NEWS STORY: Clinton expresses repentance, seeks forgiveness from Little Rock church

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c. 1998 Religion News Service

UNDATED _ President Clinton has written a two-page letter to his home church in Little Rock, Ark., expressing repentance and seeking forgiveness from his fellow church members.

Rex Horne, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, read the letter at the close of the church’s worship service last Sunday (Oct. 18).”The president expressed repentance for his actions, sadness for the consequence of his sin on his family, friends and church family and asked forgiveness from Immanuel,”said a brief statement issued by the church.

Church officials have declined to release a copy of the letter, considering it a personal matter. The White House counsel’s office also declined to comment.

Southern Baptists have voiced a range of opinions about the role of Clinton’s home church in light of his admission to an inappropriate relationship with a former White House intern.

Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, for example, has affirmed the call made by a vocal seminary president for Immanuel to discipline Clinton.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., criticized the church for”fail(ing) to exercise any semblance of church discipline.” Their comments were countered by other Baptists who declared that outsiders had no say in how a particular church deals with its members and that Immanuel’s critics had contradicted the long-standing Baptist notion of local church autonomy.

Pastor Michael Seabaugh, chairman of the resolutions committee of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, believes the letter from Clinton demonstrates that some kind of process of repentance has been occurring outside of public view.”The process of church discipline begins at a very private and personal level and those that want to jump immediately to the public part of that totally disregard the process,”said Seabaugh, pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden, Ark.”Seeing the president coming to that point says to me that a process was at work however the Lord was choosing to do that, whether it’s through the private urging of the Holy Spirit or the private urging of a pastor.” Patterson could not be reached for comment and Mohler declined to comment.

James A. Smith, Jr., director of public relations at Mohler’s seminary, said Mohler did not believe he had enough information about the contents of Clinton’s letter to make a statement.”He doesn’t feel like he’s in a proper position to comment on the basis of the information that’s available,”Smith said of Mohler.

Seabaugh’s committee will consider proposed resolutions and make recommendations to delegates at the annual meeting of the state convention that will be held Nov. 3-4 in Arkadelphia, Ark.

He said he is aware of five proposed resolutions that address Clinton.”The range is from `Let’s forgive’ to `We really hate what’s happened,'”Seabaugh said.

With the ever-evolving developments in the scandal, Seabaugh said he does not know if the committee will decide to recommend a resolution regarding Clinton or not.

But he said if it chooses to recommend a critical resolution, it will address behavior, not the president.”Condemning of sin, yes,”he said.”Condemning of a person, no.” Seabaugh said he doubted the resolutions committee would recommend a statement that would pressure Immanuel or Horne to take any particular action.”Where we are now is we’re in that awkward in-between phase between forgiveness and justice, whether it be civil justice or spiritual justice,”he added.”With the Lord, sin has consequence but we can be forgiven. President Clinton has requested that reportedly of the Lord, he has requested that of his congregation and I believe anybody is in the range to be forgiven if they are sincere.”

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