BROOKS COLUMN: The Witness Of Watergate

Published 9:30 am Friday, April 22, 2022

By Michael Brooks
Pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Alabama

The scandal rocked the nation for two years. It was the origin of the “gate” reference to most every other scandal and the genesis of my interest in presidential history.

Intruders entered the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972. Investigators linked the burglars to the president’s reelection committee. President Nixon, the nation’s chief law enforcement official, was complicit in a cover-up of the crime. Actually, according to a new book on the scandal, the House Judiciary Committee cited 36 specific acts of obstructing justice.

Nixon’s downfall largely came about due to the testimony of Alexander Butterfield, former White House advisor, in response to questioning by attorney Fred Thompson, later to become a Hollywood actor and U.S. senator. Garrett M. Graff in “Watergate—A New History,” called it “Butterfield’s bombshell”—the revelation the president had a secret White House taping system. As someone noted, “Nixon bugged himself.”

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s request for selected tapes, and the June 23 tape was the “smoking gun” showing the president’s crime.

Graff’s book, a challenge at 793 pages, is filled with new information and is a reminder of what the nation faced in those days.

I’ve admired President Nixon. He was a leader gifted in so many ways. I never met him but did pay respects at his gravesite a few years ago. It was late afternoon and the setting sun glared in my camera lens, so the kind security officer allowed me to return the next morning on the way out of town to take a better picture.

I’ve always thought we can learn spiritual lessons from Watergate.

It’s hypocrisy when we declare one thing and live another. Nixon was hypocritical since his job was to enforce the laws of the nation. Christians are often accused of hypocrisy. The only valid response is to acknowledge it’s true. None of us lives up to our ideals, though we try. Browning wrote, “Ah, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Sincere believers never insist they’ve arrived; instead we admit we’re on a continuing life journey of growth in holiness.

A second lesson we glean from Watergate is that we’re all bugged! Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).

Words are powerful tools. They can be used to encourage and bless others, or they can be used to stir strife and division among others. What a sobering reminder that God hears our words, and we will stand before him one day to give account of every word and every deed.