VIEWS FROM THE PULPIT
September 23, 1998
Americans across the country are struggling with the moral aspects of President Clinton's admitted affair with Monica Lewinsky. For the second in a series accessing Omaha's reaction to the Lewinsky matter, Betty Ann Bowser discusses the president's moral standing with four religious leaders.
A realaudio version of this segment is available.
September 22, 1998:
An introduction to Omaha.
September 21, 1998:
NewsHour historians discuss the president's testimony.
September 21, 1998:
Two former federal prosecutor's discuss how the testimony looked to them.
September 18, 1998:
Shield and Gigot analyze the partisan struggle over the release of grand jury evidence.
September 18, 1998:
How is the world media covering the Lewinsky matter?
September 17, 1998:
A discussion on the videotape debate.
September 16, 1998:
Senator Daschle discusses President Clinton's problems.
September 15, 1998:
Two members of the House Judiciary Committee debate releasing President Clinton's videotaped testimony.
September 14, 1998:
A discussion on the media's coverage of the Starr report.
September 11, 1998:
The Starr report and White House rebuttal.
September 11, 1998:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot debate the potential impact of Kenneth Starr's referral to Congress.
September 11, 1998:
Two former federal prosecutors examine the legal issues presented in the Starr report.
September 10, 1998:
What is the constitutional basis for impeaching a president?
September 9, 1998:
Kenneth Starr drops off his case to the House.
September 3, 1998:
Four former senators discuss whether the president should step down.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Omaha road trip,Starr investigation, the White House and Congress.
The Omaha homepage.
The White House homepage.
The House Judiciary Committee.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In the Jewish community this is the highest of holy weeks -- a time for reflection and repentance -- a time for Jews to ask forgiveness from those they have harmed. But this year Rabbi Aryeh Azriel is having a hard time keeping his congregates in Omaha focused because they are distracted by the president's troubles.
A distraction during Judaism's holiest days.
RABBI ARYEH AZRIEL: I have noticed that this year people are less prepared to deal with their owns lives than in previous years. I think this humdrum throughout the country -- dealing with Washington and White House and the Starr report -- removed the attention from a Jew as an individual to issues that are so far away and so remote from their lives. It's a lot easier to look at other people's misery than to pay attention to the human being that you need to be.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Rabbi Azriel is also struggling with other issues the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky has raised.
RABBI ARYEH AZRIEL: I think there is embarrassment about the fact that she's Jewish. We don't talk about this a lot. I feel sad about her. I think that she will have difficulty this season coming to terms with what she did. I have similar sadness for the President.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Rabbi Azriel personally thinks President Clinton should resign but he has not made that part of any sermons to his congregation. All over Omaha religious leaders like Rabbi Azriel are grappling with what to say to their congregations about the president's problems.
BISHOP RICHARD JESSEN: You count. You are important.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Richard Jessen, bishop of the Lutheran church in Nebraska has been especially troubled because part of his job is to remove ministers when they have been found guilty of adultery. So after much soul searching, this former supporter of the president decided he had to write a letter to Mr. Clinton asking him to resign.
Forgiveness and trust.
BISHOP RICHARD JESSEN: I realized then that our relationship with our president had two dimensions. On the level of being a fellow human being, of course, forgiveness is available -- and we do well to forgive him. On the level of being my president, the relationship of trust had been broken, and I didn't see how that could be repaired.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bishop Jessen is not using his letter to drum up support in the Lutheran Church. He just felt -- as a religious leader -- he needed to take a stand.
BISHOP RICHARD JESSEN: We seem to be a nation adrift. We're not sure what our values are. What are our convictions? We realize that all of us are imperfect and that all of us have our weak moments, and we don't want to be overly judgmental, but we really don't know how then we should object to something we don't like.
PASTOR NEGIL McPHERSON: God doesn't want us to just hold our hand and say, Lord, give me daily bread.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Pastor Negil McPherson thinks the president's actions were reprehensible. But he wants him to remain in office, and the pastor has been telling his parishioners that if they are true Christians, they must forgive the president.
What forgiveness really means.
PASTOR NEGIL McPHERSON: If we say we are going to forgive him and we don't trust him, then we have not forgiven him. They're related. If I did something to my wife and I say honey, I did this and I'm sorry, I would like for you to forgive me. I would like to feel that she has forgiven me and she has, again, trusts me; however, it's going to be a little harder for her to trust me then, but if she doesn't trust me, then she has not forgiven me or vice versa.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And Pastor McPherson says the scandal has made him more mindful of his leadership.
PASTOR NEGIL McPHERSON: Just makes my work a little more difficult, and that we'll just have to be more alert -- more prayerful. When we hear of these things, it actually is a wake up call for me as a religious leader -- first of all, to make sure that I am walking, I am living, and I am doing the things that are right.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Omaha has more Roman Catholics than any other denomination, more than 50 percent of the population. St. Leo's parish is on the city's west side.
FATHER PAT McCASLIN: Well, these are troubled times, aren't they? And in a lot of ways, you know, if we come to church, we probably don't want to hear more about the troubles in Washington because we have enough of it. On the other hand it, it's the kind of issue that because it does strike the very heart of all of us as Americans is something that needs to be dealt with.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Father Pat McCaslin spent the past two Sundays talking to his parishioners about the president. He thinks Mr. Clinton should be allowed to stay.
[Click here to read Father McCaslin's sermon on his conflicted feelings towards President Clinton.]
Is a "sexual dalliance" a high crime?
FATHER PAT McCASLIN: I'm not sure that I see a sexual dalliance with a 21-year-old as a high crime. The fleshier the sin, the less serious - it doesn't mean it's not serious but the less serious. There's probably no sin in human life lied about more than sexual misconduct. It doesn't mean that I don't find all of this business with the president embarrassing and awful and disgusting. My role is to make you think. Don't be simplistic about this. However you end up thinking, don't be simplistic. Get on your knees and scour your own sense of values about what is important.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Father McCaslin makes no bones about his secular views. He's a liberal Democrat. Sometimes his parishioners agree with him and sometimes they don't.
PARISHIONER: I agree with you, Father, and I'm a Republican.
PARISHIONER: In my heart, I forgive him, but also, I still want the constitution and all the laws of the land to take hold and give what's coming. Because I think the guy's going to end up in jail.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But the religious man -- the priest -- is less clear about his feelings surrounding the Lewinsky affair.
FATHER PAT McCASLIN: I don't like to live religiously with a non-control of lousy situations, of sinful situations. For me to have to live with this kind of complication that's in question right now is itself sinful because it's disordered in my own life. In terms of my priesthood that has to do with the service of other people I find a lot of very sad people maybe depressed people who are sick of it all and who are also living like I am. I think in that state of all this complication of life is going on and we don't know what that means for tomorrow.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: While the four religious leaders had many differences of opinion, there was one point on which they all agreed; they are all concerned what the scandal will mean to the future moral fabric of the country and, in particular, what its impact will be on the next generation.