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Clinton tells religious leaders he has repented, asked forgiveness


WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton, acknowledging his earlier confession to the American people of an adulterous relationship with a White House intern was insufficient, told religious leaders at the White House Sept. 11 he had repented and had asked Monica Lewinsky and her family for forgiveness.
Clinton’s 12-minute speech to more than 100 religious leaders was made at a breakfast that has become a tradition around Labor Day since he took office in 1993 but also on a day that signaled the greatest threat yet to his presidency. Later in the day, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to release the 445-page report of independent counsel Kenneth Starr. The report contains what Starr’s office said is “substantial and credible information that may constitute grounds for impeachment.”
Using biblical language, Clinton said his sorrow and repentance for a sexual relationship in the White House with Lewinsky are genuine and he wants to have a “broken spirit.” In a five-minute, nationally televised speech Aug. 17, Clinton had acknowledged an improper relationship with Lewinsky, but even some of the president’s allies have admitted his admission was marked by anger toward Starr and a failure to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
“I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified I was not contrite enough,” Clinton said at the breakfast, according to a transcript. “I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.
“It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine: First and most important, my family; also my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness.”
Clinton did not say when he requested forgiveness from Lewinsky and her family. At a briefing later in the day, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said the president had not talked with Lewinsky. McCurry said he thought Clinton’s statement at the breakfast “was an apology.”
“But I believe that to be forgiven, more than sorrow is required — at least two more things. First, genuine repentance — a determination to change and to repair breaches of my own making. I have repented,” Clinton said. “Second, what my Bible calls a ‘broken spirit;’ an understanding that I must have God’s help to be the person that I want to be; a willingness to give the very forgiveness I seek; a renunciation of the pride and the anger which cloud judgment, lead people to excuse and compare and to blame and complain.”
He quoted from Psalm 139 and other passages in closing, saying, “I ask you to share my prayer that God will search me and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any hurtfulness in me, and lead me toward the life everlasting. I ask that God give me a clean heart, let me walk by faith and not sight.
“I ask once again to be able to love my neighbor — all my neighbors — as myself, to be an instrument of God’s peace; to let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and, in the end, the work of my hands be pleasing.”
Southern Baptist ethics agency head Richard Land, who watched Clinton’s speech live on television, said he was encouraged by the president’s statement but said he still believes it is best for him to resign.
Clinton used language for the first time “that many of us have been imploring him to use since January, when these allegations first came to light, and with increasing intensity since what he now acknowledges was the insufficient contrition of his disastrous Aug. 17 speech,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“If he truly means what he said today at the prayer breakfast, then he has grasped and experienced the beginning of forgiveness and redemption, and he has begun a process which can restore the broken relationships in his life. For that, I am profoundly grateful to God and the healing and redemptive nature of the gospel made possible by the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“It needs to be pointed out, however, that it is difficult to imagine this president coming to this place of repentance, forgiveness and healing without people who truly care about him making it clear that his statements prior to this morning indicated a man who had not yet fully told the truth to himself, to his God, to his family and to the American people.”
Forgiveness “does not mean foregoing justice,” Land said. “If the president’s spirit matches his words, then he has begun a journey back to wholeness as a man, as a husband, as a father and as a citizen and public servant. It does not resolve the issue of whether his self-confessed sins and persistent attempts to conceal them have so irretrievably broken his relationship with the American people that, while they may and should forgive him and wish him well, he has forfeited the high honor, privilege and responsibility of remaining their president. That is a decision that each American will have to make for him or herself.
“Personally, while I rejoice at the president’s resolve to go forward with a healing process and a changed life, and I truly wish him God’s blessings in that task, I still believe that if he desires to do what is best for the country, for the presidency, for himself and for his family, he will resign his office.”
Earlier in the week, Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson joined Land’s earlier call for the president to resign. On Sept. 10, Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, also endorsed the call of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. for Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., to discipline Clinton, whose church membership is still with the congregation.
In a report on ABC’s “World News Tonight” Sept. 10, religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer said Rex Horne, Immanuel’s pastor, had talked to Clinton about his adultery with Lewinsky but did not intend to expel him from the church.
Horne told Wehmeyer he was “grieved about the whole thing.” He called Clinton’s actions “indefensible” and “inexcusable,” but Horne said they were not “unforgivable.”
“I do believe that there is a real tension in his life related to faith,” Horne said of Clinton. “I believe that there are things that he wants to do, and he does not do them. There are some things that he does that he does not want to do. And I think that he is at a real crossroads in his life in a lot of different ways.”
When asked what his advice to the president would be, Horne said, “Just simply to make things right with God and let everything else fall where it will.”
Horne did not attend the breakfast because of a scheduling conflict, a church staff member said.
A variety of religious groups were represented at the breakfast, including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists.
Among Baptists attending were James Dunn, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs; C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of The Interfaith Alliance, and Gerald Mann, pastor of Riverbend Church in Austin, Texas. Mann led in prayer after the president’s speech.
Other participants included Jesse Jackson, popular and sometimes controversial evangelical author Tony Campolo, evangelical pastor and author Gordon MacDonald, Dallas pastor and author T.D. Jakes, Willow Creek Community Church associate pastor Lee Strobel, National Council of Churches leader Joan Brown Campbell and former National Association of Evangelicals head Don Argue.
NAE declined an invitation, saying its presence “could easily be misconstrued” at this year’s event.
In his speech, Clinton said he would “continue on the path of repentance, seeking pastoral support and that of other caring people so that they can hold me accountable for my own commitment.” He also said he would instruct his lawyers “to mount a vigorous defense, using all available appropriate arguments.”