Ministers to Give Clinton 'Pastoral Care'
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 16, 1998; Page A31
As his guides down a path to redemption, President Clinton has chosen for his personal pastors the Methodist minister who has been a frequent counselor and two controversial Baptists, one of whom lost his job after admitting to an extramarital affair, then won it back after several years of penance.
The White House confirmed several media reports yesterday that the president will receive "pastoral care" from a small circle of ministers, called an "accountability group," and that the process will remain "an entirely personal matter involving the president."
Two of the three ministers, the Rev. Gordon MacDonald, senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Mass., and the Rev. Tony Campolo, an evangelical preacher and popular Christian author, said the care would involve weekly prayer meetings and Bible study in an intense effort to help Clinton understand "what went wrong with him personally that led to the tragic sins that have so marred his life and the office of the presidency," Campolo said in a statement.
MacDonald left his job at Grace Chapel in 1987 after publicly admitting adultery with little hope of returning. For two years, he went through a "restoration process" much like the one he outlined for Clinton, supervised by the elders of Grace Chapel. In 1993, after a contentious vote, the congregation took him back.
Campolo is a liberal Pennsylvania pastor who long has been somewhat of an outcast in evangelical circles for his controversial writings on homosexuality and Christian doctrine. A minister popular with youth groups, he published a book called "20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are to Touch," advocating that homosexual men live in groups to alleviate their loneliness.
The third spiritual adviser, according to religious and White House sources, is the Rev. Philip J. Wogaman, the minister at Foundry United Methodist Church where Clinton worships in Washington. Wogaman would not discuss his role out of respect for the "pastoral zone of privacy," he said. "It is important for people to know they can trust their priests and rabbis," he said.
Clinton has asked for spiritual guidance from ministers often during his six years in office, although never in such a systematic way. Some of the ministers, such as Wogaman and Campolo, have remained Clinton loyalists despite criticism from their peers that they provide moral cover for an unscrupulous president. At least one of those ministers whom Clinton had once relied on has broken with the president. The Rev. Robert Schuller, who provided the defining image of Clinton as "healer of the breach" earlier in his first term, suggested last week that it might be better for the country if Clinton resigned.
The president called MacDonald and Campolo on Labor Day evening, two days before independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report was sent to Congress, asking for their help. Both said it was a "calling they could not refuse." He invited MacDonald to the White House last Thursday night, and together with Campolo planned a structure for Clinton's redemption: frequent phone calls and visits in an effort to build a circle of trust, an arrangement often used by evangelicals to help a sinner redeem himself.
MacDonald announced his role in a sermon last Sunday, and Campolo in a written statement issued yesterday. The announcements were both defensive and defiant, sensitive about criticism that they were being used as spiritual beards, and angry about those who would ask them to divulge details of an intensely personal relationship.
"There are those who say Gordon and I are being used and manipulated," wrote Campolo. "Should this be true, it would not be the first time that Christians have been taken in. But we would rather be men of faith who believe that God is working in the life of our president than to join that army of cynics."
Both insisted that they would not let the president get away with a "cheap, swift grace," but would bring him to his knees before he could rise again. Wogaman compared the journey to the process of grace in early American tent revivals. A sinner would be surrounded by a circle of community members until he understood that what he had done was "really harmful, sinful, evil," he said.
The goal would be to get that person on the other side of the circle, so that they are no longer the sinner but one of the righteous who helps him repent.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company