Hillary on Christian faith: it’s about love and service, not judgment

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Hillary Clinton. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Hillary Clinton. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Hillary Clinton. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Hillary Clinton. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

On Monday night in Iowa, Hillary Clinton encountered a self-identified Catholic Democrat named Jessica Manning. Mrs. Manning wanted to know how Mrs. Clinton aligned her politics and her faith, in a context where Democrats and Republicans both say their politics is grounded in their Christian faith.

With gratitude to the New York Times for transcribing Mrs. Clinton’s lengthy response, I offer highlights, and my interpretations, contrasting Hillary’s mainline Protestant type of faith with the conservative evangelicalism mainly being offered by the Republicans.

I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist. I have been raised Methodist. I feel very grateful for the instructions and support I received starting in my family but [also] through my church.

Mainline Protestants like Hillary Clinton tend to use the phrase “people of faith” far more often than more conservative evangelicals do. This is because they want to express respect for and commonality with people of other religions. Also notice that Mrs. Clinton emphasizes her denominational background, which is more common among mainliners than evangelicals. And Hillary here identifies her faith as communicated through her family and her church, which is a less individualistic and more communal way of talking about faith.

It is absolutely fair for people to have strong convictions and also, though, to discuss those with other people of faith. Because different experiences can lead to different conclusions about what is consonant with our faith and how best to exercise it.

Here Mrs. Clinton affirms strong, faith-based religious, moral, and political convictions. But she also calls for dialogue, and for recognition that people’s life experiences shape how they interpret faith, or faithfulness — as opposed to being simply delivered to them from on high. Notice that she stays with “people of faith” language so she need not just be speaking of Christians and Christianity. She is indicating that many faiths are included in the American community, not just the Christian tribe.

My study of the Bible…has led me to believe the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself, and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do.

Secretary Clinton goes directly to what Christians call the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), in which Jesus does in fact pull together two passages from the Hebrew Bible to say that the center of religious obligation is to love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself. She is on very strong biblical ground here.

There is so much more in the Bible about taking care of the poor, visiting the prisoners, taking in the stranger, creating opportunities for others to be lifted up, to find faith themselves…

Secretary Clinton doesn’t finish the comparison but I think we can assume she is contrasting a faith focused on caring for the vulnerable (her reference is probably to Matthew 25:31-46) with a faith focused on judging or rejecting others for falling short of our moral standards. Because this is what she says next:

I do believe that in many areas judgment should be left to God, that being more open, tolerant and respectful is part of what makes me humble about my faith…I have been very disappointed and sorry that Christianity, which has such great love at its core, is sometimes used to condemn so quickly and judge so harshly.

It sure looks like here Hillary is driving home at least an implicit comparison to the versions of faith being offered by some of her Republican adversaries. My faith, she says, seeks to be tolerant, respectful, and humble. Their faith…well, you do the math.

Look at yourself first, to make sure you are being the kind of person you should be in how you are treating others…I am by no means a perfect person, I will certainly confess that to one and all, but I feel the continuing urge to try to do better, to try to be kinder, to try to be more loving, even with people who are quite harsh.

One of the distinctive contributions of the Wesleyan Methodist tradition has been a very strong emphasis on what has been called sanctification, or growth in holiness. Here Mrs. Clinton strikes that note. Rather than a faith that is about judging others for falling short of your understanding of the standard, she argues for a faith that is about constant effort to be a better and more loving person. Notice the reference to all the harsh criticism she has received.

What is not here? Nothing about America as a Christian nation or America’s Christian heritage. Nothing about defending Christians or protecting Christianity or religious liberty. Nothing about rolling back gay rights or abortion. Nothing about America’s dangerous slide into secularism. Nothing that involves attacking people of other faiths or saying we need to keep them out.

Like her or not, Mrs. Clinton’s articulation of her version of Christian faith is an important contribution to the faith and politics conversation, one week before the Iowa caucuses.

  • Doc Anthony

    Hillary Clinton says some good and necessary things there, just as Obama did before her. No joke.

    …but not ONE of those things she said actually justifies, either rationally or Scripturally, her support of the unprecedented national evil of legalized gay marriage, nor the ongoing national evil of a 55-million-baby, abortion-on-demand tragedy.

    America is in real trouble. Debate is one thing, but divine judgment is another. America cannot count on forever getting a free pass, when others (Sodom, Canaan, even ancient Israel) ultimately did NOT get a free pass. We’re sowing stuff we’re not prepped to reap.

    I can respect Hillary Clinton’s social justice opinions there. But the nation is in deep spiritual trouble, consequences are brewing, and Hillary and Obama are seriously part of that trouble. That cannot be ignored.

  • David Gushee,

    Thanks for a very informative and careful analysis.

    Clinton demonstrates the self-selected, tedious cherry picking game all
    Christians must play in a religion-soaked culture.

    “Look at yourself first, to make sure you are being the kind of person you should be in how you are treating others…” – Hilary Clinton

    No religion is required for this. In fact, religion destroys it by adding “or else.”

    “Hate your mother and father or you are not worthy of me” – JESUS (Luke 14:26)
    “I came to make a man’s enemies the members of his own home!” – JESUS (Matthew 10:36)
    “Believe in me or be condemned to eternal fire!” – JESUS (Mark 16:16)
    “Believe in me or die.” – JESUS (John 14:15)
    “He who is not with me is against me…” – JESUS (Matthew 12:30)

    Every Christian cherry-picks. They have to.
    Most of the tree is rotten cherries. And none of it is necessary.

