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Spiritual Retreat Urged for Clinton

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African American Voters Standing by Clinton (Washington Post, Sept. 17)

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By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 20, 1998; Page A16

As the White House braces for the release of a video and other federal grand jury materials that could further undermine President Clinton, one of the top theologians in the African American community said yesterday that the president should take a spiritual respite for the betterment of himself and the nation.

"Right now, President Clinton needs to take a moral and spiritual retreat," the Rev. Robert Michael Franklin Jr., president of Interdenominational Theological Seminary, told members of the Congressional Black Caucus during the group's annual prayer breakfast. "If he can take two weeks off to go golfing, he can take off to repair his moral self."

Franklin, the keynote speaker at the breakfast, said that if Clinton can't take time off, "he can turn Camp David into a monastery."

Franklin's remarks were deemed a little harsher than caucus members had expected, especially since black members of Congress have been among Clinton's staunchest allies since details of his past sexual involvement with Monica S. Lewinsky were made public.

But after engaging in emotional political debates on Capitol Hill over Clinton's actions, some black lawmakers said the scandal has taken its toll on them – and that they needed a spiritual boost.

"Lord, we need You right now," prayed Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) as more than 3,000 people bowed their heads. "Our nation is hurting; our Congress is hurting; our justice system is hurting; our children are hurting."

Faith and politics have always shared the pulpit in the black community, and yesterday was no exception. The breakfast crowd included D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and Democratic mayoral nominee Anthony A. Williams, sitting at one table, and civil rights icon Rosa Parks, Southern Christian Leadership Conference director Martin Luther King III and former agriculture secretary Mike Espy.

"None of us came to Congress to sit in judgment of others," said Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) as she introduced Franklin. "None of us came to Congress to inflict stones and inflict maximum damage."

Franklin said Clinton is not the only "sinner" who should be "on the mourners' bench" these days. But the president, he argued, needs to set the example by going away for a while, then having a national dialogue on morality.

Some caucus members were in no mood to be contrite, however.

"We don't give a damn about Bill Clinton getting his groove on," Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), master of ceremonies at the breakfast, said before the closing prayer. "We all know what this is about: the 2000 Census, African American representation and who controls Congress."

The prayer breakfast has evolved into one of the most popular events during the annual Congressional Black Caucus gathering. Although some political observers have criticized the conference as one big party, the prayer breakfast yesterday took center stage, and the Rev. Barbara Skinner, its founder and longtime spiritual adviser to many politicians, said, "If we ever needed the Lord, we need Him right now."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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