UMAction Briefing HomepageMark Tooley
Institute on Religion and Democracy

January 8, 1998


The appeal by National Council of Churches leaders for senators to side-step a full trial of President Clinton is morally muddled, according to IRD President Diane Knippers. "The arguments that NCC officials deploy to shield the President are undercut by the council's own record," Knippers observed.

In a January 6 open letter to the U.S. Senate, NCC President Craig Anderson and General Secretary Joan Brown Campbell opposed "a prolonged trial" of the President. "Censure the President, yes," they urged, "and lift us to a higher way." The other co-signers of the letter were officials of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

The letter begged the Senate "not [to] thwart the indicated will of a great majority of American citizens" who do not believe that the President has subverted our government. Ironically, Knippers noted, "The NCC is itself well-known for ignoring majority opinion within its own constituency." The 35 NCC member denominations include a diverse mix of liberals, moderates, and conservatives. Yet NCC political statements habitually lean to the left. "The council often justifies going against its constituency by claiming that it has a 'prophetic' obligation to 'speak truth to power,'" Knippers noted. "Now, in a huge reversal, the NCC is encouraging senators to follow public opinion rather than their own consciences."

The NCC officials implied that proceeding to a trial would be an act of "anger and partisanship" that would "add to divisiveness in our country." Yet, Knippers remarked, "This letter is a thoroughly partisan document. It echoes the rhetoric of Clinton's most ardent defenders in the Democratic Party. It attributes base motives to the President's Republican critics. It never acknowledges any serious reasons to question Mr. Clinton's fitness to continue in office."

The letter warned that a trial would be "exhausting" and "debilitating" to the country. Knippers recalled that in February 1974 the NCC called for the Congress to "examine" the charges against President Nixon "in the manner provided by the Constitution." The NCC was confident then that the American people could survive an impeachment process, at a time when the country's domestic and international situation was far more precarious than today.

The letter made a single, brief appeal to "biblical precedent," comparing President Clinton to Hebrew kings who sinned but were not removed from power. "This," Knippers said, "is precisely the kind of narrow biblical interpretation that the NCC would usually shun." Knippers expressed surprise that the NCC did not take account of historical change: "We live in a republic, not a monarchy. We have orderly ways of removing those who abuse their office."

Knippers found one final piece of irony in the NCC leaders' statement: "In their desperation to avoid the trauma of a Senate trial, they mentioned only one alternative course: censure. They gave no consideration to another honorable option: the resignation of the President." In October Knippers joined other religious leaders in calling for President Clinton to resign.

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