A biblical perspective Churchgoers: Blacks ponder the Clinton scandal and the governor's race in light of a Bible story.

September 28, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Harrison Gross stood outside Israel Baptist Church yesterday, chuckling about the moral outrage of some politicians as they react to President Clinton's troubles with Monica Lewinsky.

Gross, 68, had just listened to his minister put the Clinton matter in biblical perspective for several hundred black churchgoers, an important segment of the Democratic Party's base.

The Rev. H. Walden Wilson II said Clinton had committed "the sin of David," a failing experienced by men down through the centuries.

"People in glass houses," he said, "shouldn't throw stones -- shouldn't throw anything."

And, said Wilson, the president and David had willing partners.

"The Bible says David sent for Bathsheba and she came. Didn't turn it down. It takes two to tango," he said. The congregation, largely female, murmured its understanding. Israel Baptist has about 1,500 members, virtually all of them black.

Minutes after the service, parishioner Gross offered his own view:

"Baptists tend to believe you should forgive," he said. Politicians would be well-served and more honest if they did the same, he added.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- though an overwhelming favorite among black voters in this year's race for governor -- hurt himself when he chastised Clinton for failing to provide a proper role model for the nation's youth, Gross said.

"I thought it was foolish. I would never want my children to learn their morals from politicians. You're supposed to learn your morals in church. And you're supposed to teach your children," he said.

Public opinion polling done in Maryland for The Sun and other news organizations shows that blacks are the least likely to favor Clinton's impeachment or resignation. They will play a crucial role in this year's race between Glendening and Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican candidate.

There was no indication, on the other hand, that Clinton's problems will influence black turnout.

Nevertheless, Glendening's tone was more compassionate when he spoke at the 8 a.m. worship service yesterday at Israel Baptist, a 106-year-old stone church on North Chester Street in East Baltimore. He was accompanied by state Sens. Joan Carter Conway and Nathaniel J. McFadden.

"The president has been a good president," Glendening said to sustained applause. "He's had good policies, and the country is at peace. As the parent of an 18-year-old son, I think of that often. He's been fighting for things that matter: children's health and Social Security.

"The president also, however, made a mistake," Glendening said.

"That's right," said several in the congregation.

"He did something that was wrong," said the governor.

"That's right."

"But," said Glendening, "he stood up and apologized. And asked for forgiveness. We should be tenderhearted and forgiving."

Glendening went on to chronicle his own accomplishments, including his appointment of black judges. In the beginning of his term, Glendening said he had received no black nominees from Baltimore County's judicial nominating commission. He was told no blacks were qualified, but he returned the selection list and several blacks were added -- and then appointed.

"I think he ought to let that be known if he wants to court the African-American vote," Gross said.

Still, said the retired state Equal Employment Opportunity Commission official, Glendening's critical comments about Clinton have not been forgotten -- and tended to reinforce a disturbing impression.

"You can't really trust him," said Gross. "That's why the mayor got after him." Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke have been at odds over promises Glendening allegedly made and broke.

"He didn't give the money to the city that he should have," said Gross, echoing one of Schmoke's complaints.

After the governor had left, Pastor Wilson looked down from the pulpit and said to Senator Conway, "Tell the governor we want some money."

Glendening had spoken of Israel Baptist's good works in the community -- and of his administration's aid to public education and school construction.

Gross found it insufficient and unconvincing, falling short of a revolution in the quality of education in Baltimore.

"The people who have money send their children to private school, to Catholic schools," he said. "The schools have gone down."

They'll dip further, Conway and others suggested, if a Republican is elected governor.

But the urgency was lost on Robert Colbert, 75, a retired projectionist at Yorkridge Cinema, who said he will go to the polls -- but he's not certain for whom. He chose Glendening in 1994 but said he's uncertain this time. He said he thinks Glendening has not done enough for Baltimore.

As for the mood, he finds a general lack of enthusiasm.

"What's going on in Washington doesn't seem to bother them much," he said. "I haven't talked to anyone who seemed particularly interested. One politician doesn't seem to do much more than another one."

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