The Common Good

Denouncing the Hillary Haters

Last week I wrote about unfair attacks on Sen. Barack Obama's faith. And though it hasn't been in the headlines as recently, Sen. Hillary Clinton has also faced a steady stream of criticism of her faith. Christianity Today summarizes in sad detail and rightly debunks these "baseless blows to the former first lady" in a recent editorial, which I recommend reading:



The talk-show host, Robert Mangino, responded in a way that epitomizes many evangelicals' reaction to Hillary: "I know it sounds judgmental, but I just can't believe she's a Christian. I think all of her talk of faith is pure politics."


From all sides of the political spectrum, evangelicals respond with a surprising amount of disgust upon hearing Hillary's name. ...


Some prominent conservative Christians, although toned down in their language, have nonetheless relied on cheap shots to join in the fun. At a 2004 Republican convention, a Family Research Council spokesman passed out fortune cookies with the following message: #1 reason to ban human cloning: Hillary Clinton. The late Jerry Falwell, though not noted for his tactful public statements, announced at a 2006 Values Voter Summit his wishes for this year's election: "I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate. Because nothing would energize my [constituency] like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't."


The editorial points to a higher ground from which Christians should discuss politics - both for the sake of the person in question, and relationships inside and outside of the church:



While the loudest political voices this election season will keep only a loose rein on their tongues, evangelicals do well to ponder the Bible's insights into the mysterious yet profound connection between a person's heart and mouth: "The things that come out of the mouth," says Jesus, "come from the heart." Which is why Paul says, "Now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips" (Col. 3:8). Biblical psychology assumes not only that the words of our mouths reveal the state of our hearts, but that words have power to shape the heart-for better or worse.


What's more, vitriolic language directed at political figures does not, to use the Pauline metaphor, attract others with "the aroma of Christ." It just creates a stench, making it more difficult to nurture relationships with those who want to meet Christ and who happen to support Clinton. Such talk easily slides into denigrating those on the other side of the political spectrum-who may just be on the other side of the aisle on Sunday mornings.


None of this precludes vigorous and pointed disagreement in the public square. Neither John the Baptist nor Jesus nor Paul was always meek and mild when they challenged the principalities and powers. But when vigorous political discourse turns into bashing of public figures, it perpetuates a great lie: that they are merely the ideologies and symbols attached to them. When a candidate's ideology is mistaken for his or her personhood, it masks a crucial truth: that each person, no matter their political views, bears God's image and matters deeply to him.


While pundits see candidates as punching bags, evangelicals are supposed to see candidates as, well, people.


I can't count the number of times that reporters have asked me about Hillary's religion, just assuming she must be pandering. One asked, "when was the first time Hilary talked to you about her faith?" I said that it was the first time I met her - after she came to Washington in 1992. The reporter didn't seem to believe me. I explained, as I have to many reporters, how Hillary Clinton was a Methodist youth group kid in Chicago, where her youth pastor took teenagers on "urban plunges" to the inner city and to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak. Her Methodism is apparent in her longtime advocacy for children, as well as other issues. Agree or disagree with her politics, it's clear that Hillary Clinton is a committed Christian laywoman.

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