Clergy face flocks shocked by scandal; Local clerics field questions

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 8A

Although facts are still hard to come by, local clergy have begun fielding questions from their congregations about the latest Clinton crisis.

“I hear both sides: people who are tired of hearing about the President’s personal life, and people who think, if he’s immoral in this, what does that say about his ability to govern?” said the Rev. John Ebenhoeh, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales.

The scandal raises a host of issues for clergy, who must respond to churchgoers shocked by allegations the President of the United States received oral sex from a 21-year-old woman, fresh out of college.

“Their concern seems to be a real shaking of beliefs,” said the Rev. David Hyde of Liberty Baptist Church. “They’re upset that this kind of thing could even be accused of our President.

“Our people have been taught to respect the office and pray for him, no matter whether or not you agree with him on an issue,” Mr. Hyde said. “He’s God’s man in that place. Their talk has been, this is a real shame that any of this has to occur at all.”

The Rev. Rebecca Gifford-Mitchell, pastor of Central United Methodist Church, said she is most concerned about Chelsea, the Clintons’ only daughter, who is in the middle of her freshman year at Stanford.

“She’s the one who’s going to be hardest hit emotionally,” she said.

Area clergy suggested that Chelsea distance herself from the maelstrom that has erupted around the allegations, which have the President having sex with a woman only a few years older than Chelsea.

“I would imagine it would get to the point of her remembering who her father has been to her personally, regardless of what reports may be circulating,” Bill Barnard, chaplain at Flower Hospital said.

“She’s going to show her father a great deal of support, and she ought to. I would encourage that,” Mr. Hyde said.

Ms. Gifford-Mitchell said Chelsea should explore her own faith at a time like this, and try to put the accusations in perspective.

“Since she is an adult, she will need to realize that she is an individual outside of what others do, including her parents,” she said.

But Father Ebenhoeh said it may not be as much of a shock to the First Daughter as some might expect. “I think Chelsea already knows there have been many speculations about her father,” Father Ebenhoeh said. “I think she already knows how to deal with this.

“This isn’t coming out of the blue sky. This goes back a long way.”

Press reports have said the President admitted to a lengthy affair with Gennifer Flowers in his recent deposition in the Paula Jones case. His presidency has been marked by what some observers call “bimbo eruptions” and accusations of sexual impropriety.

Mr. Hyde said the Clinton scandal will come up indirectly in his sermon today. He said he will preach about embracing the law of God. “By way of application, it goes to show that there is, in our country, a lack of desire to embrace any kind of moral standard from God,” he said.

Father Ebenhoeh said he would not discuss the scandal in his sermon until the web of allegation produces concrete facts. “The pulpit is not the place to be talking about rumors and accusations,” he said.

Were Monica Lewinsky – the former White House intern in question – her daughter, Ms. Gifford-Mitchell said her reaction would be a mixture of comforting and ire. “My initial reaction would be to support my daughter,” she said. “If the allegations are true, sure there would be anger. It’s obviously a power situation. She is very young.”

She suggested Ms. Lewinsky find someone unreachable by the media, someone with whom she can be sure “that whatever she says is inviolate.”

Even if the scandal proves only to be a series of false accusations, Mr. Hyde said he believes the appearance of impropriety is bad enough.

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