It was to be a “no holds barred interview” with the President of the United States. Bill Hybels, senior pastor of the gargantuan Willow Creek Community Church (where some of my relatives are members) and part-time presidential counselor, hosted a gathering for thousands of pastors. In it he and Bill Clinton sat on the stage in the huge theater-like sanctuary and conversed for the audience and the television cameras.
Although I had already read a few quotes from the August 10 “interview,” I was curious and decided to watch the entire event when C-Span showed it the next night. Would Hybels question Clinton on his support of legal infanticide? Would the President have to answer queries on his other alleged affairs and the alleged cruel rape of Juanita Broadderick? What about allegations that he has abused his office? Inquiring minds (and pastors) wanted to know.
As it turned out, the “interview” was nothing more than the kind of puffery that passes for a typical “worship” service at Willow Creek. So before turning back to Clinton’s appearance, I need to explain my last statement.
Hybels and Willow Creek are “ground zero” in the “worship wars” involving some Protestant denominations (along with some Roman Catholic parishes). While better articulated in other publications (like Chronicles), these “wars” are based upon the use of entertainment techniques for worship services (which seems to be appropriate, being that Hybels began his church in a local theater). Hybels helped pioneer worship services in which the older hymns and Bible reading are jettisoned for “praise songs” and skits. (As my Willow Creek member uncle said to my father, “Who wants to sing some song that is 100 years old?”)
A typical service at Willow Creek, and the thousands of other churches that now conduct “contemporary” worship, is an attempt to be “seeker friendly.” No longer does a person who might be “searching for God” have to be subjected to singing “old-fashioned” hymns, reading responsively from the Bible, or hearing choirs sing Purcell or Bach. The ancient creeds are also out, as they are not “seeker-friendly.” Now that person can be entertained with drums, guitars, and jazz bands and can give applause whenever the spirit moves.
The service still contains a sermon, but it is only part of the overall entertainment package. In a Willow Creek service, the audience (“congregation” is also passe in contemporary language) does not really participate in worship, but experiences things in a way that it would at a Broadway production. Many of us Christians who see Christianity as a faith that cannot be separated from its history are put off by such services, but we are simply regarded as not being “with it” by Hybels and the many copycat pastors who have instituted such “worship” elsewhere.
Thus it was that Clinton was able to sit on a stage with the man who gave us “worship lite” and receive “no holds barred” questions that were nothing more than attempts to make the president look like a “good guy” and a “one of us” Christian. In fact, Clinton told the audience of “receiving Christ as my savior” at an early age, which in fundamentalist jargon means that he is a “carnal Christian.” (A “carnal Christian,” according to fundamentalists, is someone who has “received Christ” but does not demonstrate any of the fruits of Christianity in his life. Thus, Clinton can do whatever he likes, since he is “saved.”)
The toughest questions Hybels asked Clinton, of course, had to do with his affair with Monica Lewinsky. To see just how easily Hybels let Clinton “off the hook” was discouraging in itself. Hybels told the audience that the president’s “confession” and “apology” was worthy of King David himself, who wrote Psalm 51 after committing adultery and murder in his sexual relationship with Bathsheba. Clinton, he said, gave one of the most contrite and complete confessions he said he had ever seen.
In return, Clinton said that he was now “at peace with himself” after this affair and its aftermath. He had “asked for forgiveness” and was forgiving everyone else who had “wronged” him in this business. In other words, Clinton was actually a victim, not a victimizer.
For those with short memories, we should remember Clinton’s conduct during and after the affair. Whatever what one may think of Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who investigated Clinton’s criminal conduct on many fronts, we must remember what Clinton and his political underlings did to discredit their accuser.
For starters, the Clinton White House put out false rumors that Starr was having an affair of his own in Little Rock while conducting the investigation into the Whitewater case. The White House also condemned Starr for being a Christian, and especially for “singing hymns” while he jogged in Washington, D.C.
