For much of Hillary's youth, [her father] Hugh was the only male influence on her life that had any real bearing. Her views, her political ideas, her religionall this was filtered through Hugh, as he helped shape her sense of the world and her sense of self. But all that changed dramatically when she was thirteen, and the Reverend Don Jones, a Methodist minister, entered her life.
She began dropping by Jones's office after school or during summer afternoons, eager to talk about ideas or insights she culled from the youth minister and his sermons. According to Roger Morris, biographer of the Clintons, Jones had her read Tillich, Niebuhr, Soren Kierkegaard, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and they had lengthy, increasingly serious discussions. "She was curious," says Jones. "She was just insatiable."
Jones took from Hillary's study of his good works, adding this important insight: "She is very much the sort of Christian who understands that the use of power to achieve social good is legitimate."
Morris says that rather than weighty discussions among intellectual equals, these talks between Hillary and Jones were more akin to "tentative discoveries the first fitful awakenings of critical intellect and sensibility in a spiritually minded young woman." He says that Jones estimated that Hillary was, at heart, a cautious, contained, "self-protective girl" whose judgments about herself and her world were still forming, and as such she required constant intellectual direction.
Morris adds that Jones was not only intellectually exciting to Hillary but nurturing, approving, accepting, and embracing. He was the "world beyond" the "growling Hugh Rodham." By this point, Hillary was conflicted, stuck in a political purgatory between the politics of Don Jones and those of her father. "I wonder if it's possible to be a mental conservative and a heart liberal?" she wrote at the time, a kind of early tug toward what George W Bush later coined "compassionate conservatism"a phrase that probably would have had tremendous appeal to her at the time.
Overall, Jones must have been pleased by this progress in his star pupil. In Jones's mind, these were exactly the types of questions he wanted to hear from Hillary, and he understood that this "deeply religious" girl was still growing into herself. She was "so nonfrivolous it's unbelievable," he said. "Hillary was curious and wide open to everythingnot that she liked everything and accepted everything at face value." A third party, Rick Ricketts, a fellow student of the University of Life sessions, remembers how Hillary became Jones's chosen disciple: "She seemed to be on a quest for transcendence," said Ricketts. Even after they went their separate ways, Hillary would continue to see Jones as a mentor, evident in the long, earnest, sometimes painful letters she wrote to him during high school and college, which were often filled with celestial navigations about life and philosophy and contemplation of her quest to express her faith through social action.
Used by permission of HarperCollins. Copyright 2007 by Paul Kengor. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also posted today is an interview with Paul Kengor about his biography of Hillary Clinton.
God and Hillary Clinton is available from Amazon.com and other book retailers.