LOUISVILLE, K.Y. — By all accounts, Hillary Clinton is a devoted Methodist whose life has been guided by the church's obligations to help the less fortunate and advocate for those who have no voice. But Clinton's proclamation of her faith, once a regular part of her public discourse, has been absent of late.
Clinton addressed the United Methodist Women Assembly here Saturday morning, a "homecoming" that allowed her and others to celebrate the works Methodist women are doing across the country and world. But could it also be a return to the idea that Clinton will talk more publicly about her faith, especially as she prepares for a potential presidential run in 2016?
"I have always cherished the Methodist Church because it gave us the great gift of personal salvation but also the great obligation of social gospel," Clinton said to the group of 7,000 women gathered here. "And I took that very seriously and have tried, tried to be guided in my own life ever since as an advocate for children and families, for women and men around the world who are oppressed and persecuted, denied their human rights and human dignity."
Clinton once spoke freely and openly about her faith. Her 1996 book, “It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us,” has an entire chapter devoted to religion. Clinton wrote about how she and former President Bill Clinton were struck by the profound spiritual questions their daughter Chelsea and her friends raised and her deep roots in the Methodist faith.
"Religion figures in my earliest memories of my family," Clinton wrote, and said that the family's quest for spirituality was continual. "Our spiritual life as a family was spirited and constant," she wrote. "We talked with God, walked with God, ate, studied and argued with God. Each night, we knelt by our beds to pray before we went to sleep."
Clinton also spoke at the 1996 United Methodist Convention.
“The Church was a critical part of my growing up, and in preparing for this event, I almost couldn't even list all the ways it influenced me, and helped me develop as a person, not only on my own faith journey, but with a sense of obligations to others,” she said in 1996, adding that Methodism “has been important to me for as long as I can remember.”
Clinton has spoke about how she was profoundly influenced by Don Jones, her youth pastor in Illinois, and by being active in religious, socially active groups at Wellesley College.
Prior to her 2008 presidential run, Clinton started alluding to her faith, speaking about her prayer life and peppering her phrases with bible references.
"It has certainly been a huge part of who I am, and how I have seen the world and what I believe in, and what I have tried to do in my life,” Clinton told the New York Times.
But her faith was criticized, both by conservatives who thought her personal practice of religion was too liberal, and liberals who didn't want her talking about religion.
Burns Strider, Clinton's faith adviser in 2008, said Clinton was reluctant to speak about religion while campaigning and preferred to worship quietly. And that's exactly what she's done for the past six years, rarely invoking religion during her tenure as secretary of state.
“She’s been out and about the planet working and doing things and speaking out, especially on things that Methodists would categorize as social justice issues,” Strider said. “And this is a homecoming.”
However, this homecoming is tied to something very political — the launch of Faith Voters for Hillary, a Web site that looks to recruit religious supporters of Clinton ahead of a possible 2016 run. The site is tied to @Faith4Hillary, a Twitter page that launched about a year ago and has 34,000 followers. They were the brainchild of Strider, now vice president of the superPAC American Bridge, and Nashville businessman Rick Hendrix. They are not affiliated with American Bridge.
Whether or not Clinton speaks about her faith, the push to recruit religious supporters of hers is on. Faith Voters for Hillary plans to hold breakfast for faith leaders and members of their congregations. The next is Friday in Columbia, S.C. Whether Clinton will keep speaking about her faith remains to be seen, but certainly there is a desire to recruit people who would like to hear her do so.
Note: This post has been updated to correct Hendrix's name.