Dick Bernal, pastor of Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, Calif., was bombarded with complaints after hosting former President Clinton at a gala program at the church earlier this month. He was then criticized by one of the fund-raiser organizers for apologizing for upsetting people.
Clinton spoke just briefly at the March 2 evening, which also featured New Age guru Deepak Chopra and rap singer M.C. Hammer, who is a member of the 5,000-strong church, the largest in the Silicon Valley area. Clinton's presence helped draw 2,500 high-paying attendees--but also prompted hundreds of "hate mail" messages, Bernal told "The (San Jose) Mercury News."
He said that he was shocked by the response. "Dear God, has the church of Jesus Christ been reduced to the Republican Party? I've got 3,000 black people in my church, and 95 percent of them are Democrats. Bill Clinton isn't welcome in my church? I mean, come on, give me a break. To me, Clinton is a guy who needs redemption, like anybody else."
Hammer said that the event had unified Hindus and Christians in the community "on behalf of humanity." He told the "News": "I was taken aback by criticism from some of the people who claim to be, quote-unquote, 'Christians.' Because how can you say you're a lover of Christ and then be critical of an event that's helping people who can't help themselves?"
But that didn't end the bad feeling. Kailash Joshi, president of the IndUS Entrepreneurs, a local Indo-American business association coordinating the $25 million fund-raising effort to which the March 2 event contributed, said that Bernal should not have apologized. "We are insulted, because Clinton was our honored guest," he told the newspaper.
Bernal said that he did not want to offend Joshi. "He's a nice man. But he's not the one who got the e-mails." He said: "I just caught so much flak from the evangelical right wing--of which I'm a proud member...I got 600 e-mails from Christian people telling me I was going to hell." Bernal said it was not as though Clinton had spoken about morality. "He spent four minutes talking only about India and the need."
One of those who opposed Clinton's appearance was Galen Call, senior pastor of Los Gatos Christian Church. He said Clinton could be forgiven for his wrongs, but "setting him in a place of honor and leadership is another question." Joshi said that the event had not been church-sponsored. "It's just like you allow me to have a party in your house," he said. "That's all it is."
Last August, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago, was criticized for inviting then-President Clinton to speak at a leadership conference at the church.