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Clinton’s church ‘has remained strong’ during his presidency, pastor says

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–The Southern Baptist congregation of which President Clinton is a member has not been weakened during his time in the White House, the church’s pastor, Rex Horne, recently told a Baptist state editor, but the controversy surrounding the church’s most famous member has resulted in trials for the pastor’s family.
Horne, who has been pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., since 1990, said the church’s “fellowship has remained strong. We have lost somewhere between 12 and 20 members [because of Clinton’s membership in the church]. Some churches lose more members than that over painting a Sunday school classroom.”
The members, however, are similar to the rest of the country in their attitudes toward the president, Horne said: “Some like him; some don’t.”
The reaction to Clinton’s policies, such as supporting abortion and homosexual rights, has caused a disruption for his family, however, Horne said. As a result, they now have an unlisted phone number, he said.
“People, many of whom identified themselves as Christians, were calling — and when my children would answer, the callers would begin to tell them things like, ‘Your daddy has been responsible for so many deaths today through abortion because he is Bill Clinton’s pastor,'” Horne said.
Immanuel’s pastor made his comments during an interview with Lynn Clayton, editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper for Louisiana Baptists. Horne was in Alexandria, La., to lead a Bible study at Parkview Baptist Church, where his cousin, Tim Everett, is pastor, according to the Feb. 11 issue of the paper.
It is one of the few times Horne has granted an interview with a news reporter since Clinton admitted in August he had misled the country for seven months about an adulterous relationship with Monica Lewinsky, who had been a White House intern. Horne has declined interview requests from Baptist Press and nearly every other news outlet.
The Baptist Message article was published just before Clinton was acquitted by the Senate on impeachment charges stemming from his attempt to conceal his behavior with Lewinsky.
Immanuel has “focused on forgiveness and redemption” in dealing with the president, Horne said.
In an October worship service, Horne read a letter from Clinton to the congregation in which the president “expressed repentance for his actions, sadness for the consequences of his sin on his family, friends and church family, and asked forgiveness from Immanuel,” the pastor said then in a brief written statement. Clinton’s letter was not made public, and BP was unable to learn if Clinton cited the sin or sins for which he sought forgiveness.
The church’s response to its best-known member does not mean “because the president thinks one way, we must think that way because he is part of us,” Horne said. “That is not true. We can accept the president as a fellow member and disagree with him, as I do on some issues.”
Abortion and homosexuality are two of the issues on which he disagrees with Clinton, Horne said. “And, concerning the Monica Lewinsky thing, I think it is an abomination,” he said.
While he said there has not been any serious talk at Immanuel about disciplining or removing Clinton as a member, Horne said, “People outside the church have no idea what we have done or haven’t done in relationship to Bill Clinton.”
A commitment to Clinton the church has kept during his presidency is to pray for him each Sunday, Horne said.
Horne’s role as Clinton’s pastor has been mostly a “long-distance effort,” he said, because the then-governor of Arkansas announced his candidacy for president about a year after Horne arrived at Immanuel. He normally talks to Clinton once a week, Horne said.
He began calling Clinton weekly after a conversation with the president’s wife, Hillary, at inauguration ceremonies in 1993, Horne said. “She suggested that I call President Clinton every week and gave me his private number,” Horne said. “I try to encourage him where I can and even challenge him when I think I should.”
There are no restrictions on the topics they discuss, Horne said.
The Clintons regularly attend Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, but the president’s membership remains at Immanuel. The first lady is a Methodist.