“We ought to string up Clinton and Monica by their feet, just like the Italians did to Mussolini and his mistress at the end of World War II.” This comment came from a caller to Wisconsin Public Radio, on which I was a guest last fall. When I was invited to speak, I had assumed most callers would be pro-Clinton. After all, it was public radio, in a liberal Midwestern state. Instead, a host of angry callers vituperated against the President and his transgressions. I was a little taken aback, especially by the Mussolini comparison. Understandably, the program host cut this caller short.

Most callers were considerably less vengeful but still adamant. Apologies from the President are not enough. The program host pleaded that forgiveness was surely in order. No, insisted the indignant majority. They weren’t ready to forgive so easily.

At one point, the host flippantly referred to himself as “reverend” and to his station as “Wisconsin Christian radio.” He probably was not used to an hourlong discussion on the theological implications of sin and repentance.

In sharp contrast to these exacting radio listeners in Wisconsin, many—if not most—mainline religious leaders who have spoken publicly about Clinton’s plight have urged quick and easy forgiveness. The President, after all, has said he was sorry.

The Interfaith Alliance, a coalition of mainline (i.e., left-leaning) religious leaders, made this plea at a September press conference. “No other President has had such a positive impact on the moral character of our society,” announced Rabbi Jack Moline, former president of the Washington Board of Rabbis. “I believe he has the moral authority to lead,” agreed Dean Nathan Baxter of the Episcopal Church’s Washington National Cathedral. “A majority of people still believe in the progressive direction he is leading the country.” Baxter stressed his disgust at Clinton’s behavior. But, he said, “I think it’s appropriate for the President to apologize. Then we move on.”

Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, has followed the White House line at every step of the scandal: first skeptical of the charges, then minimizing their moral weight and urging a rapid redirection of attention to other issues. She shares Moline and Baxter’s trust in the President’s continued capacity for leadership but said her granddaughter had recently awakened her to the scandal’s importance. After she was told about the President’s problems (in a sanitized explanation), the little girl exclaimed, “Then there should be a ‘time-out’ for him!” Maybe Clinton should have a “time-out” in the form of a censure from Congress, Campbell suggested. “We may have to say deeds have consequences.” Yet even with this conclusion, the NCC head is still in step with the White House, which has long hinted that a light censure would be acceptable.

James Dunn of the Baptist Joint Committee, a liberal church lobby not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, said Clinton’s moral authority was diminished but not destroyed. He reserved much of his fire for Clinton’s critics: “There were two immoral players here. And the other one was not Monica. It was Ken Starr.”

Dunn blamed Starr’s “legalism” and “dogmatism” on the special prosecutor’s conservative religious upbringing in the Church of Christ. “They believe they’re the only ones going to heaven,” Dunn scoffed. (Starr now attends a nondenominational congregation.)

Praising the clergymen whom the White House has announced will be the President’s ongoing spiritual counselors, Dunn said evangelist Tony Campolo and Methodist pastor Philip Wogaman are as “tough-minded as anybody. They won’t be snookered.”

But Wogaman was indeed snookered when, for seven months last year, he defended his most prominent parishioner in a host of media interviews. Clinton was not guilty of the charges against him, Wogaman assured reporters, even as he condemned the “personal interest and bias” of Ken Starr, whose investigative tactics were a “moral outrage.”

In any case, it’s questionable how offended Wogaman could be by the President’s sexual misconduct. A prominent advocate for liberalizing teachings on sexuality within his own denomination, Wogaman has told the New York Times that sexual fidelity is merely a “cultural expression” that can become idolatrous.

Wogaman, the president of the Interfaith Alliance, has been joined as confessor to the President by Campolo and Massachusetts pastor Gordon MacDonald. Campolo is liberal politically but mostly traditional in his theology; so is MacDonald, who lost his ministerial position 12 years ago in the wake of his own adulterous affair. After several years outside the ministry, he now has a full-time pastorate.

The clerical trio conversed and joined in a group hug on the White House lawn after the President’s breakfast for religious leaders on September 11. It will be interesting to hear how the three, who represent very different theological perspectives, will jointly counsel Mr. Clinton.

“[ regret it was announced publicly,” said Unitarian Universalist president Denise Davidoff about the President’s spiritual team. “It felt manipulative. There was a press release for what should have been an exclusively private affair.” But Joan Campbell of the NCC defended the publicity. “We shouldn’t second guess [the President],” she said. “He needs help. He knows that.”

One hopes that Clinton’s religious counselors will provide that help. But allowing their support for Clinton’s political policies to cloud their view of his character will not aid him. Perhaps Clinton’s spiritual triumvirate should listen to Wisconsin Public Radio for an occasional dose of moral indignation.