  • Tom Downs

    Kat, you gotta love those wacky Corinthians. They were always dividing into parties based on who was doing Christianity right, criticizing and judging; they just couldn’t get alone. Paul had to keep writing because they just couldn’t handle diversity, but is what God gave us. He’s saying get your humility on and grow up. Oh and Pius Peter had similar advice: mind your own business and consentrate on pursing santification in your own life. Good advice. Seems Senator Clinton got the point.

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  • G Key

    It’s one thing to apply one’s own judgment of right and wrong to make good decisions about living one’s own life.

    It’s another thing to presume to impose one’s judgments for living one’s own life to others, as if they must live according to one’s own beliefs. Their lives are theirs to live, according to their own beliefs.

    That’s where living by example, with humility, compassion, and the virtue of respect — holding only oneself to one’s own beliefs, while restraining the more comfortable but most prideful temptation to control others — can be most effective at impressing and possibly influencing those who witness one’s own exemplary behavior.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Please tell us more about this “deep spiritual trouble.” What does it consist of? What causes it? How is what you describe as such in the present day differ from the reality of 1953, 1853, or 1553, for example. Please answer. Thank you.

  • Jeff

    ““Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”
    ‭‭Mark‬ ‭9:38-41‬ ‭NIV‬‬

    We get it. Because you’ve expressed views considered left of center, you’ve been criticized by fellow Christians on the other end of the spectrum. You’ve beaten that horse well past its death. It’s time for you to move on. You have a lot more to offer in your field than painting fellow Christians with different political views than you with the same broad stroke and criticizing them. You’re too good a professional and academic than this.

  • Jack

    Oh please…..Taking Hillary’s views on faith seriously is like doing likewise with a Mafia don. She’s about as authentic as the evangelical “pastors” who endorse Trump. They and she are about as real as a dollar bill with Charles Manson’s face on it.

  • Jack

    Hillary cares less about the Bible than just about anyone in the world, unless you equating caring with ransacking it for texts to support her hack-driven political positions.

  • Jack

    Not hard at all, George. While I am hardly a doom-and-gloomer and agree that things are way better today in some areas than at any time in recorded history, there are plenty of examples of things getting worse as well. Out-of-wedlock births is one example. They’re about 10 times as high as before the advent of the welfare state and the consequences include the emergence of a permanent underclass that is doomed to lives of failure, crime, addiction, and dependency.

  • Jack

    G Key, I agree in this sense: The best people focus more on confessing and repenting of their own sins than those of other people, while the worst people do exactly the opposite.

    However, there’s a third group that’s at least as bad as the second. They are those who are themselves moral reprobates by anybody’s definition and embrace the nonjudgmentalism you’re endorsing as a way to justify their own misconduct. And worse, they themselves become judgmental of those they deem judgmental.

    The sane response to all of this intellectual honesty — realizing that it is impossible to go through life without ever judging anybody. Anyone with a pulse has done it. The key is to resolve to judge one’s self each and every time one points at others.

    But to literally eliminate all judgments is as impossible as eliminating the standards by which judgments are made. Everyone, even the most die-hard moral relativists, ends up smuggling them back into play.

  • Scott Shaver

    From the looks of your responses, Max, Christians ain’t the only one’s doing the “cherry picking”.

    What’s the difference twixt you and them on this matter?

  • Scott Shaver

    Point well made Tom about the substance of her comments.

    Problem is, when her lips move I have trouble believing whether or not it’s true and/or whether or not she believes what she says.

  • Jack

    The question answers itself.

  • Kat

    Doc Anthony makes good points.

  • Kat

    Jack- Well said!

  • @Scott Shaver,

    “cherrypicking….What is the difference twixt you and them [Christians] on this matter?”

    The Bible has about 5 good cherries.
    And they are obliterated by thousands of awful cherries.

    One of the best cherries in the Bible is this one:
    “Do not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16)

    It demands responsible behavior with respect to what one actually sees – it even limits a claim to what can be honestly attested to based on eye-witness testimony (as a sort of evidence).

    Yet, Jesus destroys this with one blow:
    “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” – JESUS (John 20:29)

    This is not merely contradictory to the one decent COMMANDMENT.
    It rips all responsibility from the claimant and celebrates delusions as evidence!

    The Bible is reduced to a bad cherry by its own obliteration of its good cherries.

    It is not believable that a good God would have anything to do with this.

  • Scott Shaver

    Pardon me Kat:

    Had Hillary Clinton in mind. Thought she was the subject of this thread.

  • Kat

    Soctt Shaver- The comment was directed at/for me but I can see
    why it was misunderstood so thanks for clearing it up. God bless.

  • Scott Shaver,

    I’m glad I could teach you something about the Bible.

  • @Jack,

    “The best people focus more on confessing and repenting of their own sins”

    FAIL.
    Most of Hitler’s SS were confessing Catholics. But I don’t expect you know these sorts of things.

  • Cathy Wrynn

    Max.
    Give up. I’ve been an atheist for about 25 years. Nothing wakes the believers. The light in the head rarely goes on once religion cements the brain.