Friday, July 6, 2007

Clinton's Faith

The New York times has a surprising good profile of Hillary Clinton and her personal faith. While most of those close to Clinton soon learn that her Methodist faith is real and deep, Clinton has to battle the false claim that her faith is solely for political purposes. This profile goes a long way to dispelling this notion:

The themes of wrongs, forgiveness and reconciliation have played out repeatedly in Senator Clinton’s life, as she has endured the ordeal of her husband’s infidelity, engaged in countless political battles and shared a deep, mutual distrust with adversaries. Her Methodist faith, Mrs. Clinton says, has guided her as she sought to repair her marriage, forgiven some critics who once vilified her and struggled to fulfill the Biblical commandment to love thy neighbor in the bare-knuckles world of politics.

The New York senator, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has been alluding to her spiritual life with increasing regularity in recent years, dovetailing with efforts by her party to reach out to churchgoers who have been voting overwhelmingly Republican.

Mrs. Clinton’s references to faith, though, have come under attack, both from conservatives who doubt her sincerity (one critic recently dismissed her as the type of Christian “who believed in everything but God”) and liberals who object to any injection of religion into politics. And her motivations have been cast as political calculation by detractors, who suggest she is only trying to moderate her liberal image.

“ Many people have developed opinions about her,” said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “Senator Clinton has a long history of involvement in religious matters and appears to be a person of deep and sincere faith, but a lot of people don’t perceive her that way,” Mr. Green said.

Mrs. Clinton and others who have known her well, from church youth group member to Sunday school teacher to Senate weekly prayer breakfast participant, say faith has helped define her, shaping everything from her commitment to public service to the most intimate of decisions. “It has certainly been a huge part of who I am, and how I have seen the world and what I believe in, and what I have tried to do in my life,“ Mrs. Clinton said in the half-hour interview devoted to religion.

Ever the good student, Mrs. Clinton can speak knowledgably about St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and John Wesley, the father of Methodism, a mainline Protestant tradition that places a premium on social activism..

On the campaign trail or in other public appearances, she increasingly is speaking of her personal piety, sprinkling in references to inspiring Biblical verses ( “faith without works is dead,” from James), the injunction by Jesus to care for the needy and even her daily prayer life, which she credits to being raised in a “praying family.”

In the interview and a subsequent telephone conversation, she described her spiritual habits — she carries a Bible on her campaign travels, reads commentaries on Scripture and other people’s “faith journeys“ and spoke of experiencing “the presence of the Holy Spirit on many occasions.“

And she talked of forgiveness. Mrs. Clinton volunteered that she was moved by apologies in recent years from David Kuo, a Republican speechwriter and evangelical Christian who later worked in the Bush administration, and Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who confessed to harboring hateful thoughts of her. She spoke of her own shortcomings — “it’s a challenge every single day” — in leading a moral life and of turning to Christian writers for solace after her husband’s infidelity.

“It is both hard to forgive and ask for forgiveness,” she said. “There’s a reason it is talked about in the Bible. It is really hard. It is hard for people to let go of legitimate hurts and slights and disappointments.”

. . .

Long portrayed by critics as out of touch with religious voters, Mrs. Clinton is clearly intent on trying win some of them over. Her campaign, for example, has brought in Burns Strider, an evangelical Christian who headed religious outreach for Democrats in the House of Representatives.

He and other supporters point to what they say is Mrs. Clinton’s long record in bringing religious values to the public arena — her support for faith-based social programs, co-sponsorship of a religious discrimination law and efforts on behalf of children, the poor and those needing health care. And while she supports abortion rights, she has made overtures to religious conservatives by expressing respect for opponents of legalized abortion and calling for both sides to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
. . .

The liberal-leaning brand of Methodism that Mrs. Clinton is steeped in tends to be reticent about discussing personal faith. “We were always taught, when you pray, you go into your closet,” said Ann Henry, a friend from Fayetteville, Ark., and a fellow Methodist.

Mrs. Clinton’s religious roots run deep, though. While her father, Hugh Rodham, was not a regular churchgoer, he descended from a long line of Methodists. Her mother, Dorothy, taught Sunday school at their Methodist church in Park Ridge, Illinois. At age 11, Hillary Rodham read aloud an essay on “What Jesus Means to Me” for her confirmation.

In high school, she was influenced by the Rev. Donald Jones, a charismatic youth minister. He introduced his charges to the world beyond their suburban enclave, taking them to the south side of Chicago to interact with black and Hispanic teenagers and babysit for migrant workers. On one memorable evening, he brought them to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

. . .

In a brief quiz about her theological views, Mrs. Clinton said she believed in the resurrection of Jesus, though she described herself as less sure of the doctrine that being a Christian is the only way to salvation. As for how literally to interpret the Bible, she takes a characteristically centrist view.

“The whole Bible gives you a glimpse of God and God’s desire for a personal relationship, but we can’t possibly understand every way God is communicating with us,” she said. “I’ve always felt that people who try to shoehorn in their cultural and social understandings of the time into the Bible might be actually missing the larger point.”



Read it all here.

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