NEW YORK (BP)--Former President Bill Clinton criticized the Southern Baptist iVoteValues.com voter-awareness initiative Aug. 29, saying that the values debate should not be framed around the issues of abortion and same-sex "marriage."
"[P]olitics and political involvement dictated by faith is not the exclusive province of the right wing in America," he said to applause at New York City's Riverside Church.
Clinton's appearance helped promote Mobilization 2004, an interfaith coalition created to help promote liberal causes during the election. It is sponsored by Riverside Church and its pastor, James A. Forbes Jr., who spoke at this year's Democratic National Convention.
Riverside Church is perhaps best known as the church of Harry Emerson Fosdick, a popular liberal minister of the 20th century who denied such Christian beliefs as the virgin birth. The congregation was founded in 1930; Fosdick preached there from 1930-46.
The iVoteValues.com initiative is a voter-awareness and registration initiative intended to encourage voters to consider their values, not their pocketbook, when voting. Developed by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, it is also being promoted by Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.
"[Republicans] have claimed the exclusive allegiance of America's real Christians," Clinton said. "I looked at the recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention ... and one of their leaders was wearing a button he was giving everybody else that says, 'I'm a values voter' -- implying that those of us that didn't agree with them didn't have any values.
"And to them, values are anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, concentration of wealth and power. But as I said, Jesus didn't have much to say about what they say are the values of Christians today. And yet, these people really do believe they are in possession of the absolute truth."
It was not clear whether Clinton was referring to Republicans or Southern Baptists when he said "these people."
The "religious right," Clinton said, "has tried to turn us all who disagree with them into two-dimensional cartoons."
"I have never met anybody that was pro-abortion, and that's not what pro-choice means. It just means we don't criminalize mothers and the doctors," he said to applause. "I'm not ashamed to believe that gay people shouldn't be discriminated against, and I don't think Jesus ever had much to say about that."
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press that "it's always nice to be noticed."
"I'm glad that he's noticed the iVoteValues campaign, even if he doesn't get the name right," Land said. "... I assume that Bill Clinton will vote his values, and we're encouraging every American to vote their values."
In the 2000 presidential election, Land said, exit polls showed that four out of five Southern Baptists voted for Bush and believed that he "was more in line with their values than their fellow Southern Baptist, Al Gore."
"What they do this time in relation to George W. Bush vs. John Kerry will be up to them," Land said. "The iVoteValues campaign is a campaign that encourages everyone to vote their values, their beliefs and their convictions."
During his administration Clinton twice vetoed a ban on partial-birth abortion and twice signed a proclamation naming June as "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month." Ironically, though, Clinton signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act -- the law at the center of the current debate over same-sex "marriage." Although it is being challenged in federal court, it gives states the option of not recognizing another state's same-sex "marriages."
Clinton, who received a standing ovation at the end of his speech, told of a meeting he had with a former Southern Baptist Convention president, presumably Ed Young Sr.
"I will never forget a conversation I had in 1993 with the then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention -- a man I liked very much and whose sermons I still watch on television when I get a chance," Clinton said. "He's a great pastor, but he belongs to the values voter crowd. He looked at me, and said, 'I just want an answer, not a political answer -- a straight yes or no answer -- do you believe the Bible is literally true or not?' And I said, 'Pastor, I think it is completely true, but I donít believe you or I or anyone on earth is smart enough to understand it completely.'"
Pointing to his administration's record, Clinton said, "My values compel me to be concerned about an economy with no new jobs, incomes going down [and] poverty rising."
Clinton said environmental policies and prescription drugs should be part of the values debate. He criticized Bush's policies but complimented Bush's faith. Clinton also suggested that the Bible is unclear on many issues.
"I believe President Bush is a committed Christian," Clinton said. "I believe that his faith in Jesus saved him. I believe it gave him new purpose and direction to his life. But that doesn't mean that he doesn't see through a glass darkly and know [only] in part just like all the rest of us."
Clinton told the congregation: "Don't let somebody tell you're not a good Christian because your views on certain issues don't fit the party line of the values voter crowd. And remind them that all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory and that all of us see through a glass darkly and all of us know only in part.
Said Land: "Speaking personally, the glass I see through is a lot less dark than Bill Clinton's, evidently."
Land said he was puzzled that Clinton felt the iVoteValues.com initiative was targeting Democrats.
"As for me and my house, we're going to vote our values, and we encourage everyone else to vote theirs," Land said. "It's amazing to me that when we start encouraging people to vote values, they think they're being attacked. Are they not confident of their values?"
For more information about the national debate over same-sex "marriage," visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage