The 38th President on His 38th Day

Early one morning at the end of April last year, I saw in a dream a clear image of a title frame from The West Wing (an American political drama originally screened about 15 years ago). The title of the show was "The 38th President on his 38th Day".

The 38th President of the United States was Gerald Ford. President Ford’s most significant action on his 38th day was the signing of an amnesty for Vietnam War draft evaders. As I typed the word ‘President’ in the header above, I heard the word ‘precedent’: the 38th President sets a precedent both through who he was and what he did on his 38th day.

The majority of this article contains a detailed look at both the person of the 38th President and his actions on his 38th day which reveals several interrelated prophetic themes. There are, however, two main “take-home” messages which I believe are important for the coming days:

¬    The way in which Gerald Ford lived and conducted himself opened the way for unsought and unexpected promotion to positions of huge influence

¬    The signing of the amnesty for Vietnam draft evaders paved the way for restoration of families – the returning of fathers to their children and sons to their fathers.

The Precedent of the 38th President

Gerald Ford’s presidency was unusual in many ways. He remains the only person to have served as both Vice President and President of the United States without having been elected to either office. 

Ford became Vice President in November 1973 after the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew who was being investigated for tax evasion and money laundering. Ford had served eight years as Minority Leader in the US House of Representatives and had won a reputation for integrity and openness, as well as for fair leadership. His nomination for the Vice Presidency by both the Senate and the House of Representatives was nearly unanimous.

When, less than a year later, President Richard Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal, Gerald Ford became President of the United States.

So, what can we learn from how he lived?

Gerald Ford lived with integrity and authenticity. He evidently made mistakes, and made controversial decisions, but reading the various accounts of his life before 1973, he appears as a man who was simply doing what he was good at very, very well. He lived with integrity in that he was expressing the fullness of who he was in whatever situation he found himself.

¬    There is a new urgency about the people of God knowing who they are in Jesus so that they can be fully who they are created to be in every place they find themselves. We need to be intentional about dealing with issues and hindrances which are holding us back. We don’t have the luxury of time!

Gerald Ford had a reputation for righteousness in political office at a time when corruption, fraud and unrighteousness were rife. He stood out amongst his peers for doing so, and was thereby positioned for promotion when the time came.

¬    We need to live counter-culturally in our homes, families, work places and even our churches. Sometimes it will be as simple as keeping a smile on our face and being nice! Sometimes it will be more than that, but whatever it is, it will cost.

‘Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world’. Php 2:14, 15 (ESV)

Gerald Ford did not seek election; both of his promotions to positions of significant influence were unexpected and unsought. As far as we know, Ford did not conduct himself in the way he did hoping that someone would come along and notice him, or harbouring a secret ambition to be President, but as he lived out the fullness of who he was, his gift made a way:

‘A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before the great. Prov 18:16 (ESV)

We all know the ends of the stories of Daniel, Joseph, Esther and David, and have heard countless sermons about right living and patience releasing our promotion. Since we are all human, that can affect our motivation for doing what we do – and thereby lead to frustration when “it”, whatever “it” is, doesn’t happen. There is such a paradox and tension here, especially when we are very aware of the call of God on our lives for greatness and influence.

¬    We really need, more than ever, to have our eyes on The Prize – on Jesus Himself. He is all that matters. He is all we need. He is Who we are living for. He will have His way with us, in us and through us when our lives are laid down in worship.
¬    And as we do so, there will be unexpected and unsought promotions to positions of influence for people who have been conducting themselves with integrity in the face of unrighteousness and corruption. Some of these promotions will position people alongside other leaders to advise or to move in delegated authority like Daniel, Joseph and Esther; some, like David, will replace existing ungodly leaders

Gerald Ford understood that promotion positioned him to serve. In his inaugural address, he stated:
‘I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it... [I] pledge to... you that I will be the President of all the people... there is no way we can go forward except together and no way anybody can win except by serving the people's urgent needs’. 

¬    Any promotion in God’s kingdom takes us lower not higher; promotions are always for the benefit of others.

‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.’ Mk 10:42 – 45 (ESV)

The 38th President’s 38th day

Gerald Ford was inaugurated on 9th August 1974 at 12 noon. In the last hour of his 38th day, just before midday on 16th September 1974, he signed a Proclamation announcing a conditional Amnesty Programme for Vietnam War draft evaders and military deserters.

The Amnesty was controversial and provoked negative response. President Ford’s Proclamation was contentious for obvious reasons, but his aim was to pave the way for healing and reconciliation in the nation, and to allow men to come home to their families without fear of prosecution. The 38th President was all about healing, perhaps especially so on his 38th day. His autobiography is actually called "A Time to Heal".

¬    We are being positioned to speak and act in ways which will bring real healing and reconciliation to families, communities and nations. What we say and do will not always be understood, and may cause some to take offence, but mercy always triumphs over judgement.

The Amnesty did not judge a person’s reasons for walking away. Some of the men who evaded the draft did so out of genuine conviction that the war in Vietnam was wrong and they wanted no part in it; some did so because they did not want to be sent to war for other reasons, including simply being afraid.

¬    There are many who have avoided or evaded the call of God on their lives because of concerns about how the church has been conducting itself; others because of fear of failure or getting hurt, or a sense of being overwhelmed at the magnitude of what they are called to do. It is time for them all to know that they can come home safely.

The Amnesty opened the way for homecoming without reproach; it spoke a welcome. This is a tough one, especially when we have been hurt or affected negatively by someone else’s decision to leave. Many American families would have been vilified by their communities because of the decision of their menfolk to evade the draft, especially when their neighbours’ sons, husbands and fathers were killed or injured.

¬    Just as in the story of the prodigal, there is a challenge to the church to respond to the homecomers with mercy and with a welcome, to create space for them to be all they are called to be, to get alongside and mentor them and celebrate their victories, and not to allow the reason they went away to be any kind of hindrance to their relationships and service in the future. The Father is always calling His sons home, and speaking forgiveness and mercy to them when they come. We will need His grace to do it, but we can do it!

The Amnesty facilitated the restoration of families. Men came home to children who had been without fathers, parents who had been without sons, women who had been left without a husband – and whose families had learned to live without them. It must have taken immense grace, patience and love for the families which succeeded to readjust and rebuild. 

¬    We really must look to God for the same grace, mercy and love to adjust as many, many prodigals come home. We must not have an expectation that we can carry on as we have been and that they must fit in. We need to be intentional about creating space so that everyone can be who they are meant to be in God’s family – there are no second class citizens in His kingdom, none who have to earn their way back with us in a way they didn’t have to with the Lord. 

Restoration like this costs, but it is what Jesus died for, what He prayed for and what the Father’s heart yearns for. It isn’t easy but it is vital!

‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction’. Mal 4:5, 6 (ESV)

‘The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me’. Jn 17:22, 23 (ESV) 

May the Lamb receive the reward of His sufferings, and may we know how we are to live and act to hasten the day of His coming.