By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) Tim Goeglein was the go-to person in George W. Bush's White House for evangelical Christians until news broke in 2008 that he had plagiarized in columns in his hometown newspaper in Indiana.
Goeglein, 47, and a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, has just written "The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era." He recently answered questions about plagiarism, forgiveness and moving on.
Some answers have been edited for length or clarity.
Q: You were caught plagiarizing in columns for your hometown newspaper seven years into your job as President Bush's liaison to conservative Christians. How do you explain that?
A: Pride. Pride takes all kinds of avenues. For some people, it's sex. For some people, it's power. For some people, it's money. In my case, it was wanting to be the clever one, the one who said it better than other people. It was a form of deception and I failed. It was wrong and I was guilty as charged. But the beautiful thing is that grace and forgiveness are real and I experienced it in a very profound way in my life even though I did not deserve it.
Q: What was President Bush's reaction to the plagiarism scandal?
A: I fully expected and deserved the proverbial woodshed moment. I got to the Oval Office and I turned to the president to apologize. I barely got a few words out and he looked me in the eyes and he said, 'You are forgiven.' I was truly stunned and I tried a second time to apologize and barely got a few words out and he looked at me again and said, 'Grace and mercy are real. I've known them in my own life and I'm extending them to you.' The third time I did apologize.
I assumed that that was the last time that I would ever see President Bush.
And as I turned to depart he said, 'Oh, and by the way, I want you to bring your wife and two sons here so I can tell them what a great husband and father you've been.' I still cannot plumb the depths of the kind of grace and mercy that comes with having the leader of the free world validate me at the lowest point in my life before my wife and kids.
Q: You write of redemption following your fall from grace. How did you redeem yourself?
A: I do not believe that it is possible to redeem myself per se. But I think it is possible to seek forgiveness and to work to restore your life, and to really understand and to internalize the gift and the joy and the contentment that comes from genuine forgiveness and redemption -- that you yourself did not earn.
Q: Was there a point where you made a personal act of redemption beyond asking people to forgive you?
A: As a Lutheran Christian for years, I was taught and believed in the power of both confession and absolution. I had a moment where, in meeting with my pastor, we went together into the altar of our church and I literally kneeled down and confessed my sins before God Almighty formally. That was very, very profound and, in my life, very important.
Q: You write about helping with the service at Washington National Cathedral after 9/11. What was the biggest challenge in pulling that off?
A: No sleep. ... Little could I know that faith and politics would meet in perhaps the most profound moment of the entire Bush administration on the altar at Washington National Cathedral. To have both the president of the United States and Billy Graham speak to the country sequentially was a very important moment, and extremely American. We had almost all of the other living presidents there that day. I felt this remarkable sense of unity in the country.
Q: You mentioned praying with the president in the Oval Office. What do you remember him praying for?
A: He prayed for wisdom. He prayed for clarity of mind and purpose and he prayed for physical safety for his wife, his daughters and himself last. Through every time that I prayed with the president, which was many times, without exception it was always first for other people and for himself last.
Q: When you were hired by Focus on the Family in 2009, they didn't hold your plagiarism against you?
A: We had a fulsome discussion about it. I was forgiven and they issued a statement at the time, which said that forgiveness was real and that we were moving forward.
Q: After being forgiven in your own personal crisis, do you find that you are more forgiving of others?
A: My first prayer every day of my life has been that God would bring people across my threshold who are in crisis. God has answered my prayers over and over and over again. I've been able by God's grace to reach out to people who are having difficult times or chapters in their life, and I pray that has made me a person of more empathy than I have ever been.