Last week, as Bill Clinton was testifying and talking to the nation, his pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington was equating the president with King David, because both leaders were involved in sexual immorality.
Minister J. Philip Wogaman said it was time for the nation to "move on" past concerns about adultery and perjury. He praised the "many redeeming and wonderful qualities about this president," such as his commitment to "social justice."
It would be great to move on. A lot of us have been praying that Mr. Clinton would show repentance that, if followed by action, could indicate that God's grace had shone on him. But, when we compare the president's statement with David's in Psalm 51, composed after the prophet Nathan had confronted the king about his Bathsheba affair, it seems that Bill Clinton is stalled.
President Clinton spoke about "inappropriate" behavior and the way we've all "been distracted by this matter for too long." David wrote, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me."
The president was Clinton-centered: "It's nobody's business but ours." David was God-centered: "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight."
President Clinton spoke about "a critical lapse of judgment." David wrote, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."
The president focused on winning the public opinion battle by attacking "prying into private lives." David wrote, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love."
President Clinton complained about "a politically inspired lawsuit" and suggested that Ken Starr was persecuting him. David looked within himself: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your holy spirit from me."
Above all, President Clinton ended up breathing defiance: "It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction." David wrote, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
Speeches, of course, are not psalms. We cannot expect a similar poetry of anguish, but-especially since Psalm 51 is said to be a favorite of the president's-even journalists prior to the speech were expecting a tone of contrition. We did not get even that.
David was ready to move on. Bill Clinton is stuck. Why?
Many speculate about Clinton psychology, but the Bible notes that all of us are sheep in need of shepherds. Christ is the great shepherd, of course, but each of us needs wise counsel from assistant shepherds known as pastors.
What counsel has the president been receiving?
Mr. Wogaman is evidently a political preacher, whispering sweet nothings to a man who lies to his aides but keeps his promises to abortionists and other fighters for "social justice."
Even worse, the United Methodist minister fanned Bill Clinton's sense of self-pity by saying that the president is being "relentlessly... pursued in every aspect of his life, with all the resources of a special prosecutor."
Jesse Jackson reported that he was at the White House during the days before Mr. Clinton's speech, "talking about a range of things and having prayer.'' Mr. Jackson gave an example of his biblical exegesis: He said that Samson was tempted by Delilah, and God gave him another chance. "Yet," Mr. Jackson said, "the special prosecutor, I suppose, would have locked him up."
I hope that Jesse Jackson reminded the president of what Samson's second chance encompassed: pushing out the pillars of the Philistine temple, so that both he and his tormentors were killed.
If Bill Clinton continues with his policy of minimum apology and maximum defiance, the Samson analogy might be closer than any of us would like. That could be averted: As we argue earlier in this issue, the best gift Mr. Clinton can offer to our nation now is a resignation from the office he has disgraced.
How should Christians now pray? That God will be merciful to this country. With Mr. Clinton apparently still on the path to destruction, perhaps pulling down pillars and walls, our only hope more clearly than ever is in the Lord, who can change hearts in an instant.
For the president personally, we should continue to pray that he will give ear to an assistant shepherd who is not a wolf. Perhaps then he will say with sincerity, "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." And all of us should pray the same about our own iniquity and need for cleansing.