If you can get past this week's lurid Newsweek cover art, there is actually some decent content in there. (And the photos that were included in the cover piece defeat the entire purpose of the article.) But on to more important and religion-related items. What is the news value of the apparent fact that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton believes in original sin? In an exclusive interview with Clinton's religious mentor, Methodist minister Don Jones, Newsweek's Susannah Meadows tries to draw us a portrait of the would-be president's faith. Clinton happens to be middle of the road and tacks to neither extreme, we're told.
But sadly the article is long on Jones and short on Clinton. We're told that because of Jones' close relationship with the Clinton family, he is the one who knows the true state of her heart:
Though she's been accused of adopting a religious patina for political gain, her relationship with Jones shows that from the time she was young, Hillary was thinking seriously about her faith. She clearly talks more about religion these days, as many politicians do -- but her connection to Jones reveals that her Christianity has always been at the center of her identity. "She's not using the language of prayer and God for the first time," says Jones. "While there may be a political dimension, it's authentic."
Jones describes Hillary's beliefs as falling, like her politics, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Unlike the extreme left, she understands the limitations of human beings, he says. And unlike the extreme right, he argues, she believes in humanity's potential. She does take seriously the doctrine of original sin. And after a lifetime in politics, she's seen plenty of it.
Jones' effect in Clinton's life (and American history) cannot be underestimated. Without Jones, Clinton could very well have been a Republican. We know that Jones reads E.E. Cummings and Paul Tillich and that it was his influence on her during the civil rights movement that drew her into the liberal camp religiously and politically. A lot of this comes out of Methodism's social-justice tradition, we're told.
And all that is the sum of what we know about Clinton's faith, other than that Clinton takes time to pray with Republicans.
Hot-button and divisive social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research are ignored in the piece. One question I would like to ask is if Clinton's religious convictions run so deep, why has she not supported the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Act?
For that matter, as raised by Joe Loconte of the Britain and America webcast, why have none of the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates endorsed banning this procedure? A politician like Clinton can claim she wants to make abortion as rare as possible in this country, but as long as she supports making this procedure legal, she's going to win over none of the socially and religiously conservative voters.