he said. “Egypt has dismissed the Russians. Jordan has never had anything to do with the Russians. Now Syria has pushed them out. Russia has backed the PLO, but events have been running against them.”
Oh, wouldn’t it be beyond anything in the world if somehow peace could come to the land where our Lord was born and where the Christian faith was launched by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God?
Then we asked him about Taiwan and Red China. And he said, “I personally have a deep feeling for the Taiwanese. We are trying to find a key to achieving a peaceful relationship between Taiwan and Red China. We all would be reluctant to cut off a good friend like Taiwan, but there is no solution found for that problem yet.”
With regard to our SALT agreements, the limitation of these ballistic missiles; he said, “The SALT agreement we made with Russia runs out next year, in 1977. And if we are not able to negotiate another SALT agreement with Russia, that there will be an arms race, the likes of which the world has never seen.” And he’s praying that somehow we shall be able to come to a common accord with Russia in the limitations of these ballistic missiles and these atomic weapons.
Then we talked to him about the moral life of America. “What do you do to encourage the moral life of America?” he asked. And he replied, “I try by the life that I lead and by that I hope to encourage others.” He said, “By example, I hope that I can counteract evil. Both my wife and I each has a little table by our twin beds. On each table is our Bible. And before we go to sleep every night, we read each one his Bible.”
“Before difficult decisions I have to make,” he says, “and I have no direction on how to reach a final solution, I ask for guidance from God, praying for the right decision I have to make. I do not talk about it, but,” he said, “once a week”—and then he named several men in his government, one of whom is Melvin Laird, the cousin of our Dr. Paul Laird. He said, “Once a week, these men meet with me in prayer.” He said, “We did so when I was minority leader of the Congress. And I have continued it as president of the United States.” That did my old heart good.
About the poor and about compassion for the poor, he answered, “We have sought to help. But, far too long”—and you listen to this sentence, “But, far too long we have lived on borrowed time, borrowed money, borrowed ideas and on confetti currency, thinking to bring ourselves prosperity by printing money.”
Now I’m going to say a little word out of my own heart. While we were in that meeting with the president in Washington, in the White House, the Congress was overriding a veto. And when I came back to Dallas the next morning, the headline in the Dallas Morning News is this: “Fifty-six and one half billion social bill veto overridden.”
While we were there, the Congress was overriding the veto of the president of this fifty-six billion dollar social bill. Where is that money coming from? The government is already in a deficit as deep as the abyss itself. But, they pass a fifty-six billion dollar welfare bill. Where’s that money coming from?
There’s only one way that it can come, and that is a governmental official calls the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and says, “Print for us fifty-six billion dollars.” And the government of Bureau of Printing and Engraving—the agency begins that printing press. And there is fifty-six billion dollars printed in order to pay for those welfare programs passed by the Congress of the United States.
How does that affect you? Let me read from an investment letter that I received the same day that I read the telegram. In seven months through 1975, inflation has reduced the purchasing power of our savings by forty percent. Do you buy a bond? Do you put money in the savings and loan? Do you try to put aside a little something for you? By that program of printing money, already forty percent of what you have saved has already been taken away. And looking ahead, this investment letter says we expect a resurgence of the inflationary spiral due to massive worldwide deficit spending, excessive wage increases, and on and on.
Do you read the paper? Do you know what’s going on? Do you look at England? England is bankrupt. I received a letter from a noble English merchantman about two or three days ago. It is sad. It is pitiful, what is happening to England. Why? Because of their social programs. And they go in debt, and they print money, and they go in debt, and they print money. As some of those Englishmen said, “The ordinary Englishman is not interested in working. All he wants to do is sit at home and drink beer and watch the television.”
The government has no money. The government does not create wealth. And every time that the government spends, it either prints the money or it takes it from you in taxes. And we’re going to fall into the same bankruptcy and into the same deficits that you see in England, if there is not a turning around in the fiscal policies of our American government.
Well, what does that matter to us? Already in this church we are beginning to stagger under the vast increases in just what it takes to buy the light bill, to buy a maintenance man, to hire for just the keeping of the church in existence. And these things are going up and up and up, and they rise and rise and rise. Out there at the parsonage, our usual light bill was about sixty-five dollars a month. The last time I received it, it was over two hundred dollars a month. What are we going to do when it’s over one thousand dollars a month? What are we going to do when it’s five thousand dollars a month? And what are you going to do when meat costs you $25, $30, $40, $50 a pound and gasoline is $10 a gallon?
“All I’m interested in is what the government gives to me,” and by the thousands and the thousands our people are going to the polls to vote for a handout from the government. And they don’t realize it spells the disintegration of the nation and is the cruelest thing that can be done for the poor, and the elderly, and these who are on pensions in retirement. God be good to America!
And we asked him—and I must close—“What do you envisage for our country?” And he replied, “Peace at home and abroad; limited government and unlimited opportunity.” I love that sentence; “limited government and unlimited opportunity.” If a man wants to work, that he has an opportunity to work; compassion for the less fortunate and opportunity for those who have the drive and the desire to achieve and to excel.
I wish I had—and I’ve just now come to it—I wish I had time to speak of the personal life of the president as he formally replied to some of these questions that we asked him. Would you tarry long enough for one? “Mr. President, Christians have a personal commitment to Jesus. It’s in part of their faith. In the light of that, can you tell us what Jesus means to you and have you dedicated your life to him?”
And he replied formally, “I’ve said on several occasions, when asked, that I have a commitment to the Christian faith and I have a relationship with Jesus Christ through my church and through my daily life. My faith goes back to my upbringing by my parents when I was very young. It has been re-enforced in my lifetime by a number of experiences that I’ve had. Faith means the dedication to His life and to His principles. And I seek to follow in my own public, as well as private, life those principles”—and on through.
It is just beautiful. I have done this in order that we might have just a little inside view that is different from what you read in the papers about our government. I realize that it is all mixed up in politics—that you can’t make a gesture in the government without it having political overtones. Anything that I say that seeks to honor our Lord and to give us confidence and hope in the men who govern our people, anything is looked upon as being politically motivated. I know all that. I’m sensitive to all that. I realize all that. And yet, we are vitally involved. And whether I want to or no, my life, and the life of my children, and the life of our church, and our destiny as a nation is involved in what we do before God in our government.
I pray that it should begin here with us. The nation cannot repent, if I do not repent. The nation cannot believe, if I do not believe. The nation cannot accept Christ, if I do not accept Christ. The nation cannot be baptized, if I am not baptized. The nation cannot get right with God, if I am not right with God. It must begin in me.
And that is our appeal to your heart tonight. A family, a couple, or just one somebody you to give your heart to God [Romans 10:8-13]; to open your soul heavenward and Christ-ward, “Her I come pastor and here I am. I have decided for the Lord and I am coming tonight.” In the balcony round, there is a stairway at the front and the back and on either side. It is made for you. Come. On this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Here I am pastor. I am making it tonight.” I will be standing to this side of our Lord’s supper table and while I stand there, to give your heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]; to come into the fellowship of the church; or to answer some call of God; would you do it now? Make it now, come now; while we stand and while we sing.