Ed Young disputes Clinton's 'New Covenant' remarks
Posted on Feb 12, 2008 | by Erin Roach
HOUSTON (BP)--Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, said former President Bill Clinton's remarks about him at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta earlier this month came "out of the fantasy file" and were "completely inaccurate."
Clinton, during the closing session of the celebration Feb. 1, spent several minutes recounting a visit Young made to the White House in 1993 as president of the Southern Baptist Convention when Young supposedly asked Clinton, "Do you believe the Bible is literally true?"
Young, in a letter to Clinton released to Baptist Press, said he was stunned to read the transcript of Clinton's remarks and wanted to set the record straight.
"Your comments concerning our visit together were not just taken out of context; the conversation you described never took place," Young wrote to Clinton Feb. 8.
Clinton, while talking about the Conservative Resurgence within the SBC, said in his speech, "Rev. Young reached out to me and he asked if Al Gore and I would have breakfast with him and if I would go jogging with him up and down the Mall of Washington first. As I remember, he was a little younger and a little fitter than I was, but I managed to keep up."
During breakfast on the Truman Balcony of the White House, Young, Clinton recounted, "looked at me and he said, 'I want to ask you a question, a simple question, and I just want a yes or no answer. I don't want one of those slick political answers. Just answer me yes or no. Do you believe the Bible is literally true? Yes or No?'
"I said, 'Rev. Young, I think it is completely true, but I do not believe you or I or any other living person is wise enough to understand it completely,'" Clinton said at the New Baptist Covenant. "He said, 'That's a political answer.' I said, 'No it's not. You asked a political question.' I said, 'It is not.'"
Young, in his letter, said the most important discrepancy he wanted to correct is that he did not ask whether Clinton believed the Bible is literally true.
"I do not believe the Bible is literally, in the normal definition of the word, true," Young wrote. "Jesus said, 'I am the door.' No one takes that 'literally.'
"As you know, Sir, in the Bible there are metaphors, parables, hyperbole, poetry, apocalyptic language, etc., and the Bible cannot be understood by anyone who would be foolish enough to think that you can take the Word of God literally," Young added in his letter to Clinton. "Also, at no time during our visit did I use the pejorative phrase, 'slick political answer.'"
Young said he did not solicit the meeting with Clinton. Instead, he said, an invitation was issued by a member of Clinton's staff.
"For the record, we did not have a meal together," Young wrote. "The next morning after our meeting on the Truman Balcony, we did jog the Washington Mall. Also, for the record, I had a tough time keeping up with you. We jogged some 40 minutes, and you were in terrific shape. And, incidentally, I am older than you, but I appreciate the fact that you thought I was younger."
Clinton, during his speech in Atlanta, said, "We had a remarkable breakfast on the Truman Balcony at the White House, sitting outside and talking, and Al Gore was there, and Al engaged him in an issue debate. He said, 'You know I love my Baptist roots, but I have three daughters and a son, and I don't think it's right that only my son can become a minister.' So they argued about that."
Young said Clinton's account of Gore's question was right on target, but he said there was "absolutely no argument."
"There was nothing to argue about. I simply stated that every Baptist church is autonomous and can ordain anyone it desires to ordain," Young wrote.
Young surmised that Clinton could have had a similar conversation with another clergyman visiting the White House, but he insisted the dialogue Clinton described did not happen with him.
"Let me assure you that the verbiage you attributed to me was never spoken," Young wrote before ending the letter with an invitation to meet with Clinton if the former president accompanies his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, to an upcoming presidential debate in Houston.
In comments to Baptist Press Feb. 11, Young said he became aware of Clinton's inaccurate remarks when a staff member found a report online and alerted him to the mention of the pastor's name. The staff member read the account, and Young said he laughed at the portrayal and had no intention of making Clinton's error public until some trusted friends urged him to do so.
Then he called two of the three other ministers who had been with him at the White House meeting and read Clinton's remarks to them.
"They both laughed, and they both said, 'Never happened. Never even close.' There's not a scintilla of it that's truthful," Young said.
Although the ministers and the president and vice president discussed controversial matters during their 1993 meeting, Young said he remembers clearly "that all parties were exceedingly civil and respectful." Unlike Clinton's numerous meetings with people of faith during his White House years, Young said a White House visit is rare enough for him that he would have remembered well any time he was granted the privilege.
"We walked around the Oval Office. He said, 'Where do you want to meet?' I said, 'Let's sit on the Truman Balcony.' I remember a lot of details, but the whole context of how he verbalized it [in the speech], it's like I wanted to have breakfast with he and Al Gore, I wanted to meet with him," Young told BP. "Who can do that with the president of the United States? I would never do that. No one can do that.
"I guess he brought this out of the fantasy file to show what a tough line us 'fundamentalists' are taking and how hard it is to do business with us," Young said. "I assume that was his point. That is totally ridiculous, silly and completely inaccurate."
