Summary: The erosion of values always runs downhill.
I think I need to begin by explaining the title of today’s sermon. Back in 1992 William Jefferson Clinton’s campaign slogan was, “It’s the economy, stupid.” His campaign manager, James Carville, formulated the saying to keep the Clinton campaign focused on an issue that was sure to beat George H.W. Bush. It worked. The economy apparently did matter more than the former president’s numerous accomplishments.
During Clinton’s second term, the president was embroiled in an ugly scandal. He had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, lied about it under oath so as not to have to turn over evidence in another case, then went on national TV, looked us right in the eye and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Later he admitted to the affair with the lame excuse that he didn’t consider their actions as constituting sexual relations. There’s reason he was nicknamed Slick Willy.
When the Clinton scandal broke, the country was divided into two camps: those who thought he’d broken the law, violated our trust, and should be impeached and removed from office; and those who said, that what the president does in his private life is no concern to us as long as the country is running well and the economy is good. In other words, the character of the leader doesn’t matter. It’s the economy, stupid! Remember?
This morning I want to tell you, it’s not the economy, stupid. The character of people in high places matters. Whether it’s a politician, movie star, sports hero, singer, author, civic leader, university professor or even a public school teacher – the example of those who are looked up to matters. Why? The erosion of values always runs downhill. The bad character of people at the top of any society inevitably dulls the conscience of those below them. Just as water follows gravity downward, the morality of any culture flows from top to bottom.
Let’s think about the effect of President Clinton. Yes, the economy was robust during his tenure. Never mind the fact that the president has little effect on the economy and that Congress was majority Republican at the time. What happens in the minds of young people watching? Hey, if the president doesn’t consider it to be sexual relations neither will I. Some have cited statistics that certain types of sexual behavior actually increased during the Clinton era. I know a church member who thought it was quite appropriate that her daughter have her hair styled just like Monica Lewinski. What kind of message does that send?
Even worse, look at the bigger message that was communicated: It doesn’t matter how you live your life as long as the results are positive. That line of thinking is right out of one of the most hellish books ever written called The Prince by a Renaissance Italian named Niccolo Machiavelli. He’s the guy who came up with the idea that the ends justify the means. His idea was a bit more provocative. He said that rulers should feel free to throw morality aside and do whatever it takes for the good of the state.