Black church group hails Clinton as one of its own
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders of one of the nation's largest black churches saluted President Clinton Wednesday as a "black man masquerading in a white body," who absorbed political blows for championing African-Americans.
"A lot of the blows that he took were because he would not forsake us," said Bishop Chandler Owens of the Church of God in Christ, speaking at the church's annual bishops conference.
Owens introduced Clinton after a succession of bishops in the 8-million member church hailed the president for defending affirmative action, intervening in Haiti and working to advance blacks.
"I told the president when he first got elected that he was a black man masquerading in a white body," Owens said, as Clinton roared with laughter. "The president is laughing, but evidently he believes that."
The bishops urged Clinton to keep working on their behalf after he leaves office next January, and a choir serenaded him with a rafter-rattling spiritual that brought the audience of 600 to its feet singing along with cries of affirmation.
"As long as there is breath in your body ... you will continue to fight for the dignity of America," said Bishop Felton Smith. "Please sir, don't quit."
Blacks were among Clinton's most unwavering supporters through the impeachment scandal that enveloped the president in the wake of his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
"Mr. Clinton, we've prayed for you. Not only that, but we have spiritually walked with you and your administration. ... We will pray that God will continue to give you strength over all these relentless demons that continue to haunt you," said Bishop L.T. Haynes.
The bishops denounced current moves in Arkansas to strip Clinton of his law license.
Clinton, in his speech, sounded content with his legacy, despite the tarnish of scandal that tainted it.
"The scripture says ... in due season we shall reap. I have to admit, there were times when I thought the winters were too long and I thought we'd never get to the reaping part. But we have," he said.
He went on to recount economic and social gains during his administration.
"We are supposed to be serving, and if we take a hit now and again along the way, that's just part of the cost of doing service," he said.
But with his eye on the political ball, Clinton told the group the best way to extend his legacy would be to elect Democratic Vice President Al Gore to succeed him, and to elect first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats to the U.S. Senate.
"All we've done for the last eight years is set the table. And the feast is still out there," he said.
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