Clinton's Faith Underestimated; Methodist Has Downplayed Religion

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 25, 2008 | Go to article overview

Clinton's Faith Underestimated; Methodist Has Downplayed Religion


Byline: Andrea Billups, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is more devout than public perception has allowed, her Methodism carried close to her heart alongside her political interests, even if she is almost reluctant to talk about it.

"Just in terms of her Christian commitment, I think she is one of the most authentically and deeply committed Christians I know," said her former youth pastor, the Rev. Donald Jones, a 77-year-old retired professor of social ethics at Drew University in New Jersey who is her longtime friend.

"You can't really understand Hillary apart from the centrality of the Judeo-Christian tradition that has affected her life. I think more than any other influence, it's her Christian faith that has shaped the core of her character."

Mrs. Clinton, who has downplayed religion for much of her campaign, called her Christian journey a "serious search" as she opened up at a recent Compassion Forum at Pennsylvania's Messiah College.

"I worry that you have to walk the walk of faith," she said at the forum, where she offered a glimpse of the role that faith has played in her political life. "Talking about it is important because it's important to share that experience. But I also believe that, you know, faith is just - it's grace. It's love. It's mystery. It's provocation. It is everything that makes life and its purpose meaningful as a human being.

"We have created this democracy where we choose our leaders, and we have to be more mindful of how important and serious a business this is," she said.

Exit polls during the presidential primaries show that the New York senator seems to do well with religious Democrats and church attendees, along with white and Hispanic Catholics and Protestants. But in a Pew Forum survey last summer, Mrs. Clinton received a very low rating when pollsters asked likely voters how religious they perceived the candidates to be.

"There were people in the Clinton campaign who were just flabbergasted," said John C. Green, a senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "Somehow, many Americans have developed this image of Mrs. Clinton as largely a very secular politician."

"I think there is plenty of evidence that she is a woman of strong faith, but a lot of people don't believe that and see this as opportunism," said Mr. Green.

Mrs. Clinton has written about her faith in two books and has attended Methodist churches for most of her life. At a Sojourners forum sponsored by CNN in June, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that the power of her faith sustained her during former President Bill Clinton's infidelity.

"I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right, regardless of what the world thought," she said at the forum, also attended by her Democratic rivals John Edwards, who has since dropped out of the race, and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. "I am not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith."

As first lady, Mrs. Clinton joined prayer partners from local churches who visited to pray with her regularly. She and Mr. Clinton regularly attended Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington when they lived at the White House.

As senator, she has attended a bipartisan breakfast prayer group with other members of Congress. In Chappaqua, N.Y., where she and Mr. Clinton moved after his presidency, she is known to occasionally attend the United Methodist Church of Mount Kisco.

Mrs. Clinton also has continued to pair her faith with her politics. In late 2006, when she began to launch her presidential campaign, she hired a faith guru as part of an election strategy geared at attracting evangelical and religious voters. …

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