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Unpacking Hillary Clinton’s Religion

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to participants at the United Methodist Women's Assembly during an April 26, 2014 worship service at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Clinton is a lifelong member of United Methodist Women. Photo by Paul Jeffrey for United Methodist Women.

In June, Donald Trump said, “We don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion. Now, she’s been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there’s nothing out there.”

Trump’s assertion is widely supported, yet presents an interesting dilemma. In a Pew Research poll taken earlier this year, 43 percent of people did not believe that Clinton was religious at all, but at the same time, 60 percent of voters did not believe Trump was either. When combining these statistics with another Pew poll taken this summer, which states that 62 percent of US adults believe in the importance of a strongly religious candidate, it becomes imperative to dive into each candidate’s religious history.

In today’s political arena, conservative and liberal Christians espouse vastly different views on the definition of a “true Christian,” championing their respective candidates as saviors of the faith and casting aspersions at the other side. On the Democratic side, the public is largely ignorant of Hillary Clinton’s consistent devotion to Methodism throughout her 40-plus years in the public eye. Furthermore, her bona fide faith has strong implications for Christian voters on both sides of the political spectrum, especially for those who place a priority on religiosity. By establishing herself as the Christian candidate in the 2016 presidential race, Clinton could both win over many traditionally conservative Christians and impassion Christian liberals.

There has been no shortage of Christian acts in Clinton’s life. Clinton, who grew up in a Methodist home, worked at the Children’s Defense Fund straight out of law school, going door to door in New Bedford, Massachusetts to support disabled children who had been denied the chance to go to school. As first lady of Arkansas, she taught Sunday school and served on the board of her Methodist church. In the White House, she carried prayer cards, said grace before meals, and even followed the Christian faith’s opposition to divorce, standing by her husband following his infidelities. In 1 John 3:18, the Bible states that a person’s religion is based on their life’s work, “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” In following this verse, there is really no debate: Hillary Clinton is a Christian, full-fledged. However, it is critical that Clinton publicize her religious actions more, as 43 percent of the population remains either unconvinced or uninformed.

The skepticism about Clinton’s religious devotion is driven less by her actual religious leanings, and more by the politics of this election season. Clinton has been rather silent on her personal religious views on the campaign trail, and has not supported a typical socially conservative Christian doctrine. This year, for example, the Methodist Church voted to remove itself from a pro-choice group and reaffirm its antigay marriage stance. As it stands, Clinton is thus disparate from the beliefs of her own church, as she has vocally supported both women’s reproductive rights and gay marriage. However, this still should not discredit her foundational, personal convictions.

Overall, the 74 percent of Republican voters who consider religion a highly important characteristic in a candidate must make serious compromises this November. To vastly simplify their dilemma, they must either sacrifice certain social positions for Christian character (Clinton) or Christian character for certain social positions (Trump). The evidence of Donald Trump’s blatantly non-Christian lifestyle has been on the front pages of every news outlet for the past year. Of course, this does not discredit Hillary’s own flaws, and Donald Trump may very well be a devout believer. Still, since we do not have access to each candidate’s intimately held beliefs, and so we must analyze each candidate’s actions. In regards to actions, Clinton has a clearly established record; Trump does not. Thus, if personal religiosity is actually paramount to these 74 percent of Republican voters, Clinton must be heavily considered instead of being cast away as an unthinkable option.

The response to this dilemma has filled the gamut of voting choices. One may end up like 35-year-old Dejah Miranda-Huxley, who stated, “Neither side reflects my faith,” echoing a public dissatisfaction with both candidates. Others, like 51-year-old Judith Martinez, an evangelical conservative, expect to vote for Trump, but acknowledge that “he’s very crude. He doesn’t value [Mexicans immigrants’] efforts.” Evangelicals, however, are still voting for Trump in large swaths, but are split between voting for Trump and voting against Clinton. Most of all, many religious voters simply want, as 34-year-old Renee Miller states, “a leader who believes in God.” It is highly probable that these evangelicals disillusioned by Trump have little to no information about Clinton’s own religion. Moving forward, Clinton must explicitly state her Christianity on the biggest public stage available to her, the televised debates. By doing so, she could win over people like Miranda-Huxley, Martinez, and Miller, if they become convinced of her deeply-rooted faith.

Until Election Day, Clinton can take several routes to seek out disgruntled Christians from the other side of the aisle. She can look to Utah, where a seething disdain of Donald Trump is prevalent among Mormons, and become more vocal about her faith and its impacts on her life. She can push for moderates with deep religious roots, emphasizing her religiosity over that of Trump’s. At the final presidential debate, she could attack Trump’s Christianity through his expansive history, and use her religious history to bolster her own position as the Christian candidate on stage.

It appears as if Clinton is hesitant to emphasize her religion because she doesn’t want to push away millennials, who are overwhelmingly secular. But, by pushing forward her religious convictions, she may find surprising gains with new groups. Clinton knows that by talking more “God talk” she is indirectly throwing punches at Trump’s campaign platform. She should keep publicizing her religiosity, just as she did at the recent National Baptist Convention, saying “We are commanded to love. Indeed, Jesus made it his greatest commandment.” Here, Clinton is not just uplifting love — she is solidifying her lead against Trump.


About the Author

Kion You '20 is a Culture Section Staff Writer for the Brown Political Review.