(RNS) — In the middle of the eight-episode “Gutsy” series she co-produced, Hillary Clinton sat down with a minister and explained, again, why she chose to stay with her husband.
“You can’t know what goes on in anybody else’s marriage, let alone in their hearts or their minds,” she told the Rev. Whittney Ijanaten, a wedding officiant. “Getting to the decision is so excruciating. It is so painful. Having gone through all of that extraordinary reflection, disappointment, discouragement, anger, once I made it, I felt at peace.”
In the episode, Ijanaten recalled that the former secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee had described the decision to stay — while Clinton was first lady and after then-President Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky — as “the gutsiest thing” she’d ever done.
On Friday (Sept. 9), Apple TV+ releases “Gutsy,” a docuseries Clinton executive-produced with daughter Chelsea, profiling a diverse set of women who have taken difficult steps in their lives — steps that ultimately had a profound impact, not only for them as individuals but for their families and their communities. It is based on their bestseller, “The Book of Gutsy Women,” which highlights the work of community leaders, artists and activists.
Though the series is by no means faith-centric, elements of religion and spirituality are sprinkled throughout it, including with Ijanaten, who talked about her own decision to choose divorce as she discussed Hillary Clinton’s opposite determination.
In an interview Wednesday with Religion News Service, Hillary Clinton said the unscripted conversation was far from the first time she had discussed her marriage with a minister.
“Back when I was making that decision, I talked with members of the clergy. I prayed a lot. I read a lot. I had counseling,” Clinton said, adding that perhaps Ijanaten sought an answer from her as the officiant continues to bring couples of all sorts together. “I gave her the answer that is the right answer for me.”
In a news conference the previous day, the mother and daughter talked about their respect for people of faith and how the women they interviewed sometimes have to grapple with the interpretations of faith by groups with which they are or were once aligned.
Chelsea Clinton cited Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last, who described, in the same episode that featured Ijanaten, how she was forced into an arranged marriage at age 19 to a man she did not know in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of New York City. It took Reiss more than a decade to escape the abusive relationship and led her to start an organization that has successfully ended the legality of child marriage in seven states.
“I think it was important to us to also include Fraidy, not only for her really gutsy work on behalf of children everywhere,” said Chelsea Clinton, but also because Reiss and many other women like her have deep faith that is hugely important to them, but their faith communities “have not always respected their rights, their agency and … their health or their equal humanity.”
In an earlier episode, titled “Gutsy Women Refuse Hate,” Hillary Clinton asked former extremist Shannon Foley Martinez about the distinctive tattoo on her right shin. Martinez explained it had once been a Celtic cross, a symbol popular in the white power movement she had once been a part of. She had kept the tattoo for a time because “I can’t outrun my past.” But the mother of eight later decided, after a Black activist pointed out the harm associated with the symbol, to get it covered over with a different tattoo.
“The idea you have eight kids and you’re doing this work,” Clinton said as she heard about Martinez’s efforts to deprogram extremists away from hatred. “I mean, holy moly, the definition of gutsy.”
That episode also featured comedian Negin Farsad, who went on the road with others in her profession to foster better understanding of Muslims by offering hugs, answering questions and delivering comedy routines.
Asked at the time, “How do you feel about 9/11?” Farsad told the Clintons she decided to respond by denouncing the acts of terror in a gesture to foster understanding.
“I’m in deep Georgia or wherever and they might have never met a Muslim,” she said.
Hillary Clinton added: “Or they don’t know they have.”
Other glimpses of faith and spirituality included an interview with reality TV star Kim Kardashian, featuring a tweet where she quoted a Bible verse from Proverbs about rescuing “those who are unjustly sentenced to death” as part of her work to get people on death row exonerated. The Clintons, who tangoed, painted and attended clown school along the way with interviewees, also joined labor leader Dolores Huerta and her family in a traditional Native American eagle feather ceremony.
They listened to mountaineer Silvia Vasquez-Lavado describe how meditation helped her heal from sexual abuse and Ijanaten, a queer Black woman, discuss confronting anti-gay bias in her Pentecostal Apostolic church by going to divinity school “to counter that narrative.”
But only briefly did the Clintons talk on camera about their own faith. As they visited Little Rock, Arkansas, they drove by a brick building that was formative for their spiritual lives while living there: First United Methodist Church.
In the interview, they both described themselves as women of the United Methodist faith.
“I still consider myself a United Methodist and am very grateful to the series of preachers and reverends and ministers who started raising me up when I was a young child through confirmation, through Methodist Youth Fellowship, through wonderful events,” Hillary Clinton said.
“I am a praying person. I am a Bible-reading person. And I try — I try — to be the kind of Christian that I think I’m supposed to be.”
Her daughter, after being raised by her Methodist mother, said she remains connected to that faith while raising an interfaith family.
“My husband is Jewish and it is really important to both of us that our children grow up in each of our traditions in a way that hopefully feels coherent to them,” said Chelsea Clinton. “And so our children go to both Hebrew school and to Sunday school. They go to both synagogue and church.”
She added that she recognizes their chosen path may not be the one other families decide to take.
“It is the right answer for us,” the former first daughter said. “It is the right answer for how we’re raising our children to be not only appreciative of our faiths and our faith traditions, but also hopefully to be people of faith themselves.”