News Articles

Church’s lack of discipline enables Clinton’s double life, Mohler says

WASHINGTON (BP)–The church of which President Clinton is a member has enabled him to “claim to be a Southern Baptist” while continuing his “public display of serial sin” because it has not practiced biblical discipline, seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. says.
Mohler, of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., cited the accountability of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., in an Aug. 24 commentary piece he wrote for Religion News Service. Mohler’s monthly column for RNS commented on Clinton’s Aug. 17 admission of an improper relationship with a White House intern and of misleading others about it, as well as commenting on the public and Christian responses to the president.
As a Southern Baptist, Mohler said he feels a “peculiar responsibility for this moral disaster.”
“How can President Clinton claim to be a Southern Baptist and persist in this public display of serial sin? Only because the congregation which holds his membership has failed to exercise any semblance of church discipline,” Mohler wrote. “Southern Baptists will be watching the Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock to see if it musters the courage to make clear its own convictions.”
In an Aug. 26 interview with Baptist Press, Mohler said, “It is scandalous that the witness of Southern Baptists has been so compromised by the open and flagrant sin of one who boldly claims to be a Southern Baptist. The world has every right to ask the Southern Baptist Convention and Immanuel Baptist Church what we really believe about sexual morality and sin.
“Bill Clinton’s repeated pattern of sexual sin is something the nation can no longer ignore. How can the church in which he holds membership ignore what even the secular world considers scandalous?
“I sympathize with Immanuel Baptist Church in the fact that this issue is excruciatingly public for that congregation, but I pray that Immanuel Baptist Church will demonstrate to the world and the Southern Baptist Convention what it means to take the Scriptures seriously in the practice of church discipline,” Mohler said.
Clinton, whose admission was understood to acknowledge sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, which he had denied when allegations were reported in January, has been a member of Immanuel since July 1980, according to church records. While he attended Immanuel regularly and often sang in the choir during his years as governor of Arkansas, Clinton and his wife, Hillary, a Methodist, have normally attended Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington since he became president in 1993.
Immanuel has not practiced public discipline, including the removal of members from the church, in recent decades, two staff members told Baptist Press Aug. 26. The church has not exercised public discipline or private excommunication in the 13 years he has been on the staff, associate pastor David Napier said. When there has been a moral transgression, the church has handled it as a private matter between “a minister and the individual,” Napier said.
Rex Horne, Immanuel’s senior pastor the last eight years, has not divulged what he has said to Clinton about admitted or alleged sexual sins, Napier said. Horne has said in the past he has told Clinton of his disagreement with him over some moral issues, such as abortion.
Horne has declined to grant interviews with reporters since Clinton’s admission, a church staff member said. Horne issued a written statement Aug. 25:
“The recent admission of immoral conduct by the president is grievous. His actions are indefensible and inexcusable. They are not, however, unforgivable. I pray the president will find the grace of God which comes upon confession of sin and the peace which comes from a restored relationship with our Lord.”
In his RNS column, Mohler said Clinton’s nationally televised, five-minute speech lacked contrition, honesty and an apology. In his Aug. 22 weekly column for Little Rock’s daily newspaper, Horne said the future will demonstrate whether the president was sincere.
“Our country faces a crisis,” Horne wrote in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Now, I’m well aware that there are people who will never be satisfied by anything the president says or does. I also know that there are people who — no matter what the president does, whether it’s right or wrong — would defend him and say that it doesn’t matter.
“Well, things do matter and our lives and choices matter. Our character matters. Was the president sincere? God knows and the days ahead will reveal it. People of faith need to be full of both grace and truth. Better still (–) to be full of the one who is grace and truth.”
While Clinton has remained a member of Immanuel, accounts by and about several women alleged to have had adulterous relationships with him or to have been approached for sex by him were reported by the news media beginning with the 1992 presidential campaign. Clinton has acknowledged at least one such allegation, according to news reports. After denying during the ’92 campaign allegations by Gennifer Flowers she had a 12-year relationship with Clinton, the president said during a deposition in the Paula Jones case he had a single sexual encounter with Flowers. That testimony occurred only weeks before the allegations about Lewinsky were reported. Jones had sued Clinton for sexual harassment, but her case has since been thrown out of court and is under appeal.
David Maraniss, a Washington Post reporter who has written a biography of Clinton, wrote in a Jan. 25 analysis for The Post a few days after the Lewinsky allegations surfaced: “It is undeniable that Clinton has had an active extramarital sex life since he married his wife in 1975 — Clinton himself has admitted as much, and friends have privately confirmed it.”
Immanuel is not alone among Southern Baptist and other evangelical churches in failing to exercise discipline. Since the Civil War there has been a notable decline in the number of Baptist churches practicing discipline, said Gregory Wills, associate professor of church history at Southern Seminary and author of the 1997 book, “Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900.”
“Some of our churches practice an occasional form of church discipline,” Wills said of the current situation in the SBC. That discipline “very rarely entails a loss of church membership,” he said.
The SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board) does not record which churches exercise discipline on its annual church profile, a staff member said.
“The lack of church discipline among our churches is scandalous,” said Mohler, who wrote a chapter on the subject in a recently released book, “The Compromised Church.” As a matter of fact, discipline has been recognized for centuries as one of the essential marks for the true church. Our congregations have abdicated the clear New Testament responsibility to maintain the purity of the church and moral witness.”
In his chapter, Mohler points to such passages as Matthew 18:15-17, where Jesus gives the steps for confronting and disciplining a Christian practicing sin, and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, where Paul admonishes the church to remove a professing believer who will not repent of his sin.
“The purpose of church discipline is to be restorative where possible,” Mohler told Baptist Press. “The goal is not retribution. The failure of a congregation to exercise church discipline is a failure suffered by the one who needs moral correction, as well as the church which must protect its moral integrity.”
He does not expect his “call for church discipline to be popular,” Mohler said.
Some Southern Baptists, including some state paper editors, criticized as an infringement on church automomy an attempt at the 1998 annual meeting to adopt an amendment encouraging Immanuel to “prayerfully consider disciplinary action” toward Clinton. The amendment failed, but messengers passed a resolution rebuking Clinton for issuing an executive order adding “sexual orientation,” which includes homosexuality, to the list of categories protected in the federal civilian workplace.
The suggestion that his call for Immanuel to discipline Clinton violates local church autonomy “ignores the fact that I have no power to force Immanuel Baptist Church to take any action, nor does the Southern Baptist Convention have any power to force the congregation to exercise church discipline,” Mohler said. “But it is by no means improper to call upon this church to exercise this most basic responsibility.
“Southern Baptists at the end of the 20th century have a very odd understanding of local church autonomy. Records of associational minutes and other Baptist documents demonstrate that Baptist bodies did openly encourage (in the past) churches to exercise discipline in cases of public sin.
“Unfortunately, the church has grown accustomed to a level of worldliness and seems to have lost all courage in church discipline,” Mohler said. “A culture of personal autonomy has infected not only the society but our congregations.”
It is not the first time Clinton and Immanuel have been the subjects of contention among Southern Baptists. At the SBC’s 1993 annual meeting in Houston, the first after Clinton became president, the SBC adopted a resolution distancing itself from his support for abortion and homosexual rights. At the same convention, an attempt was made to prevent Immanuel’s 10 messengers from being seated because of Clinton’s position on homosexuality. The credentials committee unanimously voted to seat the messengers, contending Immanuel showed no evidence of supporting Clinton’s stance.
Immanuel, with more than 4,500 members, is one of the largest churches in the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. It consistently has been the leader in the state in total gifts to the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s giving plan. Last year, Immanuel gave more than $450,000 to CP to rank first in the state, an ABSC staff member said.
Mohler’s column came as an increasing number of editorial writers, public officials and religious leaders called for Clinton to resign. Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, David Gushee, ethics professor at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and Wayne Ward, retired theology professor at Southern Seminary and a personal friend of the Clintons, have said the president should resign.

