Paul Kengor has written spiritual biographies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. A professor at Grove City College, Kengor recently published God and Hillary Clinton.
Why did you choose to write about Hillary?
I wanted to show the Religious Left, and I knew that Hillary would be running for President.
What is Hillary doing to court religious conservatives?
In 2004, I think she saw the importance of the conservative religious vote. So you see her do an about-face on abortion. Her speech in January 2004 to NARAL was terrible, demonizing pro-lifers. But the following year she gave her now-famous address to the New York State Family Planning Providers in which she reached out to pro-lifers.
She has hired someone to reach out to pro-life Democrats and pro-life evangelicals. I understand she consults with him very frequently. But that is as far as her strategy towards pro-life evangelicals goes.
On the other hand, in regards to the Religious Left, she is going to continue to campaign in churches as she has done to an unprecedented degree. She campaigned in 27 churches two months before the November 2000 vote when she ran for the New York Senate seat. That's amazing. She was in six churches on election-day morning alone. She is going to keep talking about social justice, because that works for the Religious Left.
I will give you a striking number. The Pew Research Center did a poll a few weeks ago comparing Hillary versus Rudy Giuliani. It found that she would win the race by eight percentage points. But what is most remarkable is that they were dead even with voters who go to church weekly or more.
I would have to say that her strategy toward religious people can work if she has the right Republican opponent, someone like Giuliani who is perceived as less religious than she is. But if she is running against a Republican who is a strong evangelical, I think she loses the churchgoing vote easily.
Tell me about the difference between Hillary's perceived religiosity and her actual practice.
She is widely perceived as not religious. There was a poll done in 2000 by NBC and The Wall Street Journal and of all the major politicians she was judged the second-least religious, that second behind only Bill Clinton. In September 2007, there was another Pew Research poll done that showed that Hillary of all the major political candidates of both political parties finished second only to Giuliani.
Only 12 percent judged her very religious in 2000 and now it's up to 16 percent in 2007. She hasn't done much to change that perception. In reality, she has been a committed Methodist since she was a little girl in Park Ridge, Illinois.
The Methodism she grew up with isn't the kind of Methodism she may now practice.
She went to a pretty conservative church in Illinois in the late 50s early 60s. What moved her politically to the left is important to understanding her faith. She moves from conservative politics, she used to be a Barry Goldwater supporter as a teenager, to liberal politics in the mid to late 60s.
The bridge between the two is a left-leaning youth minister named Don Jones at her Park Ridge church. She began to follow left-leaning Methodism, and now Hillary Clinton walks step by step with the Methodist leadership into a very liberal Christianity. She is with them lockstep on almost all issues.
It was Don Jones who brought her to see Martin Luther King, Jr., right?
Exactly. But he introduced more than civil rights issues. Jones followed the Methodist church on social justice, economics, class, and moral issues, including abortion. The Methodist church leadership officially supports legalized abortion. Whereas a lot of conservative Methodists have left the church because of that liberal drift. Hillary says, "I am so comfortable in this church." That drift has been perfectly suitable for her.
For her, religiously informed politics is in line with classic liberal politics.
Yeah. She wants to take the federal government in some very expansionary directions, especially with healthcare. In that area, she is quite far to the left. Her politics are liberal; they are not moderate.
Religious conservatives wouldn't see any reason to vote for her. If you are a religious conservative, there would be no reason why you would want to vote for Hillary Clinton. Now, if you are a liberal Christian, she is probably a slam-dunk.
Tell me how her marriage to Bill Clinton has impacted her faith.
Probably, what has kept turning her back to God more than anything else through the 80s and 90s has been the trials and tribulations her husband has put her through. He has been well known to be unfaithful to her since, according to rumors, since the earliest days of their marriage and certainly since the 80's.
I interviewed Hillary's Arkansas pastor about this. He talked to her about it many times. It became a scandal in her Methodist church in Arkansas. Bill didn't go to that church. Bill went to a Baptist church. The pastor, Ed Matthews, told me that there were people at the church who were asking him what was going on with this: "This is not good. This is not good for the church." They would leave the service and there would be this man in the parking lot handing out flyers and calling Bill Clinton all kinds of names and accusing him of philandering. So this was a very uncomfortable situation in the church. She's been dealing with it for a long time.
The Monica Lewinsky thing, in particular, she says and her friends say, that she saw that as her cross to bear. She was humiliated and, I think, genuinely surprised. A lot of conservative Christians have said, how could she be surprised? Her husband had behaved like this before. But he had never fooled around with interns in the Oval Office. This is entirely new territory. And what was really humiliating was that she had gone out and defended him earlier in the year, blaming the allegations on a vast right-wing conspiracy. This time the vast right-wing conspiracy was correct.
Did Hillary seek counseling or a spiritual group to help her deal with the Lewinsky affair?
She told her husband he needed counseling. It had been said that Hillary wanted to be a part of the counseling. No, Hillary knew that she didn't need counseling. Bill needed counseling. After researching her life, I kept seeing voices of her no nonsense father stepping in and saying, "Hillary, it is Bill who has the problem. You go see the ministers." So this God-squad ends up counseling Clinton. The three ministers—Tony Campolo, Philip Wogaman, and Gordon MacDonald—end up counseling Bill. Ironically, Philip Wogaman is Hillary's pastor of the Methodist church in D.C., the Foundry.
So, Hillary's response was largely, "Bill, get your act together"?
That's right. Some people will see this as overly cynical, but I think it is true. It is difficult to tell when Hillary holds the marriage together for love for her husband or a love for politics. I think both are clearly factors. She has always seen their marriage as a political partnership as well as a marriage. She clearly married her husband out of love. But she has always seen herself as invested in the marriage politically as well as personally.
One way you can tell about someone's personal religious values is how they raise their kids. Do we know anything about Chelsea's faith?
I would say there is another indication of Hillary's faith. She raised a Christian daughter. She saw to it that her daughter went to Bible study and youth ministry. They did want Chelsea to make her own choice of denomination. They allowed her to pick between her father's Baptist faith and her mother's Methodist. She tried Bill's for a little bit. In the end, she felt more comfortable as a Methodist. Apparently, Hillary was happy with that decision.
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also posted today is an excerpt about the influence Hillary Clinton's youth group leader had on her.
God and Hillary Clinton is available from Amazon.com and other book retailers.
CT reviewed God and Ronald Reagan and interviewed Kengor about Reagan's faith. Books & Culture also reviewed the book.
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