LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–President Clinton has written a letter in which he asks forgiveness from the fellow members of his home church. Rex Horne, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, read the two-page letter at the conclusion of the congregation’s morning worship service Oct. 18.
Clinton “expressed repentance for his actions, sadness for the consequence of his sin on his family, friends and church family, and asked forgiveness from Immanuel,” Horne said in a two-sentence, written statement released to the Arkansas Baptist newsmagazine.
The letter “was the right thing for the president to do,” Horne told the Arkansas Baptist in an interview after releasing the statement. Horne said he “sensed an affirmation of the president’s request for forgiveness” from “the great majority of the people” attending the Oct. 18 service.
Baptist Press was unable to learn if Clinton cited the sin or sins for which he sought forgiveness.
BP requested a copy of the letter from Horne’s office, but a church staff member said the letter was a personal, handwritten one to the pastor, who was not releasing it to others, including Immanuel members. Horne declined a BP request for an interview about the letter’s contents and is refusing other interview requests as well, the staff member said. An audio tape was not made of the portion of the service in which the letter was read, she said.
Clinton is the subject of an impeachment inquiry by a congressional committee stemming from attempts to keep secret an adulterous relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton denied the allegations when they were reported in January, acknowledged an improper relationship with Lewinsky in a nationally televised speech in August and confessed to committing sin with her in a September address to religious leaders at the White House.
The report to Congress by independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr of his investigation includes graphic details reported by Lewinsky of 10 sexual encounters between the president and her in the White House’s oval office area from 1995 to 1997. The report alleges 11 possible grounds for impeachment, including lying under oath in a deposition and before a ground jury, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is expected to begin hearings in the impeachment inquiry after the Nov. 3 elections.
After Clinton admitted in August he misled his family, staff and the public about his relationship with Lewinsky, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler said Immanuel was accountable for failing to exercise church discipline toward its most famous member and called for the church to do so. Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson was among those who affirmed Mohler’s statement.
Mohler declined an Oct. 21 BP request to comment on the report of Clinton’s letter. Patterson was out of state and could not be reached.
On Sept. 10, ABC’s “World News Tonight” reported Horne had talked to Clinton about his adultery with Lewinsky but the pastor did not intend to remove him from the church. Immanuel records show Clinton has been a member since 1980.
In his interview with the Arkansas Baptist after reading Clinton’s letter to the church, Horne declined to enter the debate over local church discipline and autonomy. “As a pastor of a local church, I have a responsibility to do what’s right before the Lord and for our church,” Horne said.
In an earlier interview with the newsmagazine, Horne emphasized Immanuel “has always approached the work of the Lord as an autonomous church while seeking to be cooperative in every way possible.”
Mike Seabaugh, chairman of this year’s Arkansas Baptist State Convention Resolutions Committee, said Immanuel’s response to Clinton’s letter indicates “this issue has been dealt with on a spiritual level.”
Acknowledging that unfolding developments in the presidential crisis “put us in an odd in-between time between forgiveness and justice,” Seabaugh said, “I hope any statement we make would affirm the basic biblical principles of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration without neglecting the ideas of accountability and God’s judging of sin.
“I want the Resolutions Committee to lead Arkansas Baptists to the high ground in all of this,” said Seabaugh, pastor of First Baptist Church, Camden. “We want to make a positive statement for the cause of Christ.”
In a related development, messengers attending the Pulaski Baptist Association annual meeting adopted a resolution supporting “our cherished doctrine of the autonomy of the local church.” The resolution, presented by the association’s executive board, affirmed Immanuel’s right “to conduct their ministry as they see fit under the direction of God’s Holy Spirit.”
The association, which includes Immanuel as a member congregation, also voted to present the resolution for consideration during the state convention’s annual meeting Nov. 2-4 in Arkadelphia.
“The bottom line is we need to affirm the autonomy of all of our churches, not just Immanuel,” Seabaugh noted. “This has been a very public crisis that involves very private issues. It would be wise for all of us to take heed not to judge what we’re not a direct part of.”
Reported by Trennis Henderson and Tom Strode