President Clinton, meeting recently with a group of religious journalists at the White House, said that Americans need “spiritual change” to deal with the pressing problems of urban violence and cultural conflict.

Clinton said many inner-city areas have decayed to a point where “the church is about the only thing left trying to hold life together.” He said, “To turn it around is going to require a massive, highly concentrated effort … but also really requiring an almost spiritual change in a lot of the communities in our country. I don’t think governmental policies alone will fix this.”

The President said that the nation’s churches should do more to get on the front lines in dealing with the problems of urban America. He said some churches “could be much more actively involved in … the whole range of anti-violence activities that you’ve got when citizens decide they’re going to take their streets back.”

In addition to addressing the need for spiritual change, Clinton also spoke in favor of pending federal anticrime legislation, which would put more state and local police officers on the street, build more prisons, and federalize some crimes. Some critics have said the legislation will increase public construction and add to state and local payrolls, but not truly focus on the root causes of violent crime.

Looking for leaders

Since mid-1993, the President has increasingly sought out religious leaders to engage in discussion of public-policy issues. At the December meeting, editors and writers from Baptist, Catholic, and Jewish traditions were represented, as well as Christian Century, First Things, and CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

During the session, Clinton spoke about the Catholic and Baptist influences on his life. The President said Catholics taught him about the social mission of the church, about the importance of confession, and how to approach all questions with “intellectual rigor.” Of his Baptist experience, Clinton said, “Before I was even baptized, [the church] was a source of real security [and] reassurance. As a child, if I hadn’t had my church, I think my life would have been much, much more difficult.”

Talking about the problem of hate crimes, Clinton said, “I wish somehow, between the government, the churches, and the schools, we could teach people not only to resolve their differences, but to understand that America has the opportunity to become the world’s first truly multiethnic, rainbow society, where we can embrace their differences.”

By Timothy C. Morgan in Washington, D.C.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.