Baptist disaster relief teams
poised to respond to Bonnie
By Lynne Jones

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–More than 400 Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers are prepared to move into the Wilmington, N.C., area following the Aug. 26 landfall of Hurricane Bonnie.
“Nine feeding units from western North Carolina, western South Carolina and Tennessee, along with a communications unit from South Carolina, are in the staging process and will probably move into the Wilmington area tomorrow,” said Mickey Caison, national disaster relief director for the North American Mission Board, Aug. 26.
Additionally, recovery or “chainsaw” units from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia remain on alert as well as additional feeding units from Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. In Virginia, a unit remains on standby for flooding in the Norfolk tidewater area.
North Carolina coastal areas began feeling the effects of high wind and surf Wednesday morning, with the center of Bonnie likely reaching landfall late in the evening.
“This is a large hurricane,” Caison said. “Hurricane conditions could occur far from the center. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 115 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 230 miles from the center.”
Additionally, storm surge flooding is expected near and to the north of where the hurricane reaches the coast, with water levels increasing from nine to 11 feet above normal tidal levels. Isolated tornadoes also are possible over extreme eastern North Carolina and extreme southeastern Virginia.
This is the beginning of the hurricane season, Caison said. In Texas, two feeding units were activated to respond to flooding caused by Tropical Storm Charley. One unit, located in Del Rio, Texas, fed 6,000 people Tuesday night, Aug. 25. The second unit is located in Uvalde, Texas, and a third unit is on standby for expected flooding in Laredo, Texas.
“We’re also watching for Hurricane Danielle to possibly be in south Florida by late Sunday night, early Sunday morning,” Caison said. Currently, Danielle is packing winds of 105 mph.
There are 192 Southern Baptist disaster relief units in 23 state conventions involving 14,848 trained volunteers. The units, some operated by state conventions and some by local associations, specialize in feeding, cleanup and recovery, child care and communications. The national coordination of disaster relief is directed by the North American Mission Board.

