Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador, has accused White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove of leaking word that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. I raise this public controversy, still raging in the media and still under investigation, for only one reason — there is something missing here.
Appearing last week on CNN‘s Larry King Live, Amb. Wilson said he is “prepared to think the worst of Karl Rove.” Here is his statement from the show’s transcript: Now, I’m prepared to think the worst of Karl Rove ever since he told Chris Matthews that my wife was fair game. And that’s tough for me because Karl and I go to the same church. We go to different services, we go to the same church. I know his wife’s name because we get a church newsletter. So, why he wouldn’t know my wife’s name, perhaps he doesn’t read the newsletter.
This confirms what other press reports have claimed — that Karl Rove and Joseph Wilson attend the same church, reported to be an evangelical congregation in the Washington area. In a film interview, Wilson identified the congregation as an Episcopal church. The Washington Post cited the Huffington Post and attributed the following quote to Karl Rove: Joe Wilson and I attend the same church but Joe goes to the wacky mass.
Doesn’t this raise a basic question for the Christian conscience? The Rove/Wilson/Plame controversy may have legal consequences. By now, it is clear that the controversy has political consequences. The investigators, political officials, and media outlets have their own agendas and their own concerns. Yet, the church must surely see this as a matter of Gospel concern.
After all, both Wilson and Rove have made public statements about their common participation in the life of a Christian congregation. The fact that they may attend different services does not alter this reality. They participate in the same church.
The Apostle Paul warned that Christians who take their conflicts to court, rather than to the church, bring the Gospel into disrepute before unbelievers.
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud–even your own brothers! [1 Corinthians 1-8, English Standard Version]
There is no way to simply withdraw this matter from the political context and the legal jusidictions involved. This is not merely a matter of personal conflict between two parties within a congregation — but it is a matter of congregational responsibility. How can two brothers in Christ confront each other in the political process and appear against each other in the national media while they avoid each other at church by attending separate services? Something is horribly wrong here.
Paul’s point is clear enough. A conflict between Christian brothers — especially a conflict brought before the world — undermines the Gospel. I have no knowledge of the membership status of either party in this dispute. Nevertheless, the fact that both Rove and Wilson have made their common church attendance a public issue inevitably makes this a Gospel issue.
Can these news reports serve as a catalyst for awakening the church to the erosion of our witness by the abdication of church discipline? Can we hope that this congregation, attended by these two men, can demonstrate the power of the Gospel by calling both to peace, to discipline, and to truth? The courts may have their say — as will the court of public opinion — but the Church must adjudicate this matter in a way that demonstrates the transforming truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This rediscovery of biblical ecclesiology would be a powerful testimony before a watching world. Do we dare pray to see it?
As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion.… I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! “Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!” …. We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart. [ John Chrysostom, Homily 20]