Excerpted with permission from "What's God Got to Do With the American Experiment?," edited by E.J. Dionne Jr. and John J. DiIulio Jr. Excerpts from the book will be featured on Beliefnet throughout the convention season. In Christendom some of the most angry criticism of President Clinton comes from the evangelical community. Because I am part of that community, I have encountered some intense negative responses to my becoming one of his spiritual advisers. Almost immediately after the news broke about my involvement with the president, David Black, the president of Eastern College, where I teach, began getting phone calls from irate alumni and financial supporters of the college. Even some of my faculty colleagues joined the angry chorus, claiming that my association with President Clinton would corrupt the good name of the college. In the face of these reactions, I offered Black my resignation, which he rejected. In the days and weeks that followed, Black stood behind my decision to counsel President Clinton. It remains to be seen whether the college will suffer further damage. My fear is that my continued presence on the faculty will lead some pastors to discourage their young congregants from considering Eastern as a place to study. Several regular contributors to EAPE/Kingdomworks, an evangelical missionary organization with which I am also associated (in an unpaid position), wrote to let me know that they would be discontinuing their giving to our ministries to "at risk" children and teenagers in urban America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. I worry that a host of other contributors may stop giving without taking the time to write to me about their decision. Yet another concern is that my involvement with the president will cut off my opportunities to speak at evangelical college chapel services, a primary source of new recruits for our EAPE/Kingdomworks ministries. These days, it is a rare night that I do not wake and pace the floor, praying that our ministries will not suffer because of what I have decided to do. A Mistake
When I learned that Time and Newsweek magazines would be featuring major stories on the president's clerical advisers, I contacted reporters there to try to curtail further damage from misinformation. Kenneth Woodward's Newsweek article dealt with our theology, trying to understand how our beliefs about grace and forgiveness might influence the way in which we related to the president. The Time article was less kind, describing me--ironically, it seemed to me--as being "media savvy" and suggesting that I was trying to further my career as a "motivational speaker." Still trying to find a way to reassure the people across the country who know me that I was not what Time and, earlier, the New York Times had made me out to be, I agreed to do an interview with Peggy Wehmeyer to be shown on Peter Jennings's news show and on 20/20. I had known Wehmeyer, an evangelical Christian who had done several television stories on our missionary work, for more than five years. When Gordon MacDonald [one of the other clergymen chosen to be part of the president's accountability group] indicated that he too was favorably disposed to an interview with her, I readily consented. We had turned down invitations from dozens of talk shows and news shows, but I thought that doing just this one spot would enable me to correct misconceptions and then end my dealings with the media. In the interview we did our best not to say anything to suggest what happens during our sessions with the president, but I now think that the interview chipped away at our efforts to maintain perfect pastoral confidentiality. Certainly, the airing of the interview brought some accusatory letters. In the weeks that followed, everywhere I went to preach or lecture, reporters in the audience would seize on what I said from the pulpit to try to apply it to my conversations with the president. I have finally learned, I think, how to tailor my speaking accordingly. Using Religion
Meanwhile, the Internet too had become my enemy. At least 3,000 articles, most derogatory and many declaring me to be an enemy of true Christianity, were readily available to anyone with a computer. Friends also informed me that the Internet had been used by a large group of academic theologians to issue a declaration condemning the president for the way he had repented of his sins and contending that his calling on pastors as an accountability group was cheapening the nature of true repentance. Suggesting that the president was merely trying to provide some religious buttressing to a weakened presidency, they proposed that the only evidence of true repentance would be his resignation from office. Though all the signers of the declaration appeared not to trust the president's three clerical advisers to follow through with their understanding of the biblical requisites in the face of sin, not one had followed the injunction in Matthew 18 that if Christians are concerned that brothers or sisters are in error, they should go to them directly and confront them personally. Still, I am open to the possibility that the signers' declaration may well contain some important warnings. Religion can be used for political purposes. There is a tendency in our society to cheapen the repentance process to nothing more than a contrite declaration of "I'm sorry." Prayers for the President
Time has passed since the president asked me to serve him as a spiritual adviser. Still the letters come, many condemning, others affirming, encouraging, and grateful that I have made myself available to the president during a time of national crisis.
Often support comes from unexpected sources. For instance, Jerry Falwell, in a phone conversation, let me know that he was praying for us daily in the hope that God's will for the president would be done through us. As I go across the country, people regularly let me know their opinions on what I am doing, and, again, many assure me that they are praying for my ministry to the president.

One thing is certain. My involvement in what one newscaster called "the most difficult pastoral responsibility in the world" has changed my life forever. Once referred to by some, flatteringly, as "prophetic," now I am known as a spiritual adviser to the president. To many my new mission appears to compromise my strong evangelical stance. The criticism pushes me harder to do what has been given me to do with all zeal and faithfulness.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad