President Clinton received regular White House advice from at least six pastors over his tenure, a presidential record that might set a pattern for spiritual counsel for future presidents.
Though Mr. Clinton assembled a three-clergy pastoral team to counsel him after disclosure of an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, at least three other clergy also regularly counseled the president.
“I think there’s a lot to be said for a limited number of people to play that role,” said the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, who was a member of the three-clergy team. On a rotation basis, they met regularly with Mr. Clinton for two years.
“It is good for a president to have persons he can trust and who share fundamental spiritual values and a faith perspective,” said Mr. Wogaman, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church, where the Clintons attended.
While presidents have long had clergy friends and counted on ministers as political allies, the image of the White House typically had been of a singular chaplain, such as the Rev. Billy Graham, giving counsel or praying at inaugurals.
President Eisenhower’s meetings with groups of clergy gave rise to the annual National Prayer Breakfast, and for what some call political reasons, President Nixon had regular Sunday worship at the White House.
But Mr. Clinton, who has backed more religious-liberty initiatives than any modern president, may have used group pastoral guidance as a new model. None of the pastors said that too many ministers giving personal guidance might confuse a person, either theologically or morally.
The White House disclosed that Mr. Clinton had assembled a three-clergy team in the summer of 1998, just as Congress released independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s report on presidential misconduct.
Mr. Wogaman said the team approach was practical so that a pastor could be visiting regularly.
The other two members were Baptist professor Tony Campolo and the Rev. Gordon MacDonald, an evangelical pastor from Massachusetts.
Already, the Rev. Bill Hybles, a Christian Reformed Church minister, had been visiting the White House monthly since Mr. Clinton took office.
Regular spiritual counsel also was given by the Rev. Anthony Mangun, a Pentecostal minister from Louisiana, and the Rev. Don Argue, an Assemblies of God pastor, who made regular visits to Washington.
Mr. Mangun, reached at his Pentecostals of Alexandria Church, commented only that he has been an “old friend for 24 years” with Mr. Clinton and has talked to him “regularly” as president.
Mr. Clinton attended the recent Easter worship at the Mangun church in Alexandria, La., and its choir sang at Mr. Clinton’s second inauguration. Mr. Mangun’s father-in-law had been leader of the United Pentecostal Church in Arkansas back when Mr. Clinton ran for attorney general of the state.
Mr. Argue, whose White House visits were low key, said he in “no way criticizes those whose role was played out in the press” because of the impeachment publicity. His impression, he said, was that the three-member group’s assistance to Mr. Clinton was “very productive.”
“I was with Mr. Clinton back in 1996, and he said, ‘I will never use our meetings for political purposes,’ and he never did,” Mr. Argue said.
The greater pastoral challenge is to get politicians out of a political or policy mode of thinking.
“Their safe ground is politics,” Mr. Argue said. “That’s who they are and what they are good at. My goal is to focus in the end on how they are doing personally. What can we pray about specifically?”