Monday, November 14, 2005

Fantasy Presidents: The President by Parker Hudson

Having already given some discussion of a particular presidential "what if" scenario in Commander in Chief, I thought I might move to the opposite end of the spectrum for just a moment. The President, a novel written by Parker Hudson, asks the question, "... what would happen if a man who entered the presidency as a non-believer were suddenly to embrace the Christian faith?" (quoted from the dust jacket)

A disclaimer is in order: I originally read this novel--which comes recommended by such conservative luminaries as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph E. Reed, Jr., and American Center for Law and Justice (a law firm founded by Pat Robertson) Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow--during my "more conservative" phase in 1996, while attending an extremely conservative seminary in the middle of nowhere within South Carolina. Also, I had just ended a fairly serious relationship at the time (or, more accurately, had ended for me...), and had a lot of extra time on my hands. All this is to say that not only are my political leanings somewhat different now than they were then, but that I also do not tend to look upon this time with great affection. With those caveats, I will attempt to be fair....

The President tells the story of President William Harrison. Set in an indeterminate near-future, President Harrison is a well-intentioned non-believer whose sister Mary (a believer since adolescence) continues to pray will come to Jesus. President Harrison's conversion comes about a third of the way into the almost 500-page book, after a fairly long "softening up" period including a sermon at Camp David (arranged by Mary) and the random murder of the President's parents by "joy-riding" teenagers.

The centerpiece of the book is the President's State of the Union address, in which he publicly confesses his new-found faith to the nation (pages 312-328. I won't give pages for every quote from this speech). After detailing the ills of the nation (in ways that won't come as a surprise to anyone whose heard modern conservative commentary), President Harrison details "a collision of two diametrically opposed worldviews which have been at war for a long time.... The first worldview is the Judeo-Christian one on which this nation was founded." Although the President includes "Judeo-" here, he very quickly notes that "...God has provided by his grace the only means for joining (God) in (heaven) through our individual belief in his Son, Jesus Christ...." The second worldview is described as a belief that God either doesn't exist, or has created everything, but left us to our own devices. This worldview is tied to the general idea of relativism: "We're to be fervently all-inclusive, and everything anyone might want to do is basically fine because it all starts from human reason."

What follows is a detailed history of how our nation was founded on Christian principles, and how the nation has strayed from those principles. The President calls the nation to decide, as Joshua had called the Israelites, "whether they as a nation will serve God or not." Although the President stresses that he is "not talking about creating a theocracy," and says that he will "welcome other faiths in the public debate," he makes it clear that he intends the majority of the people of the nation to embrace Christianity, if only by the sheer volume of Christian-specific policies he advocates. He even closes his speech by reading from the book of Joshua, repeating the call to "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.... But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (ellipses are as appear in The President)

As ironically often seems to be the case in Christian fiction, the book seems excessively focused on sex. The President has had an affair some time previous to the opening of the book, which threatens to come back to haunt him in the form of blackmail. A reporter central to the story is involved in a superficial sexual relationship with her network anchorperson. The public schools have just instituted a "virtual reality" tool that allows students to engage in sexual experiences without actually having sex, except that it seems to have the side effect of increasing the frequency of actual teenage sexual experience to "virtually one hundred percent" (page 388). The Navy is wrestling with a new affirmative action policy (implemented by the pre-Christian President Harrison) to allow gays and women to serve alongside men on long-term missions, leading to a near-affair between the President's brother, weapons officer of the USS Fortson, and a female officer.

There is a fair amount of exposition in the novel (besides the already demonstrated exposition of the State of the Union address), where Christian characters tell what God's word says (most of the time without citing actual passages or noting that even many Christian theologians differ on some of the matters cited as a theological fact). And although Hudson is careful not to directly refer to any political party by name, the following section, spoken by John Dempsey, the senior senator from the President's own party, makes Hudson's own prejudices fairly clear:
"I don't know exactly how to say this, Mr. President, but somewhere, somehow in the last fifty years we've done too much, intervened too much, interfered too often. Now we create more problems than we fix. Oh, some of our programs are okay--usually the ones where we give an incentive for someone in the private sector to do something right. But on balance, I'm afraid that we're the problem. We tax too much and we regulate too much." (page 140)
To drive the point home even more, Dempsey is the son of a preacher and, after years in government, says that "my father was right. He told me that we'd never succeed in Washington because we were focused on making people better through programs." (page 141) Hmmm, which party tends to advocate cutting programs, and encourages private sector solutions?

Among the other sub-plots that weave their way through this book is the climactic one, a plot by former Soviets disenfranchised by the collapse of the Soviet Union, aided by Islamic terrorists and an American traitor, to attack New York. This threat is neutralized by a combination of American military preparedness and divine intervention ("a mighty wind came out of heaven and moved across the face of the earth," delaying a missile attack long enough for the attacker to be destroyed by an American missile. Pages 494-496).

The book ends with an Afterword in which the author apologizes for having to depict concepts and scenes that might be offensive to more sensitive Christian readers, and includes a list of suggested books to help the reader consider "the proper balance between faith and government, and the key role of Christianity in our American history."

It needs to be emphasized that the author of this book, written in 1995, could not have been aware of what would happen on September 11, 2001, nor could he have known that the nation would see a President (in George W. Bush, who had just been elected Governor of Texas only the year previously) similarly bold about proclaiming his faith in Christ (and even "Dubya" wouldn't quite dare give a State of Union speech like Harrison's!).

It's also worth noting that Hudson is not entirely wrong in his call for Christians to be more serious about their faith. However, Christianity is far more politically diverse than a reading of this book would have one believe. Although Hudson is correct in asserting that "separation of church and state" was never intended to mean that political leaders should not allow their faith to dictate their politics, he does not adequately address the fact that such separation was intended to protect the church against the imposition of interpretations of the faith that might differ from the version of the party in power. I would also argue against what appears to be his argument for evangelism, which seems to be along the lines of "wear the subject down until he can't resist any more!"

All in all, I can't really say I recommend the book, although it is always worthwhile to be exposed to viewpoints different from one's own.

*All page references are from The President by Parker Hudson, copyright 1995. Published by Multnomah Books. ISBN# 0-88070-846-8.

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