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Clinton's Pastors Urge Forgiveness

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  • By John P. Martin
    Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 16, 1998; 6:40 p.m. EST

    Two of President Clinton's spiritual advisors today urged the country's citizens to the president's defense, but along different paths: One preached protest and the other compassion.

    The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, a Christian ethicist and pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, cautioned the public to "not to judge" Clinton.

    "In these matters, we all need to grow morally together," Wogaman said during an online forum hosted by on washingtonpost.com.

    In a similar appearance later, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said people should respond "with public protest" and encouraged Clinton to fight the looming impeachment.

    "The punishment of impeachment does not correspond to the nature of Mr. Clinton's lack of candor," said Jackson, who is planning a Thursday morning rally on the steps of the Capitol. "What he did does not fit the definition of high crimes; it was a little crime."

    Both men have counseled the First Family. Their statements came the day before a scheduled House debate on impeachment. The news that U.S. forces had attacked Iraq – which might delay the debate – caused Jackson to raise a concern.

    "The timing is very suspect and awaits a full explanation from the president," Jackson said, shortly before Clinton spoke to the nation. "At this point we only know that the bombs are falling without an explanation. And because the time converges with the impending impeachment vote, it is very awkward timing and creates real suspicions."

    Wogaman is the author of "From the Eye of the Storm: The Pastor to the President Speaks Out," a book released this week about the moral dimensions of impeachment.

    During his online appearance, Wogaman declined to detail his discussions with the President but called him "truly repentant" and "working at needed changes." He said he would not advise Clinton to resign and said censure without a fine would be appropriate.

    "For him to be forced out of office either through resignation or action by the U.S. Senate would lead to a more deeply polarized American public life," Wogaman said in response to a question from a reader. "There would be very great bitterness on the part of his many supporters who would feel that he had been railroaded. I would not think of advising him to resign."

    He disputed one reader's suggestion that Clinton publicly postured with the Bible after the scandal erupted in order to improve his image.

    "The president of the United States takes the Bible very seriously and deeply regrets his failure to live up to it in those areas of his life that have been preoccupying the nation," he said.

    Wogaman also called Clinton "a deeply virtuous person" and said that doubted the President could sway his detractors through any last minute act of public repentance.

    "I frankly doubt that anything further would have made much difference," he said.

    John P. Martin can be reached at martinj@washingtonpost.com or by phone at 703-469-3179.

    © Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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