Clinton and Obama’s Religious Choices

Initially Hillary Clinton tried to use surrogates to attack Obama over his association with Wright. Now that Obama has not only survived but has turned this to his advantage, Clinton is getting involved personally. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Clinton said:

“He would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said. “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend.”

Yes, this is true. I would count Obama’s association with Wright as a negative–but a very minor one considering that it is clear that Obama does not share Wright’s more controversial views.

Everyone has a choice in who they associate with and if we are going to criticize Obama’s choice we should also look at who Hillary Clinton has chosen to affiliate with. Last September Mother Jones took a look at the choice Hillary Clinton made, reporting that “For 15 years, Hillary Clinton has been part of a secretive religious group that seeks to bring Jesus back to Capitol Hill.” They note who Clinton has associated with:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection.

If you are concerned about who Obama has associated with, then also look at her association with Doug Coe, as well as who he associates with:

Coe’s friends include former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Reaganite Edwin Meese III, and ultraconservative Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.). Under Coe’s guidance, Meese has hosted weekly prayer breakfasts for politicians, businesspeople, and diplomats, and Pitts rose from obscurity to head the House Values Action Team, an off-the-record network of religious right groups and members of Congress created by Tom DeLay. The corresponding Senate Values Action Team is guided by another Coe protégé, Brownback, who also claims to have recruited King Abdullah of Jordan into a regular study of Jesus’ teachings.

This group is interested in pushing a conservative social agenda which Hillary Clinton has become a backer of:

The Fellowship isn’t out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward.

This is in line with the Christian right’s long-term strategy. Francis Schaeffer, late guru of the movement, coined the term “cobelligerency” to describe the alliances evangelicals must forge with conservative Catholics. Colson, his most influential disciple, has refined the concept of cobelligerency to deal with less-than-pure politicians. In this application, conservatives sit pretty and wait for liberals looking for common ground to come to them. Clinton, Colson told us, “has a lot of history” to overcome, but he sees her making the right moves.

These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into what may be Coe’s most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.

Unlikely partnerships have become a Clinton trademark. Some are symbolic, such as her support for a ban on flag burning with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and funding for research on the dangers of video games with Brownback and Santorum. But Clinton has also joined the gop on legislation that redefines social justice issues in terms of conservative morality, such as an anti-human-trafficking law that withheld funding from groups working on the sex trade if they didn’t condemn prostitution in the proper terms. With Santorum, Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; she didn’t back off even after Republican senators such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter pulled their names from the bill citing concerns that the measure would protect those refusing to perform key aspects of their jobs—say, pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions, or police officers who won’t guard abortion clinics.

Clinton has championed federal funding of faith-based social services, which she embraced years before George W. Bush did; Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, says that the Clintons’ approach to faith-based initiatives “set the stage for Bush.” Clinton has also long supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that has become a purity test for any candidate wishing to avoid war with the Christian right.

Liberal rabbi Michael Lerner, whose “politics of meaning” Clinton made famous in a speech early in her White House tenure, sees the senator’s ambivalence as both more and less than calculated opportunism. He believes she has genuine sympathy for liberal causes—rights for women, gays, immigrants—but often will not follow through. “There is something in her that pushes her toward caring about others, as long as there’s no price to pay. But in politics, there is a price to pay.”

In politics, those who pay tribute to the powerful also reap rewards. When Ed Klein’s attack bio, The Truth About Hillary, came out in 2005, some of her most prominent defenders were Christian conservatives, among them Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler. “Christians,” he declared, “should repudiate this book and determine to take no pleasure in it.”

Clinton’s conservative social views have been noticed by others such as the Cato Institute:

The libertarian Cato Institute recently observed that Clinton is “adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism.” Clinton suggests as much herself in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, where she writes approvingly of religious groups’ access to schools, lessons in Scripture, and “virtue” making a return to the classroom.

Then, as now, Clinton confounded secularists who recognize public faith only when it comes wrapped in a cornpone accent. Clinton speaks instead the language of nondenominationalism—a sober, eloquent appreciation of “values,” the importance of prayer, and “heart” convictions—which liberals, unfamiliar with the history of evangelical coalition building, mistake for a tidy, apolitical accommodation, a personal separation of church and state. Nor do skeptical voters looking for political opportunism recognize that, when Clinton seeks guidance among prayer partners such as Coe and Brownback, she is not so much triangulating—much as that may have become second nature—as honoring her convictions. In her own way, she is a true believer.