Women At Risk urging full information
be given to women considering abortion
By Tammi Ledbetter

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP)–“If a woman has a right to choose, she has a right to know what she’s choosing,” argues Ann Vogel, a registered nurse from Springfield, Ill. She serves as co-founder of a new organization, Women At Risk.
Armed with evidence linking abortion to major emotional and physical complications, Women at Risk is a national coalition of women who have suffered from abortion experiences, addressing the need for women to be more fully informed if they consider having an abortion.
Some of the women were pressured into unwanted abortions. Many felt mistreated by abortion practitioners or counselors, deprived of information that would have helped them make an informed decision. Others cite physical, psychological and emotional injuries and were denied legal recourse to seek compensation.
At their first national conference, Aug. 7-8 in St. Louis, more than 80 members from 27 states unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Congress to amend the Civil Rights Act to protect what they regard as a constitutionally guaranteed right of women “to receive full disclosure of all the information that a reasonable patient might consider relevant to a decision to decline an abortion.”
They further are urging changes to provide women the legal recourse to file a claim for compensation within two years following an abortion for injuries resulting from negligence or from a violation of their civil rights.
Numerous organizations have been spawned following the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion more than a quarter century ago to take up pro-life or pro-abortion causes. One side is advocating abortion rights while the other attempts to speak for the unborn child, Vogel stated, “but no one is speaking for the woman.” She disputes claims by abortion advocates that they are standing up for the rights of women. “They’re not following that up with their actions,” especially when women experience trauma following an abortion, she stated.
She cited research presented at the conference by David Reardon, a biomedical ethicist and post-abortion researcher, that the large majority of women are coerced into abortion by well-meaning relatives and the man in the situation. “A lot feel they’re doing this because it’s the only choice,” Vogel said. “We would like to see other choices explored so that this is the woman’s choice.”
Reardon argues for requiring clinics to meet certain standards as to the information provided to patients inquiring about abortion. Each state would maintain an information depository with current literature detailing the risks and alternatives to abortion. An abortion provider could produce his own material or distribute other information so long as it conforms to the standard.
“On the side that advocates abortion, it is said abortion is like getting a tooth pulled or an appendix out,” Vogel said. “I don’t know anyone still affected by a pulled tooth or a removed appendix years after or who mourns the loss of those organs or wonders what they would be like.”
Vogel wants women who have abortions to be told “exactly what’s going to happen, what the risks are, and be screened for risk factors.” She added, “… women in hard cases are the most prone to have psychological problems from the procedure. They need to be sure this is really what they want to do.”
In focusing on the health and safety of women, the new organization seeks to hold abortion practitioners to high standards of medical care and accountability to their patients. “If I’m going to have another elective procedure, even a medical test, when I go in there’s a complete history to be done,” Vogel explained. “I am assessed for things that will make it more risky such as checking for anemia, allergies to anesthesia, and making sure this is something I want to do.”
No doubt such a patient would know the name of the person performing the procedure, Vogel noted, “with a means of seeking redress and holding the person accountable should they mess up.” Every other outpatient facility has to have emergency equipment available and a means of taking care of patients who “bottom out,” she said, using an expression from her nursing profession.
As tougher laws are enacted to protect women and minors from being coerced into abortions that are contrary to their maternal desires or moral beliefs, Women At Risk expects a reduction in the number of unwanted abortions.
In her own case, Vogel said she received inadequate counseling that encouraged her to have an abortion at the age of 19, never hearing of the alternatives.
“If abortion is just another medical procedure, then the standards of care at the very least need to be the same as other outpatient procedures,” she maintained. “This is such an irrevocable decision. Women deserve to know what they’re doing.”
For the most part, Vogel believes women have been left out of the discussion of how abortions should be conducted, and most of what she and other women have received is condemnation.
“A lot of that is based on ignorance,” she admitted, saying those opposed to abortion often think “a woman wakes up and says, ‘Oh, gee, I’m having an abortion today.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
Among those arguing for abortion rights, Vogel has found the attitude that abortion “is going to help you avoid all those problems,” with advocates asking victims of post-abortion trauma why they are “whining”.
Women At Risk avoids making a moral judgment in regard to abortion, with Vogel explaining, “… by not taking a position on abortion, we’re able to put the woman first.” And so long as they keep that focus, Vogel believes there’s a need for such a group.
“We’re not going to beat anybody over the head with the Bible. We try to direct them to support groups that will help them.” While some of those groups have a religious affiliation, many do not, she said.
In spite of their refusal to offer a moral perspective, Southern Baptist ethicist Mark Coppenger said Women At Risk can draw attention to the post-abortion trauma faced by many women. “It’s been said that you don’t break the Ten Commandments; you break yourself on them. God’s directions are life-giving; to act otherwise is self-destructive.
“You don’t have to be a believer to pick up on that,” stated the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president and ethics professor. “And, because that is so, even those without the Bible (as their standard) can raise a ruckus over abortion and its impact on women.”
Women At Risk leaders hope to encourage a more sensitive and compassionate society that will provide “a healing environment for those who struggle with the memory of a past abortion. “This will allow women to talk more openly about their abortions and to feel less fearful of condemnation if they need to seek assistance and support from their loved ones or professional counselors,” according to the group’s brochure.
Although they’ve avoided addressing the issue of abortion, Women At Risk has been characterized by the National Abortion Rights Action League as an anti-abortion group. “They labeled us without even exploring what we’re about,” Vogel responded. And yet she is convinced there are women who believe a woman should have the right to choose an abortion who also believe women should be treated like competent adults and given all the information to make a decision.”

