Hillary’s Religion Problem

A fascinating read from the Nation by Barbara Ehrenreich:

There’s a reason Hillary Clinton has remained relatively silent during the flap over intemperate remarks by Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. When it comes to unsavory religious affiliations, she’s a lot more vulnerable than Obama.

You can find all about it in a widely under-read article in the September 2007 issue of Mother Jones, in which Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet reported that “through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as “The “Fellowship,” also known as The Family. But it won’t be a secret much longer. Jeff Sharlet’s shocking exposé The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power will be published in May.


At the heart of The Family’s American branch is a collection of powerful right-wing politicos, who include, or have included, Sam Brownback, Ed Meese, John Ashcroft, James Inhofe and Rick Santorum.


Clinton fell in with The Family in 1993, when she joined a Bible study group composed of wives of conservative leaders like Jack Kemp and James Baker. When she ascended to the Senate, she was promoted to what Sharlet calls the Family’s “most elite cell,” the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, which included, until his downfall, Virginia’s notoriously racist Senator George Allen. This has not been a casual connection for Clinton. She has written of Doug Coe, The Family’s publicity-averse leader, that he is “a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God.”

Furthermore, The Family takes credit for some of Clinton’s rightward legislative tendencies, including her support for a law guaranteeing “religious freedom” in the workplace, such as for pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics.


Sharlet generously attributes Clinton’s involvement to the under-appreciated depth of her religiosity, but he himself struggles to define The Family’s theological underpinnings. The Family avoids the word Christian but worships Jesus, though not the Jesus who promised the earth to the “meek.” They believe that, in mass societies, it’s only the elites who matter, the political leaders who can build God’s “dominion” on earth. Insofar as The Family has a consistent philosophy, it’s all about power–cultivating it, building it and networking it together into ever-stronger units, or “cells.” “We work with power where we can,” Doug Coe has said, and “build new power where we can’t.”

I’ve always taken Hillary’s right-wing legislative initiatives to be her way to triangulate, i.e. coming up with false issues in order to get the support of people who would not normally be a part of her natural base. I mean, what was up with her co -sponsorship of the legislation that would criminalize flag burning? First, does anyone really think that flag burning is a real problem in this country? I don’t think serious people do. But I always assumed she did that kind of crap to try to appeal to conservatives, independents and low information voters. It appears there could be something more sinister behind that crap.

Also, I’m wondering if this association might explain her vote in support of Bush’s war.

That Hillary associates with a group whose consistent philosophy has to do with power-cultivation is no surprise.


4 responses to “Hillary’s Religion Problem

  1. I [heart] Barbara Ehrenreich and this is an interesting read. I just can’t see a reference to Sam Brownback, though, without thinking about this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APZMV9leyMA

  2. Ha! I love that video….and to think I almost clicked away from it at the beginning bc I thought it was a Madonna video.

    Ah, how I long for the days of Brownback and the snowflake embryos and good ol’ Sam in the debates with my other favorite GOP candidates, especially Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo.

  3. WWOD?

    Wouldn’t Obama ask us to look beyond the surface, here? I love Barbara Ehrenreich, but I’m not sure she’s got a scoop here.

    If we’re going to forgive Obama for problematic religious entanglements, shouldn’t we do the same for all? Isn’t that the “audacity of hope?”

  4. Athena, first, thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

    Second, despite what you might think, most Obama supporters do not think that Obama is Jesus. He’s a politician and one who is flawed, just like all the others. We who support Obama just think that he would be the best president of the US out of the candidates who are running.

    That’s an issue that good people can disagree about. You think Hillary would be the best among the 3 remaining candidates and that is something I can respect.

    But if we are able to probe into Obama’s spiritual life, we should also be able to do the same with Hillary.

    Are we not allowed to be question on her involvement with the “Family” or the bizarre right-wing but meaningless bills that she cosponsors?

    I don’t know why she pulls that crap, nor do I know why she supported Bush’s war. Her answers on the war have not been satisfactory.

    The “Audacity of Hope” does not mean that you are free to beat up my candidate while I am not allowed to raise serious issues about your.

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