Clinton Says Goodby to His Hometown Congregation : Transition: He praises church’s role in his political life, cites support despite split over abortion issue.


Beginning his final week in Arkansas, President-elect Bill Clinton on Sunday bade a tearful farewell to his Southern Baptist church here, crediting it with helping him win the presidency.

“Were it not for this church,” Clinton told parishioners of Little Rock’s Immanuel Baptist Church, “I believe it would be virtually impossible (that) I would be going to Washington next week as President. And I am absolutely certain I would be less prepared for the job.”

In remarks from the pulpit at a late-morning service, Clinton recalled that he had come to the church 14 years ago for the dedicatory service for his first term as Arkansas governor. He joined the church in 1980.


Clinton told members of the choir that singing with them--he was a member of the group before he began campaigning for the presidency--had been “one of the great pleasures of my entire life” and one that he had only stopped “when the campaign and then my lost voice seemed to dictate that I ought to be out there, instead of here, messing up.”

Clinton referred indirectly to the controversy that has grown out of his membership in Immanuel Baptist. The downtown church has been picketed by Southern Baptists from other congregations who believe that Clinton should have been expelled for his belief in abortion rights and his conviction that homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the military.

Clinton thanked the Rev. Rex Horne, the church’s pastor, for “standing by me and my membership in the church even when people in our own Southern Baptist convention questioned his doing so.” And he thanked “everyone for always making me feel at home, even in the darkest days of my campaign.”

As the congregation sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Clinton repeatedly wiped tears from his eyes.

Clinton noted that next Sunday he plans to worship at Monticello, the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote Virginia’s statute of religious liberty.

He said that the American conviction about religious liberty “does not mean that we should take our values or our principles out of politics. . . . But it does mean we should have great humility when bringing moral judgments to others in public life.”


For Clinton, recent weeks have brought a season of sentimental goodbys to his fellow Arkansans. The President-elect already has said goodby to state legislators, some neighbors and others from the state he governed for 12 years.

On Sunday afternoon, Clinton attended an awards ceremony sponsored by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network in honor of the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The event at the Arkansas State Capitol gave him an opportunity to express thanks for the support of black Arkansans, who regularly gave him 90% of their vote. Clinton said he could not have become President had he not won a tight 1982 runoff election that gave him a second gubernatorial term. After a first term, Clinton lost a reelection bid but in 1982 succeeded in returning to the governor’s mansion.

In 1982, “I might not have won, had it not been for the overwhelming support of the African-American community here in this state, something to which I have always tried to be faithful,” Clinton said.

Clinton referred to his effort to have more women and minorities in his Cabinet.

“I have done my best in the past two months to put together a Cabinet of diverse Americans from all walks of life and different genders,” he said. The goal of this effort is “to prove that we can work together and can make progress on problems that frankly many people have given up on.”