On Election Day in 2016, the American public saw Hillary Clinton vote at an elementary school in New York, saying she was thinking of her mother. They heard her voice on the radio, encouraging people to cast their ballots. They learned that she was at a Manhattan hotel, practicing the victory speech she expected to deliver and the concession speech she hoped not to need.
What they didn’t know was that she was praying.
Almost every hour of the day, as Election Day wore on, Rev. Bill Shillady emailed Clinton a prayer, and she paused to read it.
These hourly prayers, as well as the prayer that Clinton read the next day when she and the rest of the nation awoke to the shock that she was not going to be president, are now made public in a new book by Clinton’s spiritual adviser.
But the day before the book’s Tuesday release, the author admitted that portions of it inappropriately match the earlier writing of another pastor.
Indiana pastor Matt Deuel read a prominent piece of Shillady’s book — the email Shillady sent to Clinton the morning after the 2016 election — when CNN published it last week. He recognized it as resembling his own March 2016 blog post and on Saturday he contacted a reporter for CNN, which first published the news Monday.
Shillady apologized on Monday night. In a statement, he said, “My entire approach to this book project has been to credit all of the many ministers and sources who contributed to the devotionals that were written for Hillary over the course of the campaign. In preparing the devotional on the morning of November 9, I was determined to provide comfort with the familiar adage that ‘It’s Friday But Sunday is Coming.’ I searched for passages that offered perspective of this theme. I am now stunned to realize the similarity between Matt Deuel’s blog sermon and my own. Clearly, portions of my devotional that day incorporate his exact words. Matt and I have spoken. He was extremely gracious and understanding. I have assured him he will receive full credit moving forward.”
Starting in 2015, when Clinton announced her candidacy for president, Shillady — a United Methodist clergyman in New York and personal friend of the Clintons who highlights his Christmas and Easter dinners with them in the book — decided to send Clinton a personal devotional text every morning of her run for office.
The morning emails were private at the time. Now, Shillady has compiled them in a book, just as Joshua DuBois did in 2013 with President Barack Obama’s devotional readings.
The challenged text is the one that Shillady put first in the book, knowing it would garner the most attention: the email meant to uplift Clinton the morning after her election loss.
It includes sentences almost identical to Deuel’s: “For the disciples and Christ’s followers in the first century, Good Friday represented the day that everything fell apart. All was lost. The momentum and hope of a man claiming to be the Son of God, the Messiah who was supposed to change everything, had been executed. … Death will be shattered. Hope will be restored. But first, we must live through the darkness and seeming hopelessness of Friday.”
The publisher, Abingdon Press, said it will cite Deuel in future printings of the book, “Strong for a Moment Like This.”
Shillady says that since the election, prayer has been key to Clinton’s outlook.
“I had lunch with her a couple weeks ago,” he said earlier this month. “She is personally fine. She is coping fine. She was brokenhearted, of course, at the outcome of the election. She has told me that the love of her family, and her faith, and the concern of 66 million people who voted for her have helped her find hope in the midst of that darkness. And the devotionals following the election were some of the most significant and poignant for her.”
The Election Day emails in the book, which have not been challenged, are also revealing. The messages started at 6 a.m., when Clinton read, “God, bring order out of the chaos of these last few months. Set us free from the turmoil.” Half an hour later, she read Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
As the day wore on, Clinton read Revelation and Joshua, Philippians and Romans, Matthew and John. When the polls started to close, she read a new prayer, “We thank you that your love for us does not end or begin with the outcome of these elections. Long after the importance of this day fades away, when our faith has been tested and our hope torn away, your deep and abiding love will remain. Amen.”
The book demonstrates Clinton’s close connection to her faith — and raises the implicit question of why she wasn’t more public about the centrality of prayer to her life.
In a 2016 Pew poll, 43 percent of voters said they thought Clinton was “not too religious” or “not at all religious,” although the former secretary of state was raised Methodist, once taught Sunday school and has identified strongly with the church’s teachings throughout her career.
“She’s a Midwestern Methodist, and a lot of Methodists just don’t talk much about their faith,” Shillady said. He heard criticism of Clinton from some liberal Christians, who felt a stronger message about religion and a more concerted outreach to churches by her campaign staff might have improved her electoral chances.
“I think it would have been good for her to do that,” he agreed, but said more talk about religion might not have made much difference. “She is a sincere person of faith. And I know I won’t convince her critics of that.”
Although the phrase “Hillary’s emails” might conjure up nightmares for many a Democrat, Shillady’s book is full of them. Shillady excerpts many of the emails he exchanged with the candidate, proving that she was engaged by his often-lengthy morning devotionals. “I’ve never seen that phrase ‘the valley of vision’ or the prayer before. Another mind-opening gift from your daily message,” she replied to a devotional musing on the story of Jonah one morning. “It has been a stressful few days, so words of encouragement and reminders of the True Light from Scripture are most welcome,” she emailed in July 2016.
Mary Catherine Dean, the editor in chief of Abingdon Press, said in a statement on Monday night that these emails remain an important historical insight into the Clinton campaign, despite the late-breaking plagiarism allegation.
“Abingdon Press is committed to ensuring scrupulous accuracy from its authors. Strong For A Moment Like This is a heavily annotated work, in which Reverend Shillady has credited more than 200 sources. We worked with Reverend Shillady to faithfully cite all of the many contributors to the devotionals. We fully accept his explanation that he did not intentionally leave Matt Deuel’s passages unattributed, and we appreciate that he apologized to Matt immediately upon realizing his mistake,” her statement said. “His failure to attribute portions of the November 9 devotional does not change the fact that the 365 passages in the book were sent to Hillary Clinton, are part of the historical record of her campaign, and gave her the inspiration to stay strong.”
For his part, the pastor whose words Shillady inappropriately used told CNN that he harbors no hard feelings. “The last thing the world needs right now is two pastors having a public dispute over a blog,” Deuel told the network. He also said, “If my blog then, in turn, inspired Rev. Shillady and it was used to encourage Hillary Clinton, then praise God for that! Could it have been done differently? Probably. But for me to fire back publicly would be inappropriate and out of line on my part. I have attempted to contact Rev. Shillady to process this with him. I trust that the grace and forgiveness we find through our faith in Jesus will lead us to grace and reconciliation with each other.”
This article has been updated.