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Clinton to speak as part of Ouachita president’s inauguration

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (BP)–Former President Bill Clinton will lecture at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., as part of a weeklong inaugural celebration for the school’s 15th president, Rex Horne Jr., Clinton’s former pastor.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Ouachita graduate and namesake of the university’s education school, also has been invited to speak but has yet to accept or decline, Jennifer Byrd, director of the university’s news office, told Baptist Press. Huckabee has formed a presidential exploratory committee and likely will seek the 2008 Republican nomination.

Clinton’s March 26 appearance at Ouachita will be his first, according to Byrd, who said she was unaware of the subject matter of the former president’s future lecture in Ouachita’s annual Birkett Williams Lecture Series. Clinton will, however, take questions from students in the audience following his address, Byrd said.

Horne, who was elected to the presidency of Ouachita in April 2006, was Clinton’s longtime pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock.

Inquiries by Baptist Press about Clinton’s present relationship with Horne and the manner in which an invitation was extended to him by Ouachita were not answered by Horne or his office. “All the information we had to release was in the press release,” Byrd said.

Byrd said, however, that inaugural events at Ouachita had been planned by a 35-member committee comprised of faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the university. The lecture series normally occurs between February and April, but was scheduled to coincide with Horne’s inauguration, Byrd said.

Horne and the Little Rock church he formerly led, Immanuel Baptist, were thrust into the national spotlight in 1993 when a motion at the Southern Baptist Convention targeted messengers from the church because of Clinton’s reversal of conservative government policies on abortion and homosexuality. The motion would have denied seating to Immanuel’s 10 messengers.

But the convention’s Credentials Committee found that the church had taken no church-wide stand affirming homosexuality or abortion; the committee cited Clinton’s policies as the result of his own personal viewpoints. The committee ruled that the motion “be ruled not well taken,” citing Immanuel’s “friendly cooperation” with the purposes and work of the SBC. At the time, Immanuel was one of the 15 largest contributors to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program.

Messengers to the convention in 1993, however, adopted a resolution urging Southern Baptists to “use their influence with the President to urge him to stand for biblical morality and to reverse his stands” on his abortion policies, his selection of pro-choice supporters for high-level government jobs, and on his attempts to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the military.

Horne also was criticized by some Southern Baptist leaders in 1998, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and then-SBC President Paige Patterson for failing to discipline President Clinton after public disclosure of his sexual misconduct with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Those comments touched off a debate about church discipline and local church autonomy in the SBC.

In October 1998, Baptist Press reported that Clinton had written a letter to his 4,500-member church asking for forgiveness. Clinton, Horne told the Arkansas Baptist newsmagazine at the time, had “expressed repentance for his actions, sadness for the consequence of his sin on his family, friends and church family, and asked forgiveness from Immanuel.” According to church records, Clinton had been a member of the church since 1980.

Horne said then 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, but Horne refused to comment further on the issue of church discipline and local church autonomy. Horne’s office also denied a request from Baptist Press to obtain Clinton’s letter, citing it as a personal letter and a matter between President Clinton and his church.

The Birkett Williams Lecture Series at Ouachita is named in honor of the late Birkett Williams of Cleveland, Ohio, a 1910 Ouachita alumnus and benefactor of the university. Williams established an endowment in 1977 in order to “extend the concepts of a liberal arts education beyond the classroom environment,” Byrd said. “Through the endowment, the university is host each year to outstanding speakers from a variety of professional pursuits.”

Horne was a Ouachita trustee when he was elected president of the school in 2006. He follows Andy Westmoreland, who left Ouachita to assume the presidency of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. Horne also was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention from 1995-97.

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  • Gregory Tomlin