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Donna Rice Hughes: A prayer for Monica

Issue: "Clinton: Under seige," Feb. 6, 1998

By January 20, Monica Lewinsky's world was in a shambles. Her picture was in every newspaper, her name on every morning show. Millions of people who had never heard of her before now judged her to be either a compulsive liar or a naive nymphomaniac. She lost an opportunity to have a glamorous PR job in New York City-courtesy of the presidential pal Vernon Jordan. Her apartment was searched. She faced the choice of going to jail or going public with details of an alleged sordid affair with Bill Clinton. All that, and the Zippergate scandal was only 24-hours old.

One woman who watched the unfolding scandal with special interest was Donna Rice Hughes. It had been just over a decade since her own world had come crashing down in 24 hours. Like Miss Lewinsky, she'd faced charges of an affair with a powerful older man-charges that sank the presidential aspirations of then-frontrunner Gary Hart. They also sank Mrs. Hughes into the depths of despair. While the media were digging through her past, she began searching her own soul, eventually returning to the faith she had abandoned while in college.

Her own experience in the glare of the spotlights gives her a special interest in the plight of the young woman at the center of the current scandal. Although she is turning down the barrage of requests for media interviews, she does allow that she's "watching interestedly from the sidelines and certainly praying for [Monica] myself. There's so much we don't know at this point," she cautions. "But we do know this must be utter agony for her."

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In an earlier interview with WORLD, Mrs. Hughes detailed her own agony, and the long-lasting effects that it had on her life. "Somebody from the Society of Professional Journalists, in their magazine The Quill, said that prior to Dan Quayle I was the media's favorite punching bag. I stayed in the media pretty much daily for a year and a half." No one can say whether Miss Lewinsky's notoriety will last as long, but the tone is already much the same. "Bimbo," "obsessed," and "attention-starved" are words frequently used by the president's defenders in reference to his accuser. Words like that hurt, according to Ms. Hughes.

"I thought it was interesting going through the scandal that even though there were a lot of credentials in my background-being Phi Beta Kappa and all that stuff-how easy it seemed to be for the media to objectify women. 'You're either this way or that way.' The balance wasn't there."

What no one in the media knew about the "object" of the scandal was that the pretty, blond Phi Beta Kappan had lost her virginity in a date-rape when she was 22 years old. "That set me back," she recalls. "I gravitated toward some dysfunctional guys and dysfunctional relationships," until she eventually was introduced to Gary Hart and took off for Bimini with him.

While not dismissing the importance of individual accountability, Mrs. Hughes stresses that the proper reaction among Christians is compassion for women caught up in such scandals, not self-righteous derision. "I would think that Christians would be the first to realize that none of us is without sin and that we're all susceptible to falling at some point. If anyone should understand the sin nature and carnality-if they've ever read the Bible and looked at King David or Peter-it's Christians. But then again, that old fallen nature keeps coming up and saying, 'Ooh, I'm better than that person. I didn't make that mistake.'"

Mrs. Hughes says she is eternally grateful that some Christians looked beyond the scandalous headlines and saw a vulnerable, searching young woman. "People reached out to me. Billy Graham called my house; I had come to the Lord through Cliff Barrows. A lot of people who had known me as a Christian kid reached out." Although the process was painful, the final product made it all worthwhile, she says. "It's all about going off and doing it your way and then God shows you what a wreck you've made of things and you go, 'Okay, okay, okay.' And then he molds you into his image and he can really use you as his vessel."

In the midst of yet another sordid scandal, the beauty-for-ashes story of Donna Rice Hughes serves as a reminder to Christians that even such ugly episodes can have a happy ending-regardless of the political outcome for the president.

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