Candidate Clinton goes public with her private faith
She doesn't cede religious turf to conservatives but dismays some liberals.
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But there are some on the right who take Clinton's faith at face value. Richard Land, head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, has met both Clinton and Obama, and concluded that religion is an important part of their lives.Skip to next paragraph
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"My impression is that Clinton and Obama both come out of a social gospel kind of background, which is a long-standing tradition in our country, and that it's authentic with both of them," he says.
A link to methodist founder
Clinton traces her Methodist roots back several generations, perhaps even to John Wesley himself, the founder of the Methodist Church in the 18th century. In her memoirs, "Living History," she writes that her father's parents claimed they became Methodists because their great-grandparents were converted by Wesley in the coal-mining villages around Newcastle in northern England and in South Wales.
Clinton's mother, Dorothy Rodham, was not raised in any religion, but she adopted her husband's faith and taught Sunday school at First United Methodist Church in their hometown of Park Ridge, Ill. Clinton's father, Hugh Rodham, did not attend church, but he prayed by his bed every night, Clinton writes.
"Prayer became a source of solace and guidance for me even as a child," she writes.
She attended Bible school, Sunday school, and youth group, and helped prepare the altar for Sunday's services. In the sixth grade, she was confirmed in her church, and by her freshman year in high school in the fall of 1961, was ready for the "University of Life" – the youth fellowship program. All the while, she says, she sought to balance her conservative father's focus on self-reliance with her mother's interest in social justice.
Then along came the Rev. Don Jones, a charismatic youth minister fresh out of seminary and the Navy.
"He was filled with the teachings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr," Clinton writes. "Bonhoeffer stressed that the role of a Christian was a moral one of total engagement in the world with the promotion of human development. Niebuhr struck a persuasive balance between a clear-eyed realism about human nature and an unrelenting passion for justice and social reform." Clinton says she had never met anyone like him. He was struck by her as well.
"What I [saw] in her was clearly a very good searching and clear mind," Mr. Jones says in an interview. "She was already a little brain child, a budding intellectual, I would say. So her interest in my ministry and my version of the gospel and the Christian faith was to some extent intellectual. She would come up after one of our sessions and talk to me about a fine point about something I had said."
Jones used art and literature to show his students a world beyond their "Happy Days" life. He introduced them to the writings of e.e. cummings and T.S. Eliot, to the paintings of Pablo Picasso – most memorably, his depiction of war in "Guernica" – and to important films of the day, such as Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and François Truffaut's "The 400 Blows." Each served as a springboard for church-basement discussions on spirituality, grace, and redemption.
From faith to action
Clinton was also drawn to the Methodist tradition of putting faith into action, to what Jones calls her "practical search for the relevance of Christianity." At age 15, with help from her mother and from Jones, Clinton organized babysitting brigades for the children of migrant workers who labored in the fields not far from Park Ridge. Clinton and her friends brought Kool-Aid, games, and materials for arts and crafts projects.