Pastor Hillary Rodham Clinton?

Is there more, or less, here than meets the eye?

By Dave Andrusko

Hillary Clinton speaks at Union Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, in October 2016. Carlos Barria / Reuters

Hillary Clinton speaks at Union Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, in October 2016.
Carlos Barria / Reuters

Editor’s note. My family and I will be on vacation through August 25. I will occasionally add new items but for the most part we will repost “the best of the best” — the stories our readers have told us they especially liked over the last ten months.

When Hillary Clinton delivered a gracious concession speech after her totally unexpected loss to Donald Trump, there were several passages that caught my attention, none more than the very end:

Because, you know — you know, I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. You know, scripture tells us, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart” [Galatians 6:9 ].

So my friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary, let us not lose heart, for there are more seasons to come. And there is more work to do.

I am incredibly honored and grateful to have had this chance to represent all of you in this consequential election.

May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.

If ever for a nanosecond I might have thought Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life as a candidate had come and gone, the part about “more work to do” reminded me that if Joe Biden can drop hints about running in 2020, surely so, too, could/would the hyper-ambitious Mrs. Clinton.

I mention this today because, as you may have read, a story appeared in the Atlantic this week, written by a good reporter, which is headlined, “Hillary wants to preach.” Here is Emma Green’s opening paragraph:

Hillary Clinton wants to preach. That’s what she told Bill Shillady, her longtime pastor, at a recent photo shoot for his new book about the daily devotionals he sent her during the 2016 campaign. Scattered bits of reporting suggest that ministry has always been a secret dream of the two-time presidential candidate: Last fall, the former Newsweek editor Kenneth Woodward revealed that Clinton told him in 1994 that she thought “all the time” about becoming an ordained Methodist minister. She asked him not to write about it, though: “It will make me seem much too pious.” The incident perfectly captures Clinton’s long campaign to modulate—and sometimes obscure—expressions of her faith.

I would never question her Methodist faith (or anyone else’s) or its sincerity. But I’m guessing we need to put this new knowledge in a larger context.

We can start with What Happened, Clinton’s own forthcoming book (in which we hear once again that in explaining how she lost, Clinton will come off essentially blameless) and a book of devotions, Strong for a Moment Like This, written by Bill Shillady.

“Shillady, who runs the United Methodist City Society in New York, wrote the book at Clinton’s suggestion; he said his is the only book for which Clinton has agreed to write a foreword,” Green tells us. “Clinton and her staffers read and approved the copy ahead of time.” (Remember that vetting when we get to the end of this post.)

Two points. If advance scuttlebutt about What Happened is accurate, it’ll be 500+ pages of vintage Hillary Rodham Clinton: vindictive, score-settling, and bathed in self-pity about not being able to break the “highest and hardest glass ceiling.” I attend a Methodist church and I’m pretty sure John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, would not approve.

Second, Green’s wholly uncritical essay shifts between seeing this purported desire to preach as Clinton “finally becoming a more straightforward version of herself: a woman whose fondest ambition is teaching scripture in church,” and hints that this might be a preemptive outreach to “white, working-class voters, many of whom are mainline Protestants and Catholics.” Against her husband’s counsel, Clinton conceded this bloc to Trump in a vain effort to get the band back together again–aka reassemble the coalition that twice carried Barack Obama to victory.

For example, Green writes, “Strong for a Moment Like This emerges from a project Shillady started shortly after Clinton said she was running for president in 2015. Every morning, he would get up at 4 a.m. to pick out a bit of Scripture and write a quick devotional for Clinton to use in the day ahead.”

Yet while “Shillady insists his new book is not intended to be political” (“It’s an inspirational book”), Green observes, “Perhaps it’s inspirational literature fit for an age of toxic partisanship: Tucked among the passages on hope, blessings, and prayer are subtle shots at Trump.” Moreover

Shillady paraphrased the theologian Karl Barth, saying he wrote with “a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other”; he wanted to show that he was crafting the devotionals in response to current events. But many of the news clippings and tweets peppered in the margins date from after the conclusion of the project. They seem carefully curated to vindicate not just Clinton’s faithfulness, but her political record as well. [My underlining.]

To repeat, I would never question anyone’s faith. But it’s worth noting (as Mark Kellner observed) “BuzzFeed reports Clinton’s ‘resistance’ political action committee has hired two former campaign staffers, suggesting a different course for the 2016 nominee, perhaps another run for the presidency in 2020.”