News Articles

Scholars fear religion’s misuse in debate over Clinton scandal

WASHINGTON (BP)–More than 70 religion scholars have signed a document protesting the “manipulation of religion and the debasing of moral language” in the debate about President Clinton’s responsibility in the scandal surrounding his adulterous relationship with a White House intern.
The list of signers consists largely of a broad-based group of evangelicals from a variety of seminaries and other schools, almost none identified with the religious right. The schools represented include Princeton Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, Calvin College and Wheaton College.
In a six-point statement, the signers express concern religion is in danger of being misused to help the president avoid punishment; forgiveness is being twisted to relieve him of responsibility; and the desire to put the scandal in the past fails to “take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.”
“We believe that serious misunderstandings of repentance and forgiveness are being exploited for political advantage,” the document says. “The resulting moral confusion is a threat to the integrity of American religion and to the foundations of a civil society.”
The statement cites the Sept. 11 White House prayer breakfast, when Clinton acknowledged the insufficiency of his August nationally televised confession of an improper relationship with Monica Lewinsky. To the 100-plus religious leaders present, Clinton said his sorrow was genuine, he had repented and had asked for forgiveness. He also said he would instruct his lawyers to mount a “vigorous defense.” Many of the religious leaders praised the president’s statement.
“We fear the religious community is in danger of being called upon to provide authentication for a politically motivated and incomplete repentance that seeks to avert serious consequences for wrongful acts,” the document says.
“When the president continues to deny any liability for the sins he has confessed, this suggests that the public display of repentance was intended to avoid political disfavor.”
The statement also rejects the idea that violations of such ethical standards as truthfulness and respect for the law “should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy.”
Some of the signers favor the president’s resignation or impeachment, while others support less severe measures, the document says.
Among the signers are Donald Bloesch of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary; Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago; Gabriel Fackre of Andover Newton Theological Seminary; Robert Gundry of Westmont College; Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University; John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis; Max Stackhouse of Princeton Seminary, and Timothy Weber of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The lone faculty member from a Southern Baptist school is Mark Seifrid, associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.
The document, released Nov. 13, is titled a “Declaration Concerning Religion, Ethics and the Crisis in the Clinton Presidency.” It had 74 signers listed on its Internet site as of Nov. 18. An additional 250 invitations have been distributed, according to the site, www.moral-crisis.org.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee is conducting an impeachment inquiry based at least primarily on a report from independent counsel Kenneth Starr alleging perjury and obstruction of justice among charges against the president.
On Oct. 18, a letter written by Clinton and asking for forgiveness was read to his home church, Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., by its pastor, Rex Horne. The letter was not released by Horne, and Baptist Press was unable to learn if the president cited the sin or sins for which he sought forgiveness.