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Religious Leaders Urge Congress: Focus on America's Real Moral Priorities

WASHINGTON - October 7, 1998- Religious leaders affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, United Synagogues of America, the National Council of Churches, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, today issued a joint statement calling on America's leaders to move beyond the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and to focus on the real issues facing the nation. While the signatories of the statement strongly condemn President Clinton's behavior, they urge the "nation to turn to the larger moral imperatives that urgently demand our attention."

Signatories to the statement—including Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Executive Vice-President of the United Synagogue of America, Reverend Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, Dr. Paul H. Sherry, President of the United Church of Christ, The Rev. Dr. Daniel E. Weiss, General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches, USA, The Rt. Rev. McKinley Young, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Ecumenical and Urban Affairs, and Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui, Imam of the Islamic Society of Orange County—note that, "While the House Judiciary Committee ponders which of the remaining details of the president's private failings will be made public, there are failing public schools in our nation, crime and violence in our streets, and escalating human tragedy in Kosovo."

As the House proceeds to consider an impeachment inquiry, the religious leaders state "our reading of the Constitution's provisions for impeachment strongly suggests that the personal transgressions here involved are not what the framers had in mind when they spoke of 'high crimes and misdemeanors."'

The full text of the statement, which was coordinated by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, follows:

We share America's distress arising out of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. However, we agree with those distinguished members of the clergy who have written that the time has come, and in fact is overdue, "to put to rest what has occurred, to do things that will set this matter right and to focus anew on the needs in our own land and threats to stability, justice, and peace in our world." Now we must speak of forgiveness and hope—to help repair the wounds and spiritually heal our nation—and we must accept our responsibility to help the nation focus on the urgent moral priorities of our time.

Let us be clear: We are deeply disappointed by President Clinton's behavior and strongly condemn his willingness to mislead the nation. In his personal conduct, he has violated the fundamental moral teachings of our religious traditions. However, our reading of the Constitution's provisions for impeachment strongly suggests that the personal transgressions here involved are not what the framers had in mind when they spoke of "high crimes and misdemeanors." The President has admitted that he sinned, and he is following the path of repentance. As he continues the difficult work of healing himself and his family, the nation must turn to the larger moral imperatives that urgently demand our attention.

While the House Judiciary Committee ponders which of the remaining details of the president's private failings will be made public, there are failing public schools in our nation, crime and violence in our streets, and escalating human tragedy in Kosovo. While the grand jury continues to sit—after almost four years and $40 million—more than 41 million Americans lack health care, including 12 million children. While candidates run elections ads that question the president's morality, the scandal that is our campaign finance system remains entrenched. All these, complicated as they may be, are profound moral issues.

Accordingly, we plead with members of Congress to adhere to a responsible order of priorities. We remind them that politicians are judged not only by personal character, but also by their willingness to do what the Constitution urges: "establish justice" and "promote the general welfare." We applaud the good sense of the American people, most of whom have indicated that they can separate the idle from the urgent, the frivolous from the fundamental, violations of personal morality from the great moral issues facing our society as a whole.

We are pleased that the President has turned to pastoral counseling in an effort to deal with personal issues that he has until now inadequately addressed. We—priests, ministers, rabbis, and imams—prayerfully counsel the Congress of the United States to deal with the many public issues that it has until now inadequately addressed. That is the compelling moral challenge of our day, and neither salacious curiosity nor political partisanship justifies evasion of that challenge.

Respectfully,

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Head of Communion, Diocese of the Armenian Church

Rev. Ronald Paul Brugler, President, The Swedenborgian Church

Rev. Dr. John Buehrens, President, Unitarian Universalist Association

Reverend Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches

C. Mackey Daniels, President, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.

James A. Dunn Executive Director, Baptist Joint Committee, Public Affairs

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Executive Vice-President, United Synagogue of America

Rabbi Seymour Essrog, President, Rabbinic Assembly

Edith A. Guffey, Secretary of United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Richard L. Hamm, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Dr. Maher Hatout, Senior Advisor, Muslim Public Affairs Council

Rev. R. Burke Johnson, President, Moravian Church in America

Dr. Faroque Khan, Spokesperson, Islamic Center of Long Island

Dr. Ikram Khan, Past President, Islamic Society of Nevada

Rabbi Charles Kroloff, Vice-President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

The Rev. Dr. Wallace Ryan Kuroiwa, Executive Director, Office for Church and Society, United Church of Christ

Rabbi Richard Levy, President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Bishop Nathaniel Linsey, Second Episcopal District, CME Church

Rev. Vilma M. Machin, Acting Associate Executive to President, United Church of Christ

Rabbi Paul Menitoff, Executive Vice-President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Rabbi Joel Meyers, Executive Vice-President, Rabbinic Assembly

Reverend Dr. Albert Pennybacker, Associate General Secretary, Public Policy Ministries

Lois M. Powell, Executive Director, Coordinating Center for Women, United Church of Christ

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Dr. Paul H. Sherry, President and Head of Communion, United Church of Christ

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui, Imam, Islamic Society of Orange County

Dr. Willie T. Snead, President, National Missionary Baptist Convention of America

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Zacharias Mar Theophilus, Diocesan Bishop, The Mar Thoma Church, Diocese of North America and Europe

The Rev. Dr. Daniel E. Weiss, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches, USA

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations

The Rt. Rev. McKinley Young, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Ecumenical and Urban Affairs

Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, President, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion


U A H C
UNION OF AMERICAN
HEBREW CONGREGATIONS

Statement of
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations

The President's personal moral failings, as serious as they are, have become a pretext for our Congressional leaders to ignore the great moral issues that confront our country—the problems of health care and education, poverty and crime.

Political leaders are judged by their personal moral conduct, but even more so by the extent to which they carry out the Biblical mandate to "execute true justice."

The prophet Zechariah instructs us: "Deal loyally and compassionately with one another. Do not defraud the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor." These are not partisan pleadings, but fundamental moral commands, and they do not change with the political season. Those who have allowed themselves to be distracted from the Biblical injunction to establish justice in the land are shirking their moral duty and failing the American people.

###

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.




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