Beliefs Faith 2016 Politics

5 faith facts about Hillary Clinton: Social Gospel Methodist to the core

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a lifelong Methodist, speaks at a church on May 15, 2016, during her presidential campaign. Photo courtesy of Reuters

WASHINGTON (RNS) Throughout her 2016 presidential campaign, one facet of Hillary Clinton, 68, has been unchanging. She was, is and likely always will be a social-justice-focused Methodist.

This has been evident across her decades as a lawyer, first lady, senator and secretary of state right up to her passionate response to a question about faith at a Democrats Town Hall a week before the Iowa caucus. Clinton drew her answer from her Bible, where, she said, she learned “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.”

Here are five faith facts about Clinton’s life and how her faith shows in her run for the presidency.


RELATED STORY: What do 2016 election contenders believe? Check the RNS ‘5 Faith Facts’ series


1. Look to the Methodists.

She drew that tweet from a popular saying among Methodists: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can,” says Paul Kengor in his book “God and Hillary Clinton.”

As a girl, she was part of the guild that cleaned the altar at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill. As a teen, she visited inner-city Chicago churches with the youth pastor, Don Jones, her spiritual mentor until his death in 2009. During her husband’s presidency, the first family worshipped at Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church, and this fall she spoke at the church’s 200th anniversary. Time magazine described her membership in a bipartisan women’s prayer group organized by evangelicals.

2. There’s a Bible in her purse and a gospel song in her heart.

But, she told the 2007 CNN Faith Forum, “advertising” her faith “doesn’t come naturally to me.” Every vote Clinton made as a senator from New York, she said, was “a moral responsibility.” When asked at the forum why she thought God allows suffering, Clinton demurred on theology, then swiftly turned her answer to activism: “The existence of suffering calls us to action.”

In a 1993 speech at the University of Texas, Clinton declared: “We need a new politics of meaning. … We have to summon up what we believe is morally and ethically and spiritually correct and do the best we can with God’s guidance.” A month later, she was pictured as a saint in a Sunday New York Times Magazine exploration of that “politics of meaning” phrase.

Just days before Super Tuesday, with its hefty Southern state contingent of black evangelical voters, Clinton appeared at a gospel music event honoring African-American performers. According to Christian News, she told them the song that most encourages her in times of trouble: “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” She told the cheering crowd: “I know this is not just about music. It truly is about the message. It’s about the gospel and all that it means to so many of us.”

3. Prayer matters.

Clinton joked at the Faith Forum that sometimes her plea is, “Oh, Lord, why can’t you help me lose weight?” But her daily habit, she said, is praying, “for discernment, for wisdom, for strength, for courage … ”

What she calls “grace notes” matter, too. She described them to adviser Burns Strider as “a gift that is undeserved but bestowed by the everyday joys, beauties, kindnesses, pleasures of life that can strike a deep chord of connection between us and the divine and between us and the mundane.”


RELATED STORY:  ‘Grace Notes’ and the quiet unshakable faith of Hillary Clinton


4. God politics is tough.

In 2008, Clinton battered then-Sen. Barack Obama for saying economically hard-pressed Americans were bitter and “cling to guns or religion.” At the CNN Compassion Forum, Clinton said the Democratic Party “has been viewed as a party that didn’t understand the values and way of life of so many Americans. … It’s important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being. It is what gives them meaning in life.”

In April 2015,  Clinton told the annual United Methodist Women Assembly that their shared faith has guided her to be “an advocate for children and families, for women and men around the world who are oppressed and persecuted, denied their human rights and human dignity.”

But no matter what she says about her faith informing her life, she faces a Catch-22, as American religion expert Daniel Silliman wrote in The Washington Post. “It’s not clear how she should talk about faith on the campaign trail. Voters want to hear about her beliefs, but they also often don’t believe her.”


RELATED STORY: Hillary on Christian faith: It’s about love and service, not judgment


5. On the campaign trail …

Clinton often outrages conservative evangelicals.

Just weeks after her 2016 campaign launch, Clinton told a global woman’s conference that, in countries where women struggled for education and reproductive rights, “laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

Christian media and Republican candidates took that comment to the bank.  Fox News’ headline: Hillary: ‘Religious Beliefs’ Must Change For Sake Of Abortion.

Her support for Planned Parenthood, in the wake of a series of covert videos that purported to show executives negotiating the price of fetal tissue, is a rallying cry for the anti-abortion rights movement. Yet, Clinton never fails to mention her support for reproductive rights, along with backing gay rights, same-sex marriage and equal pay.

This did not prevent several African-American pastors from laying hands on her in prayer and blessing in early February. But she also has gathered the condemnation of some faith bloggers. Christian Today, for example, reported one pastor blogger, Bryan Ridenour, writing on his blog: “If a church member asks in 2016 if I can support Hillary Clinton, I can unequivocally respond, ‘Not in this lifetime.’”

But political pundits still expect Clinton to do well with evangelical black Protestants, women and older voters, and the South Carolina massive vote for her — from exactly those groups — confirmed this.

About the author

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues

16 Comments

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  • Is it our privilege to decide the marital, medical, and legal decisions of strangers? Is faith more important than mercy? Must women and minorities submit to men and majorities? Is it okay to work on the Sabbath, and when does that day begin and end? Must we stone to death our children when they rebel? Are we morally obligated to feed, clothe, shelter, teach, employ, care for, and protect the hungry, naked, homeless, uneducated, jobless, disabled, and vulnerable? May anyone drink alcohol or eat shellfish? Is it right for us to define the character, motives, and worth of people we don’t know, and to treat them accordingly? Which commands, from which scripture, must we follow, and which may we ignore? Are foreigners ours to attack and enslave, and their property ours to take? When we offend others’ spiritual/existential values, is that as profane as when they offend ours?

