By Jonathan Lange, columnist
As Old Man 2021 finishes the race and a baby New Year comes out of the gate, let’s make some New Year’s resolutions that will count for generations. Rather than hollow promises to shed a few pounds, it is time that we make an oath to keep all previous oaths.
Like a resolution, an oath is a solemn declaration to fulfill a pledge. Unlike a resolution, oaths call on God as a witness. Oath makers recognize that even the highest human power—possessing overwhelming resources, sophisticated surveillance, and the most powerful weapons in the world—remains dwarfed by the almighty and all-seeing God who transcends all human judgment and power.
Sadly, oath keepers have been lately tarred and feathered in a guilt-by-association campaign aided by an incurious press. Ray Epps, president of the Arizona chapter of the “Oath Keepers” has been caught on numerous video clips encouraging thousands of people to enter restricted zones on January 6. His boss, Stewart Rhodes, is likewise implicated through intercepted communications.
Despite this apparently illegal activity, neither of these men has been arrested or charged with crimes. Rather, the FBI has scandalously let their behavior skate even while treating association with their suspect organization as suspicious. While the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled the group “antigovernment,” the FBI is more cautious in its wording.
Most recently, an anonymous “whistleblower” has made unsubstantiated claims that over 200 Wyomingites including several high-profile conservatives were once involved with the organization. Whether the purported involvement was in recent history, or amounted to more than winding up on someone’s email list, it didn’t say. Regardless, such membership would be protected by the first amendment. There is no criminal activity here unless the “whistleblower” turns out to be a government employee.
Rather than smearing oath keepers, we should encourage them. We can begin by considering why people willingly take oaths in the first place. While cynics take oaths to lure people into their confidence, honest oath-makers take oaths because they want the transcendent God to help them keep their oaths. They do so to undertake public duties that require personal integrity.
Such public duties include marriage, parenthood, government (from the president to public school teachers), military and law-enforcement to name a few. These people wield such power over others that there is a grave danger of abuse. Neither legislation, nor its enforcement can possibly ensure perfect integrity in public officials. Oaths require self-policing and humble submission to a power higher than law enforcement can reach.
Oath keepers recognize that duty will sometimes conflict with their personal desires for wealth, happiness, or even life. With sound mind and free will, they take oaths to bind themselves to self-sacrifice when the mind and will object to the call of duty.
Love leads couples to the altar. But the oaths taken there keep them together in rough times. Adventure and patriotism lead some to volunteer for military service, but the military oath binds them to act honorably when bullets are flying. Ambition may induce politicians to seek higher office, but their oath of office requires them to abandon ambition when it conflicts with the public trust.
We need more oath keepers, not fewer. Children need parents who keep marriage vows even when feelings flag. Townsfolk need peace officers who will protect and defend without abusing the awesome powers entrusted to them. A free republic requires elected officials who will “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” even when nobody is watching (U.S. Constitution Article II, Section 1, Clause 8).
On December 28, the Fourth Day of Christmas, Christians throughout the world solemnly remember the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. According to St. Matthew, King Herod sent out his soldiers with orders to kill all the baby boys in the region of Bethlehem (Mt. 2:16).
What kind of soldier would obey such an order? Were they, themselves, acting under threat of death? For the parents who helplessly watched sharp steel cut into tender flesh, the motivation of the soldiers offered no consolation. The manifest injustice screamed to heaven and to the One who sees all.
Having seen and considered the great evil that comes from officers bound to kings rather than to God, we have our officers breathe an oath to the heavens. They consciously call themselves to account before the judge of all.
Every mother and father, every teacher and board member, every councilman and congress member, has made a similar oath. Sadly, American jurisprudence has grown weak, fickle, and sometimes outrightly partisan in its failure to enforce these oaths. That should deepen the resolve of every oath maker to be an oath keeper.
Oaths don’t have an expiration date. They don’t have conditions attached. Thank God for every individual who lives up to an oath. And let us resolve to fulfill our own oaths to family, church, and country in 2022 and beyond.