Beliefnet
In the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton asked for forgiveness, attended church regularly, and sought the counsel of spiritual advisers, including the Rev. Tony Campolo, a well-known evangelical leader and professor at Eastern College in St. David's, Pa. Campolo spoke with Beliefnet about forgiveness, the president's spiritual legacy, and "lingering hurts" between him and some of his colleagues.

Last week, President Clinton again repented for his affair with Monica Lewinsky--this time at Willow Creek Church in Illinois. What did you think of his statement?
Campolo: I think that statement speaks for itself, and I think people have to make the decision if they want to accept it as valid and sincere. It was saying the kinds of things that I would have said if I had been free to divulge what was said in our conversations--there's not much I can add to it. He was pretty out front with what he thought about himself and his situation. The president has met with his spiritual advisers regularly and faithfully. He never fails, he's always there, he's always on time, once a month.

Has America forgiven Bill Clinton?
There is a sense of forgiveness, but there is still a lingering sense of disappointment. The general feeling that I have is that people constantly tell me to tell the president that they love him and they forgive him. There is a groundswell of good wishes.

News reports about your role as Clinton's spiritual counselor during the impeachment scandal damaged your reputation in some religious circles. Have you forgiven the press?
I always felt that the press made mistakes that were unintentional. I felt that the mistakes that really altered things for me, particularly the New York Times report, were honest mistakes. Once that kind of thing is out, it's out--you can't take it back. But I didn't feel that there was a sin for me to forgive, just a mistake that couldn't be corrected.

How is your relationship with the religious community now that some time has passed?
There are lingering hurts, and I will continue to experience lingering hurts. But after a while, you begin to say that's the way it is, and you swallow it and move on. There are a lot of people who would not be interested in having me as a speaker, and that bothers me, but there are others who have reached out to me. You lose some and you win some in the fullest sense of the word.

I think that the place where I'm most bothered is in terms of what I would consider to be an understanding of the Christian Gospel. The nature of the Christian Gospel is built on the belief that love should be unconditional. There are those in the religious community who say, "You should counsel him, and you should minister to him, but on the condition that he should resign." There are those that do lay down conditions, and that seems strange to me. It seems to me that theologians ought to know better than that, ought to act better than that, and Christian theologians ought to understand the concept of grace.

The president wanted to communicate that this was not just a bump in the road, but it was an exposing of a deep flaw in his personality, and I thought he made that clear in his statement Thursday. There was a flaw in his humanity, and he had to communicate that. He didn't just need to say "I'm sorry."
I was really disappointed in [the clergy]. They came on with an air of self-righteousness. I don't know how much more punishment this man could have endured; I don't know what more they could have expected, and that tone was there.

What do you think will be Bill Clinton's spiritual legacy?
I think that question will have to be answered with what he does after he leaves the presidency. There is such a thing as living a life of penance. When he leaves the presidency, he will have the chance to do that. His spiritual legacy will be his to create after he leaves office.

What should Clinton's role be at the Democratic National Convention?
I feel that at the national convention, he will probably stand up and talk about the positive things from the last eight years, and he will talk about the role that Vice President Gore has had in those things. To dwell on this thing [the scandal] is unnecessary. There are some things that people would like to leave behind.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus