Faith vs. works?
For many Christians, that question makes for a great debate.
Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, James 2:24 proclaims:
You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
Of course, for most believers, faith vs. works is less of an either/or scenario than a both/and imperative.
Why do I bring up the question here at GetReligion? Because it figures heavily in the compelling opening to CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke's roughly 4,000-word opus this week on "The public and private faith of Hillary Clinton":
(CNN) At a Catholic charity event this month, Hillary Clinton, a onetime Sunday school teacher, made a small but telling theological slip-up.
After trading jokes with her Republican rival, Donald Trump, at the Al Smith dinner in New York, Clinton got serious, praising her Catholic hosts and Pope Francis' fights against climate change and inequality.
"I'm not Catholic. I'm a Methodist," Clinton said. "But one of the things that we share is the belief that in order to achieve salvation we need both faith and good works."That's only half-true. Neither the United Methodist Church nor the Catholic Church teach that believers can work their way into heaven. Good deeds are important, both churches agree, but God's grace is freely given -- and the only means of salvation.
Clinton likely knows this. She's correctly stated the doctrine before, including at a church service in Washington last year.
Maybe her salvation stumble was the work of a sloppy speechwriter -- or perhaps, with apologies to Freud, it was a Pelagian slip. (Pelagius was a monk accused of teaching the heresy that humans could earn their own salvation.) Either way, Clinton's remark revealed a deep strain in her religious thought: There are no freeloaders in heaven.
"She didn't believe it was how high you jumped for joy in church," said the Rev. Ed Matthews, Clinton's pastor when she lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1990s, "but what you did when you came down."
Now, as background, GetReligion readers may recall that the Clinton piece is the second of a two-part series by Burke on the major-party presidential candidates. My colleague Julia Duin gave last week's spiritual profile of Donald Trump high marks:
Likewise, I was highly impressed with Burke's Clinton story. Yes, I'm generally a big fan of the CNN religion editor's Godbeat work. Beyond that, his piece on the Democratic presidential candidate pleased me because it demonstrates that, yes, meaty journalism on Clinton's faith is possible — recent examples to the contrary notwithstanding:
How did Burke's Clinton faith story succeed where so many others have fallen short?
Quite simply, he did the heavy lifting that great journalists are apt to do. It's rare, yes, but it's not rocket science:
1. He examined the public record and quoted what Clinton has said and written about her faith over the years.
2. He interviewed pastors and other religious leaders who have witnessed Clinton's faith and outward expressions of it over the years — and yes, he quoted them.
3. He contacted theologians and experts on Methodist history and beliefs to help put Clinton's faith in context.
Then he pulled it all together for a well-organized, nuanced story that hits the high points of — as the headline describes it — "The public and private faith of Hillary Clinton."
The only error I noticed was a duplicate first reference to "the Rev. Ed Matthews." Yes, that's really scraping the bottom of the nitpicking barrel.
It's an illuminating and insightful story that's worth your time, right up to this analytical ending:
Of course, Clinton is no mere figurehead. She has been a protagonist in some of the most protracted political scandals in recent history, from her husband's sexual infidelities to her own dissembling about the use of a private email server while secretary of state. According to surveys, many Americans do not think Clinton is trustworthy.
Still, as Clinton has acknowledged, politics is a "rough and tumble" business, and it's hard to imagine any politician who hasn't found foes along the way. But at a Baptist convention in Kansas City, Missouri, Clinton said that she has been trying to follow Christ's commandment to love her enemies.
It's a lesson she remembers well from teaching Sunday school in Arkansas, she said, but some days it's "really hard" to put the lesson into practice.
It is just as hard, it seems, for Clinton's enemies to love her.