As she has embarked on a second campaign for President, Hillary Rodham Clinton is facing the same scrutiny as during the 2008 campaign. Of interest to us is her personal faith story. Mrs. Clinton once told The New York Times, “My faith has always been very personal to me.” In 2007, she told the 2007 CNN Faith Forum, “Advertising my faith doesn’t come naturally to me.” As such, she has been reluctant to speak out about her faith in a public way. But those who have known the 67-year-old former Senator and Secretary of State say her faith is genuine. We know five things about the faith of Hillary Clinton.
1. Hillary Clinton is a life-long Methodist. Raised in the First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge (Chicago), she was active in her youth group, often visiting inner-city Chicago churches with her youth pastor and spiritual mentor, Don Jones. During her husband’s presidency, they attended Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church. Time Magazine described her membership in a bipartisan women’s prayer group as “active.”
2. Mrs. Clinton has been known to carry a Bible in her purse. Advisers say she often opens the Scriptures for quiet strength in trying times, though this is a very private practice for her. “I have tried through my works to demonstrate a level of commitment and compassion that flow from my faith,” she has said.
3. Prayer plays a significant role in Clinton’s life. She joked at the Faith Forum that her daily prayer is, “Oh, Lord, why can’t you help me lose weight?” Then pivoting to a more serious tone, she spoke of her habit of praying “for discernment, wisdom, strength, and courage.” She sees prayer as “a deep connection between us and the divine.”
4. Clinton decries those who criticize the importance of faith. During the 2008 election, then-Senator Barack Obama said hard-pressed Americans were bitter and “clung to their guns and religion.” At the CNN Compassion Forum, Clinton said the Democratic Party “has been viewed as a party that didn’t understand the values of so many Americans.” She continued, “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 of life.”
5. For Mrs. Clinton, faith calls us to action. Last April, she addressed the United Methodist Women Assembly on the subject of faith. She said her faith had 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.”
Two personal events point to a strong faith for Hillary Clinton. On election night of 1992, President George H. W. Bush called Bill Clinton to concede. Hillary recalled, in Living History, that “Bill and I went into our bedroom, closed the door, and prayed together for God’s help as he took on this awesome honor and responsibility.” And then there was the night Mrs. Clinton shared a private moment with Rev. Billy Graham, on the heels of her crisis stemming from her husband’s infidelity. At the dedication of the Bush Presidential Library, she pulled Graham aside, seeking his counsel. Graham recalled, in The Preacher and the Presidents, that Hillary “is different from the Hillary you see in the media. There is a warm side to her – and a spiritual one.”
None of this is to endorse Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy or policy positions. But I take her at her word when she says, “You have a faith center out of which the rest flows.” Barna Research estimates that United Methodists make up about six percent of our population, with the number slowly declining. But credit Mrs. Clinton for remaining true to her church through the years. In his book, God and Hillary Clinton, Paul Kengor says she seeks to live by the Wesleyan mantra, “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.” For Mrs. Clinton, her faith is real. From her faith she seeks guidance and serenity. Though hesitant to speak about her faith in the public square, for Hillary Clinton, her faith is genuine and real.