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Clintons’ Pastor Visits Glendale

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, who pastors the Washington, D.C., church that the Clintons often attend, said Monday he thinks the “personal character of any leader is very important” but that “personal morality is not only about sex.”

Wogaman, who taught ethics at a United Methodist seminary in Washington for 26 years, said at a lunch with local clergy that “compassion, courage and forbearance” are elements of character and morality that are also vital in a leader.

At the same time, Wogaman said he is “skeptical about some charges” of sexual impropriety at the White House, predicting that the president is “going to come out of this crisis.”

Wogaman discussed his roles as pastor of Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church and as new national president of the liberal Interfaith Alliance as well as divisive forces in his own denomination over homosexuality.

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President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton attend his church about one-third of the time, Wogaman said, although they retain their memberships at Southern Baptist and United Methodist churches in Little Rock, Ark., respectively.

An admirer of his most famous congregant, Wogaman said: “With that extraordinary peace settlement in Northern Ireland” and trips to Africa and Chile, “he has caught his second wind in foreign policy.”

In a column he writes for Methodist newspapers, Wogaman wrote early this month that he missed “a sense of proportion” in news coverage of alleged sex scandals in the White House.

“It is though we can expect flawless behavior from others, and any flaw, or even an allegation of flaws, cancels out every other quality of character, leadership and vision,” wrote Wogaman, who has been senior pastor of Foundry since 1992.

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Located about a mile north of the White House, the congregation has a mixture of Democrats and Republicans in the pews, Wogaman said Monday.

“It’s not unusual to look out and see top governmental figures to homeless people from the street,” said Wogaman. In early 1995, then-Republican Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, stopped attending the church because it was too liberal, according to published reports.

Not all the criticism of Wogaman and the groups with which he is affiliated come from conservatives. One of the sponsor’s of his talk tonight on religious tolerance is the Progressive Religious Alliance, a Southern California group that has declined to affiliate with the Interfaith Alliance because the Washington-based group has avoided taking stances for abortion rights and for gay and lesbian rights in church life.

Wogaman, 66, who grew up in Ohio and Arizona and was ordained to the ministry in 1956 in Redlands, Calif., was here to give lectures Monday night and tonight at Glendale First United Methodist Church.

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In introducing Wogaman to fellow clergy Monday, the Rev. Ignacio Castuera, pastor of North Glendale United Methodist Church, described the speaker as a bridge-builder. “He will never demonize anyone on either side of an issue,” Castuera said.

Wogaman said the 4-year-old Interfaith Alliance urges civility in public debate on sensitive issues while acting as an alternative voice to conservative religious coalitions.

“Christians ought to be very good at humility,” Wogaman said. “We will never have the last word on anything.”

Asked whether gay and lesbian issues will break up the 8.5-million-member United Methodist Church, Wogaman said, “I don’t think it’s going to happen because most Methodists are more centrist in their beliefs and have a live-and-let-live approach.”

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He was responding to reports that conservative Methodists were predicting an exodus in the wake of a church trial in March that cleared an Omaha, Neb., pastor of conducting a same-sex union of two women contrary to a provision in the denomination’s Social Principles.

“A good test [in this case] is whether anybody is really being injured,” contended Wogaman, who testified for the defense of the Rev. Jimmy Creech in Nebraska. “Even if one were, on the whole, opposed to homosexuality, would not a caring relationship of this kind be far preferable to loose promiscuity?”


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