Over the past week I have encountered to two very different Hillary Clintons. One is a pious Christian who reads her Bible daily, prays and seeks guidance from trusted pastors. One of the latter, Rev Bill Shillady, put together a book, Strong for a Moment Like This, collecting devotionals that he and other divines sent her each morning during her election run. She wrote the foreword for it. (Unfortunately the book, published last week, has been pulled from sale on account of Shillady’s plagiarism.)
This Hillary would like to be a preacher in her Methodist church. Going by her recent record she would preach about Christ’s commandment to love God and neighbour, about “taking care of the poor, visiting the prisoners, taking in the stranger, creating opportunities for others to be lifted up…” She wants us to “do all the good you can, by all the means you can,” a saying attributed to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.
The other Hillary is the author of her own book, What Happened, her thoughts on the election she lost last November. This Hillary desperately wanted to be the President of the United States and is still aggrieved that it did not happen. She blames herself, but she also blames a lot of other people and circumstances: Bernie Sanders, James B. Comey, Donald Trump of course, Vladimir Putin, sexism, the electoral system – even, astonishingly, the New York Times.
A pious Hillary might be expected to accept the will of God, eat humble pie over losing, and focus on the good that still needs to be done in America. Yet it is understandable that the first woman candidate for the presidency – and one with so much political experience and apparent support – should feel the need to justify her failure, especially when her opponent was a man held in contempt by the establishment, including herself. She might even feel that it is her Christian duty to identify the systematic injustices – “sexism”, “misogyny” – that prevent a woman breaking the ultimate glass ceiling.
Where it becomes really hard to reconcile the two Hillarys, though, is in her persistent, dogged defence of abortion, the issue above all others that divides Americans along religious-secular lines. She doubles down on it in the book.
“After the election,” she writes, “Bernie suggested that Democrats should be open to nominating and supporting candidates who are anti-choice. Other topics, such as economic justice, are sacrosanct, but apparently women’s health is not.”
It’s not just Bernie, she complains, “a lot of progressives join him in thinking that reproductive rights are negotiable.” (Not Bernie, either, it seems, under his proposed Medicare bill – but that’s another story.) Well they are not. In an interview published on the same day as her book was released she reiterated her position that abortion – “a woman’s right to control her body and her health care decisions” — is “a fundamental human right.”
Don’t get her wrong, though. The Democratic Party is a “big tent” and there is room for everybody – so long as pro-lifers park their convictions outside the entry flap. She holds up as a model her campaign running mate, Tim Kaine, who is “personally opposed to abortion because of his Catholic faith but supportive of women’s rights as a matter of law and policy.”
“But when personal views on abortion become public actions – votes on legislation or judges or funding that erode women’s rights – that’s a different matter.”
Of course, Hillary Clinton is not the only religious person who cannot see the fundamental injustice of stamping out the life of a new human being, nor the schizophrenia of being “personally opposed” to abortion but supporting it in public life. The defiantly named Catholics for a Free Choice is the outstanding example of this ignorance – one hesitates to call it downright deceit.
That fundamentalist abortion group, however, has less excuse than Hillary for their attitude since the Catholic Church has taught clearly all through the contemporary abortion debate that abortion contradicts not only the Decalogue (“Thou shalt not kill”) but the great law of love (“what you do to the least of my brethren”) on which the Commandments are based – something that all denominations shared until late modernity.
Hillary, it seems, has been ill-served by a religious tradition that has become indistinguishable from social activism (“do all the good you can”) and owes more to secularising trends than to the Gospel (“take up your cross … lay down your life”). Her exposure as a student to Protestant theologians like Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer seems to have left her with the need for a big Christian tent to give life meaning without tying her down to any really awkward demands.
Pundits are asking this week, what next for Hillary Clinton?
Answer? Definitely not preaching. I suggest three things:
* Get a new pastor.
* Study some theologians who believe in the God of Jesus Christ, and not just in some vague figure who sprinkles “meaning” like stardust on our lives.
* Study philosophy, preferably Aquinas, but beginning with logic.
After that, maybe a sermon.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.