Hillary's Faith and Practice

Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President Bush, takes a look at Sen. Hillary Clinton's faith and practice.
Clinton is neither secular nor awkward about her faith. She cites her Methodist upbringing as a formative experience, with its emphasis on "preaching and practicing the social gospel." As a teenager in 1962, she heard and met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago -- what would have been a profound experience for a spiritually alert youth -- and was later politically radicalized by his assassination. The likely Democratic nominee participates regularly in small-group Bible studies and is familiar with the works of Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- the theological heroes of mainline Protestantism (and of some stray Evangelicals like myself).

In a nation obsessed by the influence of religious conservatives, it is easy to forget that liberal Protestants were once the dominant cultural influence in America. Beginning in the early 20th century, the social gospel advanced swiftly through most American denominations. Progressive presidents such as Woodrow Wilson spoke in the cadences of this movement: "Christianity was just as much intended to save society as to save the individual, and there is a sense in which it is more important that it should save society."
Of course his main obsession with Senator Clinton is how she squares her stand for social equality with her stand on reproductive choice.
At the same time ... her defense of abortion rights has been strident, even radical. She has attacked pro-life people as enemies of "evidence," "science" and "the Constitution." And she has blamed pro-life "ideologues" for the prevalence of abortions because of their "silent war on contraception" -- a remarkable accusation that Roman Catholic opposition to birth control is somehow responsible for abortion in America.
At the risk of teaching biology without a license, lack of contraception is the leading cause of pregnancy, and people who become pregnant have been known to choose whether or not to carry the pregnancy to term. So, yes, opposition to contraception does lead to abortion.

It is interesting that Mr. Gerson is willing to give Senator Clinton the same credit for being a person of faith without accusing her of coldly calculating to garner votes from the religious voters, but he wonders if she can pull it off.
How are religious voters likely to respond to a religious believer who is also a social liberal? Roman Catholics, with their strong commitment to the poor, should be open to a Democratic message of economic justice. A majority of Christians, Catholic and Protestant, support the goals of broader health coverage and increased humanitarian aid abroad. But the most intensely religious Americans of both traditions also tend to be the most conservative on moral issues such as abortion. And it is hard to imagine that these voters will be successfully courted by the most comprehensively pro-choice presidential candidate in American history.
Not all religious voters are single-issue voters, and the Religious Reich weren't going to vote for Hillary Clinton regardless of her stand on abortion. And if they have trouble squaring her social views and religious views, at least she has been consistent compared with the Republicans; John McCain jumps between Baptist and Episcopalian depending on who he's pandering to (I was surprised to see he didn't wear a yarmulke last week for Yom Kippur); Rudy Giuliani, a nominal Roman Catholic, has been all over the map on choice and gay rights in between writing alimony checks; Mitt Romney's Mormonism is still seen as a cult by the True Believers, and Fred Thompson doesn't go to church at all. Yet the GOP is willing to give them all a pass while giving Hillary Clinton the third degree?

Perhaps I'm incredibly naive, but I've never cared what religion a candidate was when deciding whether or not to vote for them, and I really don't care whether or not their faith informs their public policy. I do care how they practice their public policy, and that's all that really matters anyway.

Crossposted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.

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