Hillary Clinton Helps Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church Celebrate 200th Anniversary; But Will Her Faith Help or Hurt Her Campaign?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks while attending the Foundry United Methodist Church for their Bicentennial Homecoming Celebration, in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. During President Bill Clinton’s presidency, the Clintons worshipped and participated regularly at Foundry. (Molly Riley/Associated Press)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks while attending the Foundry United Methodist Church for their Bicentennial Homecoming Celebration, in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. During President Bill Clinton’s presidency, the Clintons worshipped and participated regularly at Foundry. (Molly Riley/Associated Press)

Speaking from a Methodist pulpit on Sunday morning, Hillary Clinton explained her political vision with a reference to the classic Sunday school song “This Little Light of Mine.”

“Too many people,” she said, “want to let their light shine, but they can’t get out from under that bushel basket. It is way too heavy to lift alone. And that’s where the village comes in.”

It is the 200th anniversary of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, where the Clintons worshiped regularly when Bill Clinton was president. Hillary Clinton spoke during the bicentennial celebration Sunday about how her faith and faith community have shaped her.

She spoke of her mother, who she said taught her the wisdom of John Wesley, the 18th-century founder of the Methodist church, who believed in putting faith into action. She spoke of her youth pastor. She spoke of her college church, her church in Arkansas when her husband was governor of the state, and of walking to Foundry through the snow from the White House in 1993.

“In place after place after place,” Clinton said, “the Methodist church and my fellow Methodists have been a source of support, honest reflection and candid critique.”

Talking about her religious commitments has presented a bit of a quandary for Clinton as she runs for president. There is no obvious way for her to talk about her faith on the campaign trail. But avoiding the topic doesn’t seem like a good idea, either.

Voters consistently say they want politicians to have faith, yet they often don’t believe them when they talk about it. For Clinton, this seems especially true. When she talks about her religious beliefs and practices, people often don’t believe her. More than half of Americans say they don’t trust Clinton, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Her campaign has struggled to present her as authentic and relatable.

Talking about her faith can be a way to connect to voters personally and get them to feel like they know Clinton and trust her. But it can also just make the skeptical more suspicious.

The Bible’s influence on Clinton

Her faith was on display earlier this summer when Clinton walked into a bakery in Columbia, S.C. As Dan Merica reported for CNN, Clinton stopped to talk to the Rev. Frederick Donnie Hunt, a black Baptist minister who was studying 1 Corinthians 13 in his Bible. Clinton commended Hunt for “doing what is the most important thing to do … continuing to study and learn what the scripture says and what it means.”

When the minister said he always learns something new when he studies the Bible, Clinton replied, “Well, it’s alive. It’s the Living Word.”

Her response impressed Hunt, who voted for Obama in the last Democratic presidential primary. But it surprised him, too.

“I’d like to know that my president has some religious beliefs in God,” Hunt said. “I was really impressed that she knew that particular scripture.”

Hunt is not alone in wanting his candidates to be religious. A 2014 Pew poll found that nearly half of Americans would like to see more religion in politics. More than 40 percent of Americans think political leaders don’t talk about their faith enough. This is even true for many Democrats, though the political left is seen as less religious. Nearly a third of Democrats told Pew that political leaders talk too little about faith. Another Pew poll found that 42 percent of Democrats want to know that their candidates believe in God.

Merica reports that Clinton’s Christian faith is “not overt.” She is a lifelong Methodist, but “you wouldn’t know that from listening to her speeches.”

Over time, Clinton has spoken of her faith, however. Last year, she spoke of faith’s influence on her life to a group of 7,000 Methodist women.

“I have always cherished the Methodist church,” she said, “because it gave us the great gift of personal salvation but also the obligation of social gospel.”

The United Methodist Church is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Methodists, members of a mainline church with evangelical roots, have traditionally emphasized the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus and the imperative of social activism and caring for your neighbor. Clinton learned about this tradition from her Methodist youth minister, Don Jones.

In 2009, when her former youth minister died, she wrote about the influence he had on her life. A one-time Young Republican who supported Barry Goldwater, Clinton became a liberal in part because her minister introduced her to the social gospel. He exposed her to theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, and taught her the meaning of “faith in action.”

Clinton has also spoken of the Bible’s importance in her life, including in a 2014 New York Times Sunday Book Review interview.

“The Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking,” she said, noting that her answer might appear predictable. “I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.”

In 2008, Clinton told CNN that she had “tried to take my beliefs, my faith, and put it to work my entire life” to help others. In 2007, she told the network about how she prays regularly and carries a Bible in her purse.

She also appeared on the televangelist Pat Robertson’s show, “The 700 Club,” telling guest host David Brody, “My faith has sustained me, it has informed me, it has saved me.”

Clinton repeated this commitment on Sunday: “I am a Methodist,” she said, “by birth and by choice.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Daniel Silliman

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