Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A President Wrestles for Redemption

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A President Wrestles for Redemption

Article excerpt

When Bill Clinton was an eight-year-old boy, he used to dress himself up in a suit on Sundays and walk alone, Bible in hand, to Park Place Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Ark.

His parents weren't churchgoers, according to biographer David Maraniss, but young Bill considered himself a believer and felt he needed to go to church every week. His nanny told him that he might grow up to be a minister someday.

Today, President Clinton - faced with independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report - appears very much the fallen parishioner, caught in a web of sin and deception, begging forgiveness from his family, his colleagues, and the nation he governs.

"The president is in a crisis, there's no doubt," says R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. "He's facing a crisis in Congress, before the American people, and in the world. He's also facing a spiritual crisis, which is the most important issue of all."

The president has taken a journey toward public repentance - from his steely-eyed non-apology Aug. 17 for his affair with former intern Monica Lewinsky to his contrition-filled remarks to religious leaders at the White House last Friday.

Whether the American people will stand by the president, as Congress prepares for possible impeachment hearings, remains an open question. But this chapter in the four-year-old Starr investigation into a range of White House dealings has focused unprecedented public attention on the concepts of forgiveness and repentance, nearly universal concepts across the range of religious traditions, both Christian and non-Christian.

In a nation that prides itself on its religious foundations, Americans are asking themselves how they can square the president's private actions with his public duties, and whether even a sincere request for absolution is enough to save his presidency.

"The need to be forgiven and received again into a relationship or a family or a community is so universal," says Harvey Cox, a professor of divinity at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "It's so basically human. There isn't anybody who hasn't found himself in a situation where they needed to say, 'I'm really sorry I did that,' and hope that the people you've offended - in either a big way or a small way - will understand and not pounce on you."

Some clergy have raised the analogy of King David in the Bible, who carried on an affair with a married woman, then sent her husband off to battle to be killed. King David, of course, was not impeached, notes J. Philip Wogaman, pastor at United Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, where Clinton attends services with his family.

"The real point is {that} heads of state, no matter how high they are, are still in the human condition," says the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has recently counseled the first family and attended the White House's annual prayer breakfast last week. …

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