Vice President Al Gore, who with his running mate Joseph I. Lieberman spoke often during the campaign of the importance of faith, has become a regular in the pews of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., since beginning his monthlong struggle to win the Florida counting.
Like President Clinton in times of crisis, the vice president has often been photographed with his wife at his side, talking with his pastor and friends on leaving Sunday morning services.
Mount Vernon Church, which worships in a small stone sanctuary built in the 1920s on South 23rd Street, consists of about 120 members, many of them elderly.
The vice president and his wife, Tipper, were baptized there 20 years ago today. Their son, Al, was baptized there nine years ago. Baptists are baptized, by immersion, as a statement of their faith in Jesus Christ.
The Gores lived in the neighborhood when he served in the House of Representatives and later in the U.S. Senate, and Mrs. Gore grew up in a house near the church.
“It seems like when he’s in crisis, he turns to us,” the Rev. Martha Phillips, the pastor, told the Associated Press. She said Mr. Gore last regularly attended worship services during the public uproar over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when for a time President Clinton seemed in danger of being forced from office.
The vice president, who like all Baptists considers himself a “born-again Christian,” is a dropout from the divinity school of Vanderbilt University, traditionally affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and told campaign interviewers that his faith is the “center” of his life and that the “purpose” of his life is “to glorify God.”
The New York Times reported in late October that “in a recent interview … [Mr. Gore] clearly suggested that he goes to church regularly, even in the heat of the presidential campaign.”
However, the New York Times reported, Mr. Gore “has not been active in church for a decade.” The vice president “acknowledges a new distance from his larger faith community… . The once liberal Southern Baptist Convention, which filed briefs in Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade and opposed the war in Vietnam, has more recently been dominated by fundamentalists, leaving moderates like Mr. Gore in the clear minority.”
His daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff, told the New York Times that regular churchgoing had become difficult for him. “We used to go to church every single Sunday,” she said, “but since we moved into the vice-presidential house and [Mount Vernon Baptist Church] had a change of pastor, they haven’t found a church.
“Now we go in Tennessee and on special occasions in Arlington.”
As a boy on the family farm at Carthage, Tenn., Mr. Gore regularly attended a small rural Baptist church. The vice president and Mrs. Gore were close to the Rev. Jack Turner, who retired from Mount Vernon Baptist Church in 1991.
The Rev. James M. Dunn, a visiting professor at Wake Forest University at Winston-Salem, N.C., and an official of the District-based Baptist Joint Public Affairs Committee, which lobbies on behalf of Baptist groups and who has preached as a substitute at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, said yesterday that it’s “very unfair” to suggest that Mr. Gore attends church services only in times of crisis.
The vice president has had several upheavals in his life over the last two years, he said.
“His father died, his mother was sick, one of his daughters got married, and his first grandbaby was born,” said Mr. Dunn.
These were “geographically displacing factors” that would keep the Gores away from their church in Arlington.
“I talked to Tipper throughout that period when her mother-in-law was ill, and she told me that ‘one of us is with Al’s mother virtually every week.’ “
Mr. Dunn, in a telephone interview yesterday, described Mr. Gore as someone “who is profoundly spiritual, but not superficially religious.”
He cited Mr. Gore’s 1992 book, “Earth in the Balance,” as evidence of this. “In the book, he makes it very clear that the relationship between life and nature is very theistic. He is not only emotionally focused but also intellectually sensitive to God’s world.”