Politics and the President's pastor

By Cal Thomas, Syndicated columnist

June 1995 – Much attention has been focused on the so-called “religious right” and its main mouthpiece this time around, The Christian Coalition. But there is another side to the religious coin.

Most Sundays the President and Mrs. Clinton attend Washington’s Foundry Methodist Church. They listen to sermons preached by Rev. J. Philip Wogaman that usually mirror their political views. Little has appeared in the mainstream press about Rev. Wogaman, but his politics and theology reveal much about where the Clintons receive moral nurture for their policies and programs.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy studied Rev. Wogaman’s sermons and writings for the last 30 years; and in its Spring 1995 issue of Faith and Freedom, Mark D. Tooley publishes the findings.

Foundry is not typical of most Methodist churches. It is one of only 87 churches out of the denomination’s 37,000 that have signed up for a “Reconciling” program that rejects Methodism’s disapproval of homosexual practices. Curiously, despite Foundry’s theological and political liberalism, Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole and his wife Elizabeth are members. They can pick up materials opposing the House GOP’s “Contract With America” in the church lobby.

Wogaman frequently preaches about the poor, but his prescription is for government, not the church, to be their redeemer. Despite a 1995 church budget of over $900,000, only $35,000 goes to community programs, including a paltry $3,000 to Bread for the City. The church’s membership is mostly white and middle to upper class.

It’s in Rev. Wogaman’s writings and sermons that we perhaps find the key to his appeal for the Clintons. Tooley writes that in 1992, Rev. Wogaman said U.S. free markets “must not prevent us from using aspects of socialism.” In 1990 he warned that drug abuse, murder, unethical business practices, family breakups and homelessness were created by “unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism.” He encouraged people to listen to socialism’s “critique” of the free market’s “brutalities and idolatries.”

In 1989, according to Tooley, Rev. Wogaman wrote that the United States will not become a Socialist state in the “foreseeable future” but needs to “reverse the decline toward greater inequality.” He advocated higher tax rates, “public responsibility” for health care and “more generous” welfare to reverse Ronald Reagan’s “abandonment of the poor.” Though the President has pledged to modify the current welfare system with a work requirement, it seems that Bill and Hillary Clinton have largely been spouting Wogaman’s philosophy since they moved into the White House.

In 1990, Rev. Wogaman claimed that the “gap” between rich and poor in the United States widened in the 1980s due to lower taxes. He called for “much greater public sector involvement” in education, the arts and health care in order to “shore up areas of common life.”

Rev. Wogaman criticized Reagan in 1985 for not using tax rates to promote social change and for “overreliance on the free market.” He said that socialism “can claim modest but real economic success” in China and Cuba.

In 1986, Rev. Wogaman called for “revenue sharing on a world scale,” suggesting we spend more than 1% of our gross national product ($60 billion at today’s rate) on foreign aid. In 1978, he called for a “pressing” of the Socialist question and for nationalization of the oil companies.

In 1967, Rev. Wogaman spoke favorably of how religion was treated in the Soviet Union: “The U.S.S.R. is characteristic of the more tolerant Communist arrangements for religion .... It is highly questionable whether Christians in Russia or China are treated any worse than Marxists in the United States.” He argued that “world government” may be the only solution to global conflict.

Rev. Wogaman’s theology is as liberal as his politics. He denies many traditional biblical teachings, such as the virgin birth, recently preaching that the Scriptures, like The Washington Post, contain both truth and error, a view that would have been rejected by Methodism’s founder, John Wesley.

President and Mrs. Clinton receive regular theological approval at Foundry for their political positions. Unfortunately for them, public disapproval for these positions is on the rise. No wonder the plunge in the President’s popularity parallels the exodus of members from United Methodist churches.

Once Methodism was America’s largest denomination. Now, it is declining faster
than any other.