Other Christians on Starr’s staff, including Ewing Hickman from Memphis, were called “religious fanatics” by the official Clinton attack machine, which was led by Sydney Blumenthal, a longtime White House official. Blumenthal also passed rumors to his adoring media friends that certain independent counsel attorneys were homosexual (most of these allegations were false as well).
In other words, while preaching forgiveness and reconciliation, Clinton was actively smearing his accusers by spreading lies and outright condemnation for holding onto the Christian faith. He and his minions demonized anyone who stood in his way. Nor did the president apologize to anyone afterwards regarding his illegitimate defense, which consisted of lies, personal attacks, and denials of the truth for several months after allegations of his affair became public.
Hybels failed to press Clinton on any of these things. Nor did he ask the president about his numerous other affairs. All was forgiven.
As readers of this page know well, the Clinton presidency is not just about unlimited sexual immorality. It is also about abuse of power and the wanton killing of those who are seen to get in the way of this president. The Willow Creek pastor mentioned praying with Clinton before he made the “difficult decision” to viciously bomb civilians in Serbia. While the president said that he felt badly that some civilians were killed, Hybels never went into detail regarding the bombing of hospitals, passenger trains, markets, and other civilian targets. After all, no U.S. servicemen died in the conflict, which meant that it was a “success.”
Nor did Hybels mention the Waco massacre. The deaths of more than 80 men, women and children never came up in the conversation. The numerous Internal Revenue Service investigations and audits of conservative Christian organizations was off the radar screen. That the Clinton Administration has supported the most barbaric abortion practices in the world was also not part of the Hybels agenda. Like hymns, recitation of creeds, and responsive reading of the Bible, the historic Christian opposition to abortion is an anachronism in this age of “seeker friendly” churches.
I watched Clinton glibly tell the audience what a Great and Caring man he is, and how he wants racial reconciliation more than anything else on his agenda (all the while calling his Republican opponents racists for opposing some of his leftist appointments). His shallow talkativeness reminded me of someone else: the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.
This analogy is not as farfetched as it may seem. Although he left a trail of corpses from Washington to Florida, Bundy, like Clinton, was a handsome, intelligent man. During interviews with police and with the press, he was articulate, funny, and very convincing. Many reporters were convinced that Bundy was an innocent man who was being framed by evil prosecutors. After finally admitting to the killings, Bundy portrayed himself as a victim of pornography and bad parenting, and in the last days before his execution in Florida gave an interview to the founder of Focus on the Family, James Dobson. (He told Dobson that pornography made him do it.)
That I would compare Clinton in his Willow Creek interview to Ted Bundy seems to be a real stretch of the imagination. Clinton is the duly elected President of the United States. Bundy killed numerous women and lies in a grave.
But look again. In his nearly eight years in office, Bill Clinton has presided over the violent deaths of many times the number of Bundy’s victims. All have died — from the children at Waco to the children in Iraq and Serbia — at the direct order of President William Jefferson Clinton. Not one of those deaths was necessary for “national security.” Not one of those children, along with the adults who died with them, threatened the peace and safety of people in this country. They died so Bill Clinton could gain a political advantage over his rivals and feed his positive polling numbers.
For a man “at peace with himself” and a preacher of “healing and reconciliation,” Clinton goes about his tasks in a rather ironic way. He speaks of racial harmony but calls people racists who have honest disagreements about affirmative action and other such policies. People who believe in their Constitutional rights to own firearms do so because they want to see children gunned down. Those who worship Christ but oppose Clinton are religious fanatics and intolerant ayatollahs, and on and on.
Bill Hybels is a Friend of Bill’s (FOB). He didn’t want to see his “friend” embarrassed on a national stage, and that is understandable, especially since the interview occurred in the church that he founded. What I don’t understand, however, is how this encounter could be labeled a “no holds barred” interview. Instead, it was a meeting that mirrored what Hybels has done elsewhere in the practice of Christian worship. It was shallow, superficial, and ultimately abominable.
August 14, 2000
William L. Anderson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.