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Jewish World Review / August 31, 1998 /9 Elul, 5758

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas Liberal clergy and the Lewinsky affair

THE GUEST ON THE REV. JESSE JACKSON'S CNN television show Aug. 22 was Rev. Jerry Falwell. Jackson, who regularly bashed Presidents Reagan and Bush for their foreign and domestic policies, and Falwell, who defended those Republican presidents, again found themselves on opposite sides. There was Jackson, quoting Scripture and asking why Falwell won't forgive Clinton's admitted affair with Monica Lewinsky. And there was Falwell saying that forgiveness was one thing, but the ability to lead was quite another, and he believes Clinton has lost that ability.

That voice of moral authority, Jackson
Of far greater significance than what these two men predictably said about Clinton was the message preached at the Washington National Cathedral last Sunday by its chief priest, the Rev. Nathan D. Baxter. You normally expect to hear sermons at this cathedral more in tune with liberal theology and liberal public policy. Baxter confounded that notion. In a sermon titled "Fig Leaves, Politics and Christian Faith,'' Baxter not only criticized President Clinton and his defenders for treating his relationship with Lewinsky as private, he also blasted the morally squishy public, as depicted in opinion polls, for placing morality far behind economic prosperity.

"The real power of politics is moral,'' he said. "Therefore, in leadership, immodesty or immorality is never private, for it affects the ability of a people to grant permission to lead.'' Society's obsession with material wealth, he said, has allowed us to tolerate moral irresponsibility. "What has happened to a nation more concerned about its wallet than its soul?'' he asked. "What has happened, regardless of the politics around it, is morally unacceptable.''

Baxter also took on the notion, frequently quoted by some defenders of the president, not to judge others lest we be judged. He said holding the president accountable for his admitted acts is not judging but acknowledging a painful truth: "...our desire to keep sin private or ignore immorality is a judgment upon all of us .... Unless we acknowledge moral failing -- without excuse -- the soul of our nation will not heal.''

That a priest associated with the church's liberal wing would say such things may be a sign that the unity among liberal clergy is about to come undone. Liberal clergy were unanimous in their demands for Richard Nixon's impeachment. They were one in their criticism of the tax and welfare policies of Reagan and Bush and the Contract With America. But when a Nathan Baxter says things like: "I believe, more importantly, our children will be even more confused as to whether the truest treasure of our common life as a nation is found in the state of the economy or the character of our moral integrity,'' one senses that, Jesse Jackson excepted, an important shift is taking place in one wing of religious opinion.

Baxter could pass for a moral clone of William Bennett. In his latest book, The Death of Outrage, Bennett writes: "Far from being value-neutral, sex may be the most value-laden of any human activity .... The act of sex has complicated and profound repercussions. To deny this, to consider it to be something less special and powerful than it is, is a dodge and a lie. Sexual indiscipline can be a threat to the stability of crucial human affairs. That is one reason why we seek to put it under ritual and marriage vow.''

One expects such thoughts from William Bennett. One does not expect a similar message from the pulpit of the National Cathedral. In an interview following his sermon, Baxter said that some parishioners told him he had not been strong enough.

An annual meeting between President Clinton and religious leaders is scheduled for early September. A few of the more conservative ones are undecided about attending. They fear being used by the president in his attempts to win public redemption. Will this be the venue Clinton appropriates to improve on his televised talk in which he sounded more combative than contrite? Baxter should attend and say to the president's face what he said in his sermon that Sunday.


8/27/98: Combating the terrorists among us
8/25/98: The president as 'Chicken Little'
8/20/98: That was no apology
8/18/98: Big government's crab grab
8/14/98:Untruths, half-truths and anything but the truth
8/12/98: Lying under oath: past and present impeachable offenses
8/10/98: Endangered species
8/04/98: In search of an unstained president
7/31/98: The UK is ahead of US in one area...
7/28/98: Murder near and far
7/21/98: Telling the truth about
homosexual behavior
7/17/98: One Nation? Indivisible?
7/14/98: Who cares about killing when the 'good times' are rolling?
7/10/98: George W. Bush: a different 'boomer'
7/08/98: My lunch with Roy Rogers
7/06/98: News unfit to print (or broadcast)
6/30/98: Smoke gets in their eyes
6/25/98: Sugar and Spice Girls
6/19/98: William Perry opposed
technology transfers to China
6/19/98: The Clinton hare vs.the Starr tortoise
6/17/98: The President's rocky road to China
6/15/98: Let the children go
6/9/98: Oregon: the new killing fields
6/5/98: Speaking plainly: the cover-up continues
6/2/98: Barry Goldwater: in our hearts
5/28/98:The Speaker's insightful remarks
5/26/98: As bad as it gets
5/25/98:Union dues and don'ts
5/21/98: Connecting those Chinese campaign contribution dots
5/19/98: Clinton on the couch
5/13/98: John Ashcroft: another Jimmy Carter?
5/8/98: Terms of dismemberment
5/5/98: Clinton's tangled Webb
4/30/98: Return of the Jedi
4/28/98: Desparately seeking Susan
4/23/98: RICO's threat to free-speech and expression
4/21/98: Educating children v. preserving an institution
4/19/98: Analyzing the birth of a possible new nation
4/14/98: What's fair about our tax system?
4/10/98: CBS: 'Touched by a perv'
4/8/98: Judge Wright's wrong reasoning on sexual harassment
4/2/98: How about helping American cities before African?
3/31/98:Revenge of the children
3/29/98: The Clinton strategy: delay, deceive, deny, and destroy
3/26/98: Moralist Gary Hart
3/23/98: CNN's century of (liberal) women
3/17/98: Dandy Dan
3/15/98: An imposed 'settlement' settles nothing
3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.