Ethicist sees strategy for making
abortion illegal & unthinkable
By Tammi Ledbetter

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP)–With evidence that abortion is inherently injurious to the physical, psychological, social, familial and spiritual health of women, a biomedical ethicist believes abortion can be made not simply illegal, but unthinkable.
A “healing” strategy on the issue of abortion in America is being advanced by David C. Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute, Springfield, Ill., which has focused on post-abortion research and education for the past 12 years.
In his book, “Making Abortion Rare,” Reardon contends nonjudgmental love for those who have had abortions is the key to ending abortion among this and future generations.
Reardon, who addressed the newly formed Women At Risk organization’s initial national conference Aug. 7-8 in St. Louis, sees the pro-life movement as having concentrated on “dispelling the lie that abortion only destroys an inconsequential bunch of cells, not a human life.” Attention now needs to be focused what he calls the second lie that “abortion is safe, and it helps women control and improve their lives.”
Much of his research and proposals can be found at the Elliot Institute’s site on the Internet, www.afterabortion.org. In addition, he offers a comprehensive list of post-abortion counseling groups and other resources, including those of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The 1973 Supreme Court case which legalized abortion was based on the premise “the states no longer had any need to regulate abortion because the advances of modern medicine had now made abortion ‘relatively safe,'” Reardon recounts, adding abortion was viewed by the justices as a health service provided to women.
If abortion is ever recognized as dangerous to the health of women, Reardon states the national policy toward abortion could then be re-evaluated. With more than 1.5 million women undergoing abortions each year, he finds “just cause for governments to regulate or prohibit abortion in order to protect their citizens.”
Reardon points to many studies of the aftereffects of abortion which “paint a haunting picture of physical and psychological damage among millions of women who have undergone abortions.”
While 10 percent of women undergoing induced abortion suffer from immediate complications that range in severity from minor infections to endotoxic shock, Reardon notes sterility is a possible ultimate outcome, a condition experienced by 3 to 5 percent of women having abortions. Other long-term complications include the increased likelihood of ectopic pregnancies, as well as cervical damage, a condition twice as likely to affect women under 17.
“Families of pregnant teens need to be told that over 90 percent of women having abortions suffer damage to their self-esteem,” Reardon states. “Nearly 50 percent of post-abortion women begin to increase drug and alcohol abuse. In the years to follow, 60 percent experience suicidal tendencies, with up to 28 percent actually attempting suicide.”
Since more than half of women who suffer post-abortion trauma report they were forced by others into unwanted abortion, Reardon sees the critical task to be educating these “others” about abortion’s risks. “By encouraging abortion, these ‘significant others’ are actually hurting the loved ones whom they are trying to help.”
Reardon points to a major study of first-pregnancy abortions which revealed 48 percent of women experienced abortion-related complications in later pregnancies. Women in this group experienced 2.3 miscarriages for every one live birth. Yet another researcher found among teenagers who aborted their first pregnancies, 66 percent subsequently experienced miscarriages or premature birth of their second “wanted” pregnancies.
Premature births, complications of labor and abnormal development can occur in subsequent pregnancies, and women who have had abortions face a 58 percent greater risk of dying during a later pregnancy, studies reveal, according to Reardon.
The best available data indicates on average there is a five- to 10-year period of denial during which a woman who was traumatized by her abortion will repress her feelings, Reardon reports. “During this time, the woman may go to great lengths to avoid people, situations or events which she associates with her abortion and she may even become vocally defensive of abortion in order to convince others, and herself, she made the right choice and is satisfied with the outcome. In reality, these women who are subsequently identified as having been severely traumatized, have failed to reach a true state of ‘closure’ with regard to their experiences.”
Ultimately, Reardon wants to mend the divisions and heal the hurts between those who oppose abortion and those who have had abortions. By pointing to evidence that many women felt pressured into abortion and saw no alternative for their circumstances, Reardon hopes to draw Americans together in the abortion debate with a mutual concern for women.
Once people realize the heartache which women face after having abortions, they can assist in making others aware of post-abortion counseling. When the subject of abortion arises in a conversation, Reardon advises people to acknowledge new awareness of why some people choose abortion and how it affects them, carefully avoiding any condemnation.
He proposes concerned individuals speak of new programs that “help women and men find freedom from the burdens of secrecy and shame associated with past abortions. This can be done without soliciting an admission of a past abortion,” Reardon says, because “doing so will probably be seen as unwanted prying and will be counterproductive. It is enough to simply cover these three points during a casual conversation.”
Reardon expects some will ask for more information, but at the very least such comments will plant a seed of compassion toward those who have had abortions, but are afraid to seek counseling.
“Those who have had abortions now know that you are someone who can understand and empathize with their feelings, and moreover, that you may know more about how to find healing,” Reardon continues. “By developing understanding, compassion and hope surrounding this issue in millions of women and men, including both those who have had abortions and those who have not, we can quickly create a much more loving and healing environment for those who are burdened by a past abortion.”