Also in his speech to moderate Baptists at the New Baptist Covenant, Clinton said the conservatives took over the SBC in the 1980s and believed they needed to be more political on issues like abortion. Then he delivered a line that drew applause.
"Those of us who disagreed were horrified when President [Jimmy] Carter was once asked to abandon his secular humanism," Clinton said. "We thought he was a pretty good example of a devout Baptist and a faithful follower of Christ."
At the annual meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 2001, Carter had mentioned his version of a White House meeting with Adrian Rogers, who was first elected president of the SBC in 1979.
Carter said that upon leaving the Oval Office during a visit that year, Rogers turned to him and said, "We are praying, Mr. President, that you will abandon secular humanism as your religion."
Rogers and Carter met in Atlanta after the CBF episode, and Rogers disputed Carter's remarks. "I can tell you emphatically I didn't say it," Rogers told Carter, according to an interview he gave to the Florida Baptist Witness just before his death in 2005. "Had I said it, it would have been so etched in my consciousness."
Carter, who co-chaired the New Baptist Covenant and invited Clinton to speak, again delivered his version of the story in his book "Our Endangered Values" in 2005 as a primary illustration of the dangers of religious fundamentalism. When questioned about it, the former president agreed to correct future editions of his book, and he apologized to Rogers' family a month after the pastor's death.
Young told Baptist Press that the two accounts of former presidents misleading the public about their encounters with SBC presidents are examples of individuals trying to paint those they don't agree with "with different colors than they really represent."
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.
Following is the complete text of the letter Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, sent to former President Bill Clinton:
February 8, 2008
President William Jefferson Clinton
William J. Clinton Foundation
55 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027
Dear Mr. President:
After receiving a copy of the address you delivered at the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta, I have asked for divine wisdom as to how I should respond. Initially, I was stunned. Your comments concerning our visit together were not just taken out of context; the conversation you described never took place. Certainly we did not agree on many issues. You were gracious, patient, and transparent. I was impressed with you as a person and with your willingness to allow others to share with you. I certainly was not confrontational, and on several occasions we simply politely agreed to disagree.
Let me remind you of the context of our visit. I did not solicit the meeting. I had initiated a prayer ministry throughout our denomination for the specific purpose of praying for you and the Vice President, and for the Lord to give you divine wisdom as you led our nation. I believed that if some 16-million of your brothers and sisters in Christ prayed for you daily, God would work in and through you as you served the people.
As I recall, a member of your staff, who served the White House in various religious matters, issued an invitation for me to come to Washington. For the record, we did not have a meal together. The next morning after our meeting on the Truman Balcony, we did jog the Washington Mall. Also, for the record, I had a tough time keeping up with you. We jogged some 40 minutes, and you were in terrific shape. And, incidentally, I am older than you, but I appreciate the fact that you thought I was younger.
Vice President Gore did ask about women in the ministry. Your account of his question was right on target. But there was absolutely no argument. There was nothing to argue about. I simply stated that every Baptist church is autonomous and can ordain anyone it desires to ordain. I also mentioned that many Baptist churches had already ordained women, some as pastors, some staff, and others as chaplains. The Vice President indicated that he would like to discuss this further at some future time, and I responded that I would be happy to do so. There was no debate and certainly no argument.
The most important thing I wish to correct is that I have never asked you nor anyone else the question, "Do you believe the Bible is literally true?" I do not believe the Bible is literally, in the normal definition of the word, true. Jesus said, "I am the door." No one takes that "literally." As you know, Sir, in the Bible there are metaphors, parables, hyperbole, poetry, apocalyptic language, etc., and the Bible cannot be understood by anyone who would be foolish enough to think that you can take the Word of God literally. Also, at no time during our visit did I use the pejorative phrase, "slick political answer."
Perhaps on some other occasion you got into a quid pro quo with another clergyman or group visiting the White House. But let me assure you that the verbiage you attributed to me was never spoken. Again, we talked about issues, and I remember clearly that all parties were exceedingly civil and respectful.
Incidentally, this is not a case of, "this is what you remember and this is what I remember." If you doubt what I am saying, I encourage you to call other individuals who were present, as I have done. When I read to them the section of your speech pertaining to our meeting, they said that conversation never happened.
Do not misunderstand my response. I simply want to set the record straight. You were cordial, and although our visit did cover some sensitive issues, I remember our time together with great warmth and appreciation.
Incidentally, I am on the Board of Directors of the Greater Houston Partnership. We are hosting and sponsoring a Presidential Debate prior to the Texas Primary. If you happen to be with Senator Clinton, I would love to have an opportunity to sit down and visit with you personally.
Be confident of my prayers for the entire Clinton family. May the good Lord richly bless you and yours.
His and yours,
H. Edwin Young