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Clinton recalls Horne as a good pastor

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (BP)–Former President Bill Clinton described Rex Horne Jr., Ouachita Baptist University’s new president, as a “good and faithful pastor” to him during the good and bad days of his presidency.

Clinton spoke only briefly of his relationship with his former pastor in a March 27 lecture at the Arkadelphia, Ark., campus but said he was “elated when Ouachita chose him as president.” Horne, former pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, became Ouachita’s 15th president in July 2006.

Clinton spoke for about an hour to students and members of the community during the annual Birkett Williams Lecture, named for a 1910 alumnus and benefactor who provided an endowment for Ouachita to host business and political leaders from diverse backgrounds. The lectures are intended to promote liberal arts education beyond the classroom.

This year’s lecture coincided with a weeklong series of events to celebrate Horne’s inauguration as president. Horne told the audience Clinton had been invited to speak on the campus because of his love for his state, education and “your president.”

“He’s a man who was born, grew up and spent much of his life less than an hour from this campus,” Horne said. “We want to have difference-makers on this campus.”

Horne described Clinton as “very generous with his time and with his ear as president.” He said he was able to express “any conviction he had” to the president and felt comfortable doing so.

While addressing topics as diverse as terrorism, healthcare and human-induced climate change -– which he described as now non-debatable -– Clinton focused on the move toward interdependence in the world in the 21st century. If private citizens work toward doing public good, Clinton said, it is “very unlikely that the 21st century will claim as many innocent lives as the 20th century.”

“The question for every one of us is, ‘What can I do?'” Clinton said. “Because it doesn’t matter if you are Republican or Democrat; it doesn’t matter whether you have an election where everybody you want to win and they do everything you think ought to be done. There will always be a gap in the foreseeable future between the way the world is and the way you want it to be.”

Changes in the world will only partly be the prerogative of government, Clinton said, noting that citizens should build integrated communities where people have a shared stake and sense of opportunity, feel the need for success and develop a sense of “genuine belonging.” This will be challenging, he said, in light of current security concerns, a global economy that is increasingly distancing the poor and the rich from one another, and the rapid depletion of the world’s agricultural resources.

“We’re already destroying more species -– plant and animal -– than at any time since our species, Homo sapiens, arose on the African savanna some 150,000 years ago,” Clinton said.

The security of the United States is better than it was on Sept. 11, 2001, “in some ways” and getting better in others, but Clinton argued that security through force will not be enough in an interdependent world. “You can’t kill, jail, or occupy all your enemies,” he said. “You have to make principled compromises and move forward.”

The United States’ most valuable use of military force in recent years — apart from overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan — was the humanitarian relief effort in Indonesia following the December 2004 tsunami that claimed an estimated 250,000 lives, Clinton said. The relief effort built good will among Muslims, he said, noting that while world opinion of America among Muslims soared during the crisis, Muslims’ opinion of Osama bin Laden dipped 30 percent.

“He hadn’t done anything to them, but he hadn’t done anything for them,” Clinton said of the al Qaeda leader. He added that such humanitarian efforts are less expensive, morally uplifting and more politically effective than going to war to produce change.

Clinton said the Bush administration was right to pursue a deal with North Korea, a nation he said he believed did not want to attack anyone. “They want to eat and stay warm,” Clinton said. “They’re the only country in the world that can make nuclear bombs but can’t bring in a rice crop.”

He also said the United States was correct in sitting down with Syria and Iran to talk about avoiding a much broader conflict in the Middle East. He commended the United Nations’ sanctions imposed on Iran for its effort to produce nuclear weapons and said the sanctions are “working unusually well.” No one wants to see Iran in possession of nuclear weapons, he said, especially Russia with its “restive Muslim minorities” in its south. Still, Clinton conceded that the “next president may have an awful burden to bear” in Iran.

“We shouldn’t be rattling our saber or threatening the use of force, but I also think we shouldn’t take that option off the table,” Clinton said.

Asked by a student about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration and his own termination of 93 attorneys during his tenure, Clinton said the two scenarios were different. He said he released the prosecutors in the traditional manner following an election, since there was a change in the political party that held the White House.

But the current situation is a “lame deal,” he said, arguing that the attorneys dismissed had either refused to indict a Democratic official or were about to indict a Republican. He criticized the firings, claiming that the Bush administration is “playing politics with the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America.”

“These are Republicans being replaced by Republicans,” Clinton said. “I think the uproar is because there seems to be evidence that a lot of these people were replaced not for policy differences or for performance reasons, but for very, very specific political reasons.” Officials with the Bush administration have disputed this claim.

Clinton’s visit to the Ouachita campus was his first official visit to the university, though he noted that he had been on the campus many times since the 1960s. The visit also was the first public reunion of Clinton and his former pastor. Clinton said he was happy to know that Ouachita’s president was “not term limited.”

Ouachita’s Horne and the 42nd president were embroiled in two highly publicized controversies in the Southern Baptist Convention in 1993 and 1998. In 1993, Immanuel Baptist and Horne were thrust into the national spotlight when a motion at the SBC annual meeting threatened to deny seating to messengers from the church because of Clinton’s reversal of conservative government policies on abortion and homosexuality, including the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military.

The SBC credentials committee, however, ruled the motion “not well taken,” and said the president’s policies were the result of his own views and not those of the church. At the time, Immanuel was one of the 15 largest contributors to the SBC’s Cooperative Program.

Some Southern Baptist leaders also criticized Horne in 1998 for failing to discipline Clinton after the public disclosure of his sexual misconduct with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Those comments touched off a debate within the SBC on local church autonomy.

In October 1998, Clinton wrote a letter to the 4,500-member congregation, asking for forgiveness. Horne at the time told the Arkansas Baptist newsmagazine that the president had expressed repentance and sorrow. He said he “sensed an affirmation of the president’s request for forgiveness” from “the great majority of the people” attending the service when the letter was read.

Horne has never publicly disclosed the contents of Clinton’s letter to the Little Rock church, citing it as a personal matter between a pastor and his congregation.

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  • Gregory Tomlin