There are things to be concerned about with regards to who both Obama and Clinton have associated with. The difference is that Obama does not share in many of Wright’s views and has been a strong defender of separation of church and state. While Clinton does sometimes disagree with the members of the religious right which she associates with, primarily on abortion, Clinton’s public policy views are very much influenced by the religious right and she is an opponent of separation of church and state. With all these ties to conservatives and their views I might remind readers that Hillary Clinton was an old Goldwater Girl but that would be an insult to Barry Goldwater who opposed the influence of the religious right.

Update: Hillary Clinton Teams Up With Fellow Conservatives To Attack Obama

Update II: More On Hillary’s Choice and The Vast Rightwing Conspiracy



  1. 1
    Albert Johnson Jr says:

    Hillary Clinton is truly a nasty piece of work. Even if one does not consider the supposedly inflammatory nature of the Wright sermons, she took an opportunity to promote healing or at least thought provoking discussion, and instead parroted a line that even the conservative nominee and the man he defeated has abandoned.

    I have no doubt Hillary would have left her church and the place that introduced her to Jesus because it is abundantly clear that there is no belief, no ethic, no moral, or important relationship she would not gladly sacrifice in order to further her own naked ambition. However, she should get that choice. These are the words of her pastor in the white house for 8 years Dean J Snyder the Senior Minister of the Foundry United Methodist church. The Clintons church while they were in the white house.


    The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is an outstanding church leader
    whom I have heard speak a number of times. He has served for
    decades as a profound voice for justice and inclusion in our society.
    He has been a vocal critic of the racism, sexism and homophobia
    which still tarnish the American dream. To evaluate his dynamic
    ministry on the basis of two or three sound bites does a grave
    injustice to Dr. Wright, the members of his congregation, and the
    African-American church which has been the spiritual refuge of a
    people that has suffered from discrimination, disadvantage, and
    violence. Dr. Wright, a member of an integrated denomination, has
    been an agent of racial reconciliation while proclaiming perceptions
    and truths uncomfortable for some white people to hear. Those of us
    who are white Americans would do well to listen carefully to Dr.
    Wright rather than to use a few of his quotes to polarize. This is a
    critical time in America’s history as we seek to repent of our racism.
    No matter which candidates prevail, let us use this time to listen again
    to one another and not to distort one another’s truth.

    Over 2 million Americans have seen the full context of the Rev. Wright’s sermon on YouTube. So, when Hillary says it’s out there for people to make up their minds I hope they truly do.

    Hillary is a political succubus. She will suck the energy and will from this party until we are broken and defeated.

    We have to defeat this person.

  2. 2
    Lex says:

    I tried to discuss this issue elsewhere about 10 days ago. Guess what i found out? We’re misinterpreting her affiliation. She doesn’t stand for the same things as “The Fellowship”, she doesn’t even always attend. Moreover, “The Family” (as they apparently prefer to be called in public, which is kind of funny because when someone says “the Family” i think of patchouli scented, dreadlocked hippies selling doses at a Dead show) does a lot of good in communities around the country.

    In other words, her supporters defense to this is the same as Obama supporters defending Trinity United and Rev. Wright.

    Maybe it’s as Chris Rock has said, “If it’s all white…it’s alright.”

  3. 3
    ChenZhen says:

    “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend.”

    Of course, you can also choose to divorce a husband who decided to soil an intern’s dress with his semen, but pointing that out would be taking the low road, I suppose.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:


    The problem is that few of the people who support Clinton would be expected to care.

    A tremendous amount of Clinton’s support comes from women who support her because they want a woman president and they don’t care about details such as what she believes.

    For those who do realize what the Clintonistas believe, they’d already realize that they are actually conservative populists, not liberals (in terms of social and civil liberties issues).

    This leads to the third group–those who support their economic populism because they think they will help them out more economically. In this case the hope for economic benefits of voting for her out weight other principles.

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