Pro-Clinton Clergy Won't Play Nathan to Bill's David

Article excerpt

It's one of the most famous Old Testament stories. The great King David commits adultery with Bathsheba and then sends her soldier husband to his death at the front lines to reserve the beautiful woman for himself. The prophet Nathan confronts his monarch over the sin with the indicting words, "Thou are the man!"

Clerical defenders of Bill Clinton in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal have taken to likening the president to the Hebrew king. David, whom Clinton supposedly resembles, was a godly man who momentarily fell from grace but dramatically repented, seeking public and divine forgiveness.

But largely missing from responses to the Clinton scandals by religious leaders has been any Nathan-like denunciation of Clinton's adultery, deception and abuse of power. True, there have been exceptions. Evangelical leaders Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, who are as well known for their conservative politics as for their Christian ministries, not surprisingly have condemned Clinton's conduct. Add to their voices that of the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who recently called for Clinton's resignation. Leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals shunned a White House meeting of religious leaders to avoid appearing supportive of Clinton. And even a few prominent liberal clergy have expressed their chagrin over the sex scandal, including the dean of the National Cathedral in Washington and the chaplain of Harvard University.

But the most prominent religious voices commenting on the Clinton scandals have been supportive. Jesse Jackson hardly has missed a televised opportunity (CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Larry King Live) to defend Clinton as a noble president whose human failings should not distract from his more important defense of liberal political programs. "We have this awesome case of Samson with all of this strength, and yet the special prosecutor, I suppose, would have locked him up," Jackson intoned, as he seemed to compare Clinton and Lewinsky to Samson and Delilah. Almost equally available to the media has been the pastor of the United Methodist church that the Clintons attend. "King David did something that was much worse than anything President Clinton is alleged to have done," said J. Philip Wogaman. "And King David, if I read my Bible correctly, was not impeached." He praised Clinton as a "man of great depth and vitality and service to the country."

In a not very Nathan-like assertion, Wogaman has told reporters that sexual misconduct does not necessarily make a leader immoral. He has said that morality should be based more on concern for the poor, racial justice, and world peace. A prominent advocate of liberalizing his own denomination's doctrines about sexuality, Wogaman told the New York Times that sexual fidelity was merely a "cultural expression" that in some cases has become a form of "idolatry. …

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