‘Dig up the old wells,’ Mohler tells
Southern Seminary’s convocation
By Russell D. Moore

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Digging up the “ancient wells” of biblical fidelity and Christian orthodoxy must be the priority of the evangelical church, declared President R. Albert Mohler Jr. in an Aug. 25 address at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Speaking from Genesis 26:15-18 which describes Isaac’s excavation of the wells first dug by servants of his father Abraham, Mohler led the seminary community in the annual convocation, the first chapel service of the Louisville, Ky., seminary’s academic year.
The convocation was marked by a ceremony in which seven faculty members affixed their signatures to the seminary’s confession of faith, the “Abstract of Principles.” The document was adopted as part of Southern Seminary’s original charter in 1858.
Signing in quill pen the original abstract which also bears the signatures of the founders of the school were George H. Martin, associate professor of Christian missions; C. Benjamin Mitchell, assistant professor of Christian ethics; Esther H. Rothenbusch, assistant professor of church music; Thomas R. Schreiner, professor of New Testament interpretation; Mark A. Seifrid, associate professor of New Testament interpretation; Mark E. Simpson, associate professor of Christian education and leadership; and Bruce A. Ware, professor of Christian theology.
Mohler told the chapel audience that ministers are serving Christ in an era which chafes at authority and denigrates traditional and ancient things. In what the Enlightenment-era French called “the battle of the ancients and the moderns,” Mohler noted “the moderns have won in a rout.” The common worldview which once guided the founders of the American Republic has been jettisoned, he contended, and replaced with “the shapeless void of rights-talk and naked self-interest.”
While Mohler categorized these trends as a “disaster” for the culture, he argued they have proven especially destructive in the life of the church, which he said “has progressively cut itself off from its own sources, its own strength, its own wisdom.” Some within the church have rejected outright the theological heritage of the church as “outdated and superstitious,” while others have simply neglected it.
“Many within Christian circles cannot hear the Scriptures as the Word of God, but only as ancient Near Eastern literature,” he said. “The doctrinal deposit of classical Christianity has been abandoned in a heap with one doctrine after another falling victim to the acids of modernity — and to neglect.”
“If ignorance is bliss,” Mohler said, “we must be a happy church.”
Recalling the advice of a prominent pastor he recently heard counseling ministerial students to spend little time on theology because it is “of little use to their ministries,” Mohler lamented evangelicalism’s growing ten