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2 Southern Baptist congressmen call for Clinton press secretary to resign

WASHINGTON (BP)–Two Southern Baptist congressmen have issued a letter demanding the resignation of presidential press secretary Joe Lockhart following comments Lockhart made about Southern Baptist evangelism efforts during a White House press briefing.

Reps. J.C. Watts and J.D. Hayworth wrote the Dec. 23 letter in response to Lockhart’s suggestion that Southern Baptists’ efforts to minister to Muslim and Hindu groups “perpetuate religious hatred.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Zach Wamp, a Tennessee Republican and Southern Baptist church member, told Baptist Press he would not rule out a resolution calling for Lockhart’s ouster when Congress reconvenes.

“This is one of those moments when we Southern Baptists need to stand up and be counted,” Wamp said. “I believe we need to respond to people in a spirit of love and a Christlike manner, but there are times to be tough and this is one of those times.”

“No amount of spin from Mr. Lockhart can hide his blatant bigotry against one of the leading denominations in the United States,” said Hayworth, a Republican from Arizona, in a prepared statement after Lockhart’s Dec. 16 comments. “He should have been fired last week, but you can never count on this White House to do what’s right.”

Wamp, who teaches a Sunday school class in his Chattanooga congressional district, said he first heard about Lockhart’s comments during morning worship services on Dec. 26. “I believe for the president to do anything but fire Mr. Lockhart would be a double standard by the Clinton administration,” he said.

Watts, an Oklahoma congressman who chairs the House Republican Conference, noted that he was “appalled to read the recent comments” by Lockhart. “What makes it even more disturbing is that in making these hateful remarks, Lockhart was supposedly expressing the president’s views.”

Hayworth said sharing one’s faith should not be considered a hate crime. “Almost every major religion has as one of its goals the conversion of those of other faiths,” he said. “I am deeply offended by the insinuation that the constitutionally protected work of the church is somehow hateful and sinister.”

According to the Associated Press, Lockhart later apologized for his remarks. However, that’s not enough for Hayworth. “If he had a shred of honor, he would do the decent thing and resign. Absent that, the president should fire him forthwith.”

The response from political leaders came following remarks issued by Southern Baptist leaders condemning Lockhart’s statements.

Paige Patterson, president of the 15.8-million-member SBC, said Lockhart was trying to bully Southern Baptists for upholding their beliefs about sharing the Christian faith with others.

“Apparently, because the president has very few convictions, he harbors deep resentment against those who do,” Patterson told Baptist Press on Dec. 21.

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  • Todd Starnes