HIS CONVICTION IS PROOF OF CHARACTER
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -- One of the four ministers of my church is Peter Ilgenfritz, an intense young man with definite views about how the precepts of religion should be honored in our actual life.
His views lead him to take action, such as marching against the war and even refusing to leave the office of some politician who found his presence an irritation and called in the fuzz.
For this act of civil disobedience he (having no prior criminal record) was fined $5 and sentenced to a month of unsupervised probation.
The chief of the ministerial staff, Don MacKenzie, lately of Princeton, did not fail to advise the faithful that Peter does now have a record, and we should all be on our guard.
A local Baptist preacher indicted in the same case was less fortunate. She did have a record and was sent to languish for a week in the slammer. (Do the sentencing judges have any inkling of the spiritual advantages they are bestowing upon these divines by throwing them in jail? Do they not know that unearned suffering is redemptive? You could not buy that kind... . But I digress.)
It is all very well for preachers to comment on the war. They can write their sermons hours before they have to deliver them, or, if truly blessed, they can just climb into the pulpit and wing it.
Columnists are not so lucky. You might have noticed that I have had little to say about the war in Iraq. It is not that I am reluctant; it is simply that by the time I've written an opinion at least three whole days must intervene before you can read it. By that time Saddam might have - who knows? - opted for Chapter Eleven.
One of the far too many magazines to which I subscribe, and for which I used even to write, is the New Republic, a sturdy liberal voice in Washington, D.C. The NR issue dated March 31, 2003, is by itself a cautionary tale for journalists. It has a lead editorial entitled "The Eve of War" which begins:
"The talking is over, the shooting has not yet begun..."
When those words were written, nearly two weeks earlier, they were plainly true. But you and I know that the shooting had begun a full dozen days before their official date of publication.
They will, however, go into the archives and be preserved forever as ineradicable evidence of the stupidity of trying to date the issue of a magazine far enough ahead so that it will appear on the newsstand as more or less current.
The issue of the New Yorker on my desk bears the same date, March 31, 2003. But the New Yorker writers are merely luckier, not more prescient. Their deadline gave them the chance to acknowledge that we were in an actual shooting war with Iraq.
Peter's sermon today (and in the spirit of full disclosure let me say that today is 30 March 2003) was based upon the passage in St. Mark's Gospel in which Jesus responds to some ill-wishers trying to lure him into a political mistake by saying that we should give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.
What is Caesar's in Mark's story is symbolized by a coin - one that proclaims the divinity of the emperor, to be sure, but still only a penny. It is a trivial debt as compared to what we owe the One whose divinity does not require an inscription on small change.
In this perilous time we owe something to our own Caesar and to those following his orders in the field, but it is not to be compared with that other debt.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.