On Thursday, we suggested Hillary Clinton would do wise to share something about her personal faith when speaking to the largest organization of African American Baptists later that day. The extent to which she did so — and demonstrated her comfort with the language of faith — was among the most impressive things she has done in the campaign.
Getting in a dig at Trump, showing respect for the role of faith in public life and simultaneously showing her felicity with scripture, she said:
You deserve a sustained commitment to expanding opportunity, equity, and justice, not just for two or four years, not just when the cameras are on and people are watching, but every single day. And you know better than anyone that people who look at the African American community and see only poverty, crime, and despair are missing so much. They’re missing the vibrancy of black-owned businesses, the excellence of historically black colleges and universities. They’re missing the success of black leaders in every field, and the passion of a new generation of young black activists. And yes, they are missing the strength of the black church, the solid rock on which so much is built.
Well, I see you. I see the work you do and the lives you change. And today I want to say something that you don’t hear often enough: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for answering the charge given to us by Jesus, as Matthew records, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, welcome the stranger. Thank you for loving all people, especially the least, the last, and the lost among us.
She mentioned her own credentials (“We are commanded to love. Indeed, Jesus made it his greatest commandment. When I used to teach the occasional Sunday school class, I often taught on that lesson”). She reeled off the long list of African American churches she has visited (unlike Donald Trump, who made a single perfunctory showing in a Detroit church last week) and recounted the community service of the particular pastors at these churches.
The heart of her speech was her testimony, if you will, about her own faith and its role in her life:
Sometimes people ask me, ‘Are you a praying person?’ And I tell me if I wasn’t one before – whoo, one week living in the White House or on the campaign trail would have turned me into a praying person.
But I had the great blessing to be raised by a family and a church that instilled in me a deep and abiding Christian faith and practice. I still remember my late father – a gruff former Navy man – on his knees praying by his bed every night. That made a big impression on me as a young girl, seeing him humble himself before God.
My mother taught Sunday school in our church, partly she said because she wanted to make sure that my brothers actually showed up at Sunday school when they walked out the door. Her faith was rooted in gratitude for the love that helped her survive a painful childhood after her own family abandoned and mistreated her. . . . My mother was determined to pay that kindness forward. And she really liked the Wesleyan credo of our church, ‘Do all the good you can for all the people you can in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.’ I was also so blessed to have a remarkable youth minister who believed, like John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, that the world is my parish. He told us – these young white kids in a suburban area of Chicago – you can’t just be satisfied in your own church, in your own middle-class life; we’re going into the inner city of Chicago, we’re going into church basements for fellowship with young people your age from African American churches and Hispanic churches. That was the first time I was in a black church, when I was a teenager.
She recalled her visit as a student to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speak in Chicago and the impact it had on her. (“His words, the power of his example, affected me deeply and added to the lessons of my minister to face the world as it is, not as we might want it to be, but to commit ourselves to turning it into what it should be.”) And she explained how her embrace of ” an activist social justice faith, a roll-up-your-sleeves and get-your-hands-dirty faith” brought her to work for children’s rights. Quoting St. Francis of Assisi, The Epistle of James, the Prophet Micah (“do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”) and St. Paul she delivered what amounted to a homily on good works, humility and gratitude:
Humility is not something you hear much about in politics, is it? But we should. None of us is perfect. St. Paul reminds us we all see through a glass darkly and for now only know in part. It’s because of that, because of the limitations we all face, that faith requires a leap, the conviction of things unseen. It’s because of our limitations and imperfections that we must reach out beyond ourselves, to God and to each other. It isn’t easy, but I have learned to be grateful not just for my blessings but also for my faults – and there are plenty! I’ve made my share of mistakes. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. Everyone here today has stumbled on their own stony paths. It’s grace that lifts us up, and grace that leads us home.
Maybe with a nod to her own recent scandals, she also noted that “it’s also our job to learn from our mistakes; to do all we can to do better next time, and to stay grateful. To live by the ‘discipline of gratitude.’” She told the audience, “Our Christian faith is a journey that never ends. It’s a constant challenge to live up to our own hopes and ideals. To love and forgive others as we want to be loved and forgiven ourselves.”
It was an impressive and seemingly heartfelt presentation which did what it was intended to do — make Clinton seem more human, more open and even more humble. All of it — the tone, the scripture, the life experience — so exceeds anything Trump would be capable of presenting that it puts to shame (if they are still capable of feeling shame) the evangelist posers whose signed onto Trump’s campaign under the banner of “values voters.”
Perhaps a significant share of religious voters will for the first time cast votes for a Democrat for president. That would be good for both parties — freeing the GOP from the grip of a small faction of religious leaders and making Democrats more cognizant of the views of people of faith.