Monica, Bill, and Ethics

By Williamson, Thad | Cross Currents, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Monica, Bill, and Ethics


Williamson, Thad, Cross Currents


The Clinton scandal is an occasion for ethical reflection, but it is far from the most important issue facing ethicists.

Professional ethicists are sure to get mileage for years from analysis of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment trial. But how well can ethicists, and religious ethicists in particular, respond to such a crisis in "real time," and help clarify both the issues at stake and the next steps that should be taken?

Two recent books, offering strikingly divergent perspectives on the Clinton scandal, provide primary evidence with which to answer those questions. The first (From the Eye of the Storm: A Pastor to the President Speaks Out [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press], 1998), was written by J. Philip Wogaman, a respected academic ethicist who now holds the perhaps unenviable position of pastor to the President. The second volume (Judgment Day At the White House: A Critical Declaration Exploring Moral Issues and the Political Use and Abuse of Religion, edited by Gabriel Fackre [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans], 1999) consists of ruminations from both signatories and critics of a "Declaration Concerning Religion, Ethics, and the Crisis in the Clinton Presidency," dated December 1, 1998, and signed by over 140 scholars, the bulk of whom are faculty members at historically conservative or moderate mainline Protestant seminaries.

The Declaration itself is an unimpressive document, woodenly written and lacking a clear statement of what the signers think should be done in the Clinton case (other than a platitudinous call for "national courage in deliberation that avoids ideological division" on the part of Congress and the country in the impeachment debates). The Declaration's fundamental contention is that "serious misunderstandings of repentance and forgiveness are being exploited for political advantage." The lightning rod for this charge is the Presidential Prayer Breakfast (an annual ecumenical gathering of over 100 religious leaders) that on September 11, 1998, featured a public display of contrition by the President for his recently revealed misconduct. Clinton's words were reportedly well-received by the religious leaders, many of whom personally offered words of "spiritual support" for Mr. and Mrs. Clinton. The implicit claim of the Declaration is that Clinton used the occasion to dupe the clergy present and to forward his own political advantage. (It might be asked whether what happened at the 1998 Prayer Breakfast was different only in degree from past breakfasts. The willingness of the American religious establishment to participate in publicity stunts designed to place politicians in a favorable light hardly began with the Clinton presidency.) The Declaration goes on to decry the debasement of public trust and ethical norms which the President's behavior is believed to have engendered, going so far as to claim that the crisis raised the question of "whether the moral basis of the constitutional system itself will be lost."

The Declaration, unfortunately, does not make clear whether the ones in need of hearing these exhortations are church leaders who have been "duped" by Clinton, other academics, the media and the public at large, or the President himself. Many of the specific claims are effectively placed in doubt by Declaration critics Nicholas Wolterstorff of Yale University and Lewis Smedes and Glen Harold Stassen of Fuller Theological Seminary in their contributions to the volume. (For instance, the Declaration criticizes the publicity given to Clinton's ongoing pastoral meetings with a team of three ministers, but as Stassen points out, it was the ministers, not Clinton, who informed the public that these meetings were taking place.) Equally troubling, the Declaration presumes, implicitly, to know that Clinton's contrition, as expressed on September 11 and other dates, could not be sincere. (To his credit, one signatory, Max Stackhouse, explicitly expresses doubt on this point, while Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University allows that "I suspect Clinton was as sincere as he could be. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Monica, Bill, and Ethics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.