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SBC’s Mohler, Patterson renew calls for Clinton resignation, discipline

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–As the nation teeters on the verge of congressional impeachment hearings in the investigation of President Bill Clinton’s alleged cover-up of his affair with young intern Monica Lewinsky, two leaders of Clinton’s denomination lamented a national crisis before which the church “cannot be silent.”
SBC President Paige Patterson and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. addressed questions on Clinton’s future and the response of the church to the very public woes of this Southern Baptist church member in a Sept. 10 news conference on Southern Seminary’ s Louisville, Ky., campus.
Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., said he “absolutely” supported Mohler’s call for Clinton’ s home congregation, Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., to exercise their biblical responsibility to discipline him.
During the chapel service immediately preceding the news conference, Patterson read an affirmation by the Southeastern Seminary faculty in support of Mohler’s stance. The affirmation repudiated a Sept. 1 editorial by Western Recorder editor Mark Wingfield, a frequent critic of Mohler, which alleged Mohler had been less than an “authentic Baptist” by “instructing” another church on how to conduct its business.
Mohler said his call for Immanuel Baptist to exercise church discipline was not motivated by a desire for retaliation against Clinton, but instead by Mohler’s concern for the president as a professing Christian and member of a Southern Baptist congregation who is living in a “consistent pattern of sin.”
Church discipline according to the New Testament, Mohler explained, aims toward the goal of restoration, not retribution. A church member’s sin, Mohler said, is not the problem of only the erring individual, but is in fact “a matter of accountability of the whole congregation.” He said a failure to exercise church discipline would demonstrate “a very superficial view of sin and an inadequate understanding of what it means to be the church.
“The situation in Washington is spoken of, appropriately so, as a crisis,” Mohler explained. “But the deeper crisis I’m concerned about for the president of the United States is as a brother in Christ and it is the state of his soul.
“The last thing he needs is to be left alone,” Mohler said. “The last thing he needs is for the church to become complicit in his sin.”
(Immanuel’s pastor, Rex Horne, in a Sept. 10 segment on ABC’s evening news, was said to have spoken with Clinton “about his affair and has no intention of expelling him,” according to religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer. Horne told Wehmeyer, “I was grieved about the whole thing. I definitely think what the president did and what he has admitted to is indefensible. It is inexcusable. But I do not believe it is unforgivable. I do believe that there is a real tension in his life related to faith. 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.” Asked what advice he would give Clinton as his pastor, Horne said, “Just simply to make things right with God and let everything else fall where it will.”)
Patterson, in the earlier news conference, renewed his call for Clinton to resign the presidency, citing the president’s need to “have as much time alone as he possibly can to rebuild his relationship” with his family and with God. Patterson also expressed concern about the embarrassment to the First Family and the nation which would result from impeachment hearings which may include members of Congress poring over salacious details regarding the president ‘s dalliance with young White House intern Monica Lewinsky
“We have great heaviness of heart for President Bill Clinton,” Patterson said. “He is a brother. He is even a fellow Southern Baptist. We hurt for him. One of the reasons I want him to go ahead and resign is I don’t want to see him and his family subjected to the kind of agonizing days and nights I know they are going to be subject to if all this begins to come out in the open further.”
Patterson also said the president’s moral character sends a dangerous message to the nation’s youth.
“My concern is that you have a sitting president using the home that you and I provide for him in Washington, D.C., to, as it were, seduce a girl young enough to be his daughter,” Patterson said. “Apparently, if what we hear is believable, this may not be the only case of this. So we have a lifestyle being lived that is then augmented further by public testimony that he later has to repudiate under oath. He doesn’t tell the truth.
“So now you not only have the problem of the sex scandal,” Patterson elaborated. “You have the problem of integrity. To me, in many ways, the integrity is even a more serious issue. These things can’t be modeled before our young people and we expect to have a generation that will maintain a moral and spiritual stance.”
Patterson said a national leader’s violation of the marriage covenant is more than simply a private issue between a public figure and his family.
“I don’t think you need to have anybody in the presidency of the United States or any other major leadership position who is unfaithful to the most basic covenant human beings can make together, namely marriage,” Patterson said. “Whenever there is the demise of the home in society, the whole society is not far behind it. If any place we ought to have exemplary leadership, it ought to be in the presidency of the United States.”
Mohler agreed the best course of action for Clinton is for him to vacate the Oval Office. He suggested he sees no way in which Clinton could bounce back from the scandal since “trust was the most precious commodity of his administration and he chose to destroy that trust.”
Mohler described the Clinton scandal as a crisis from which “the church cannot be silent.”
“My call for the president’s resignation is rooted not just in any legal issue of high crimes and misdemeanors as the Congress will address,” Mohler said. “But with the fact that he has violated his trust with the American people, he has debased the office, he has lost his moral credibility and, quite frankly, he can no longer lead.” Mohler said the longer the presidential crisis lasts, the greater the potential for turmoil and potential catastrophe for the American populace. Saying Clinton “cannot escape this” and the scandal will not simply fade away, Mohler called for the president to clear the way for a successor who “is not morally compromised as is this president.
“My concern for him now is that he be restored as a disciple,” Mohler continued. “I do not believe that he can be restored to effectiveness in his office. He should stop his efforts to save his administration and make clear his efforts to restore his relationship to Jesus Christ and to model and live what is indicated in Scripture as the authentic life of a Christian disciple.”
Patterson said he “regrettably” supports efforts to impeach Clinton if the president refuses to resign and if Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s report to Congress contains evidence of acts such as obstruction of justice or subornation of perjury.
Both Patterson and Mohler said they believe the American people were beginning to recognize in the midst of this scandal the gravity of the role of character in the public square.
“The events of the last several weeks are proving to the American people that morality matters,” Mohler asserted. “To paraphrase Edmund Burke, ‘Standing on the gallows has an amazing way of clearing the mind.’ We are seeing Americans increasingly, hour by hour and day by day, saying morality does matter, character does matter. We are facing a crisis of this presidency.”
Patterson said he had long questioned the accuracy of polls that had suggested the American public views a marked dichotomy between personal behavior and public duty.
“I would be delighted if new polls show that Americans are understanding that character is an issue,” Patterson remarked. “Character is a major issue. We have little children now blowing away other little children on schoolyards across America and we wonder why.
“But the fact is we’ve been treated to a litany of fallen preachers, of professional athletes who do not seem to take seriously their character responsibilities, and now even the leader of the free world,” Mohler said.

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  • Russell D. Moore