Nearly a year after the sex scandal surrounding Monica S. Lewinsky prompted President Clinton to announce his intention to seek pastoral help, his three spiritual advisers say they are impressed with Clinton's continuing commitment to meet regularly with them.
"One of the three of us tries to meet with the president each week," said the Rev. Tony Campolo, an evangelical leader in St. Davids, Pa. "He has been incredibly faithful in his commitments, considering all the things that he has to deal with these days."
Clinton told a White House prayer breakfast and the nation last September that he would seek pastoral support as part of his "path of repentance" after disclosing his sexual relationship with the former White House intern.
The three advisers would not divulge details of their dealings with Clinton but said he has been diligent about meeting with them. In some cases, key administration officials have altered their schedules so Clinton could talk with one of the clerics.
The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, senior minister at Foundry United Methodist Church on 16th Street NW, remarked on Clinton's "extraordinary" faithfulness to the pastoral sessions.
"He is honoring the commitments he made last September to himself, to his family and to the nation to seek personal healing," Wogaman said. "He has proceeded with integrity."
Clinton is a Southern Baptist, but he and Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Methodist, have regularly attended Foundry over the last six years.
"None of the three of us has ever been turned down when we made dates to visit with him," said the Rev. Gordon MacDonald, a writer and speaker who last month became pastor emeritus of Grace Chapel, an evangelical church in Lexington, Mass. He also is a senior fellow of the Trinity Forum, a Fairfax County think tank that works with international business and government leaders.
Campolo, president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, compared Clinton's commitment to that of the Promise Keepers--a group that believes that "living a consistent life requires accountability to brothers in the faith."
Occasionally the three advisers meet together with the president, but for the most part the meetings are one-on-one encounters, MacDonald said. These sessions take place in the White House, last up to two hours and have been held in the early morning, late afternoon and late into the night.
MacDonald said Clinton also has responded to "numerous faxes" from him. "I have noted more than once that when we got together, he had my latest fax with him and it was all marked up with his responses," he said.
The pastoral advisers were hesitant to divulge much about the progress Clinton might be making through the sessions, saying it was inappropriate to do so. They were more comfortable discussing the consequences of their decision to spend time with him.
"There are those who have condemned us for trying to be friends with the president and for nurturing him spiritually," Campolo said. "Some have ended financial contributions to our ministries. In some cases, it has led to cancellations of speaking engagements, and I know that there are many who will no longer invite me as a speaker because they view me as controversial."
MacDonald said he has gotten far more support than criticism, receiving "hundreds of letters and e-mails from people all over the world offering their prayers and their support."
Wogaman said his church and clergy colleagues have been "very understanding." The greatest effect has been on the advisers' spiritual lives, Wogaman said. "Pastoral ministry pushes you and deepens you," he said. "It contributes greatly to our spiritual growth as we confront others in the deep places of the spirit."