    I think Ms. Clinton respects the fact that not every American goes to her church.

  • Spend some sustained time in both Testaments, pay particular to Paul’s explanation of how the Jewish scriptures (OT) illuminate the Gospel (NT), be reflective and thoughtful; you may find the answers to the questions you pose.

  • Hillary supported the war in Iraq when all the mainline churches opposed it, (including hers) and she supports the death penalty in certain circumstances, when her denomination “unequivocally” opposes it. Her husband passed the draconian legislation “ending welfare as we know it” over the objections of mainline churches who saw it as punitive and ultimately not helpful. On taxes, on military intervention — set her views beside the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. They are hardly in sync.

  • What people claim about themselves is not necessarily met by their actions. Actions like working with Al-Qaeda to overthrow the Lybian gov’t leaving its society in shambles, pursuing with the intention to persecute/prosecute Bradley Manning for his release of files that showed an American war crime, or representing Wall Street interests at the expense of all others are not actions that are consistent with the social gospel, especially the Methodist version of it.

  • If you were truly interested in a factual answer to your rhetorical question, you could always explore umc.org, our denominational website. Our position on the issue is quite complex, like the issue itself, and we tend to avoid the maudlin practice of labeling fetal tissue “children” and otherwise assuming facts not in evidence. We have different visions as to policy on the issue, and perhaps contrasting that of Bob Dole, another United Methodist who was bill Clinton’s opponent in 1996, with that of both Bill and HRC. dole favored restrictions on the legality of abortion. The Clinton’s didn’t. Neither position, however, addresses the morality or ethics of abortion itself, which is a personal matter. Lifesite News is a fetid bog of woman hatred which seeks to confuse the gullible. Abortion should remain safe and legal, but it’s none of the government’s business.

  • Diogenes and Taxi, not all Americans go to your churches, either.

    Hold yourselves to your own beliefs.
    Subject yourselves to your own creeds’ demands.
    And respect other shepherds’ sacred pastures.

    It’s all about how we treat each other, and the Golden Rule applies.

  • I’ve found it best to look at a person’s past actions rather than checking to see if they have a bible in their purse.

    I actually find it important to have a leader who will represent his/her electorate, even when it may not be within their personal religious values.

    Imagine if a Muslim were elected to a leadership position, based on their skill and performance at other jobs, only to refuse, during some critical moment, to act as their constituency would like, because it conflicted with their religion…. then what?

    So, I look to see if a representative is willing to represent, even if there are conflicts with their religion.

    The death penalty and abortion are two great examples where you really have to choose to break with your religion if you are to represent the people.

  • HILLARY……..

    In a political interview, Baier asked Hillary Clinton, “Do you think a child should have any legal rights or protections before (s/he’s) born? … Do you think there should not be any restrictions on any abortions at any stage in a pregnancy?”

    Baier, noting that Clinton didn’t answer his question about when the baby is worth protecting, pressed a little further. “Just to be clear, there’s no — without any exceptions?”……….“No,” Clinton stated.

    Is this what Methodists believe, if not why has she not been taken to task on this statement, and as Christians do you feel that she deserves your vote?

  • I grew up down the street from Hillary. She visited the Methodist summer camp where I spent every summer of my birth through my 40s. There are many variations of “Methodist” these days, & it would make the Wesley brothers roll in their graves to know the liberal, unbiblical messages espoused by many branches of the denomination. The traditional United Methodists best represent the core beliefs, but even within that core the spectrum runs from far right to far left. Hillary started in the United Methodist core, but her politics align more closely with other secularized versions of the denomination.

  • On abortion, Methodists believe in the sanctity of life, but also recognize that their are situations that call for the termination of a pregnancy and leave that decision to a women, her doctor and God. When it comes to partial-birth abortion, the doctrine opposes it, unless it is the only choice in which to save the mothers life.

    The way Methodists are supposed to determine their Christian Faith beliefs is thru a process termed the “Wesley Quadrilateral,” which uses Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason to determine ones Christian Faith beliefs. This process places Scripture as the core, and is the primary source and standard of Christian doctrine, Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures, Experience is the persons understanding and appropriating of the faith in light of their own life experiences, through Reason the individual person brings to bear on the Christian Faith discerning and cognate thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian Faith and the required response of worship and service. Since the Wesley quadrilateral is the core of how Methodists are to come to their faith beliefs, it is not unreasonable that their is some difference to each individual Methodists personal faith understanding, but that doesn’t change Jesus’ last commandment to love one another as I have loved you and it is through the fulfillment of this commandment that others will know that you are Christ’s disciple, it just determines how an individual Methodist goes about living out that commandment.

  • what BS
    voting with a moral conscience
    NO christian could support abortion and homosexuality as the Bible is clearly against it.

  • Seems Hiliar thinks you can be a TRAITOR and a Methodist?
    Is there a single video or photo of Hill/Bill being blessed or prayed over in public?
    Are Methodists taught to hate Catholics (like Mormons are)?

    Also – know if you vote for a TRAITOR you too are a TRAITOR!

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