The #MeToo story marches on and, the other day, it touched the world of religion and Democratic Party politics.
Lots of journalists covered the story of accusations against an activist named Burns Strider, a trusted colleague of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The key is that, back in 2008, he was accused of sexual harassment. However, it appears that Clinton did that thing that so many powerful people do (some Catholic bishops, for example), which was protect her friend and quietly move him to another job.
Thus, the New York Times headline proclaimed: "Hillary Clinton Chose to Shield a Top Adviser Accused of Harassment in 2008." As you can see, the religion element didn't make it into the headline. Ditto for the lede.
WASHINGTON -- A senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a young subordinate was kept on the campaign at Mrs. Clinton’s request, according to four people familiar with what took place.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager at the time recommended that she fire the adviser, Burns Strider. But Mrs. Clinton did not.
Wait for it.
Mr. Strider, who was Mrs. Clinton’s faith adviser, was a founder of the American Values Network and sent the candidate scripture readings every morning for months during the campaign, was hired five years later to lead an independent group that supported Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 candidacy, Correct the Record, which was created by a close Clinton ally, David Brock.
He was fired after several months for workplace issues, including allegations that he harassed a young female aide, according to three people close to Correct the Record’s management.
Now, I have very little to say about this Times piece -- in terms of its political content. However, the deeper went into the story, the more curious I became about a rather central issue: Where were the details about Strider himself? In particular, I was curious about his faith background and the nature of his work for Clinton and others.
Basically, the story stressed that the investigation of this man was important. I agree.
Also, it stressed that accusations that his actions were covered up were very important. I certainly agree.
However, readers are told next to nothing about Strider, his faith, his work and, most of all, his faith-centered connection to Clinton. We are talking about some rather big pieces in this puzzle. Right?
So I went digging for biographical material on Strider and his work.
One of the first things I hit was a 2015 Religion News Service commentary piece that he wrote about his candidate, long after the hidden scandal inside her tent. The Washington Post version ran with this headline: " ‘Grace Notes’: The quiet unshakable faith of Hillary Clinton." This is the kind of piece in which the author, right up front, makes sure the reader understands his unique ties to a Very Important Person.
WASHINGTON -- Late on a Saturday night in 2012, I received word from my sister in Mississippi that my mamma had passed away. My home was silent as my wife and two boys slept upstairs. I was reading when the sad call came.
I woke my wife to tell her; we sat on the edge of the bed and hugged. In my sadness, around midnight, I started cleaning the kitchen, likely because my mamma was always cleaning something. I also reached out to two friends.
It was within minutes that I heard back from Hillary.
Secretary Clinton joined me in my heartbreak, reminding me that she could share the pain because of the fairly recent loss of her own mother. She also told me to get to Mississippi, be with my family and take all the time I needed -- because my work in Washington paled in comparison to remembering and mourning my mom and being with family.
There's a lot of Southern style written into that overture. But the larger point was to stress the ties that bind, in terms of his relationship to, at that time, Secretary of State (and presidential candidate in waiting) Clinton. The bottom line:
She was there for me. I often tell people that working in politics brings me into contact with the best and most challenging folks God has placed on our earth. I consider it a blessing working with and knowing Hillary Clinton.
So who was Strider and what did he do, before and after the hidden scandal? On the surface level, his most important credential in recent years was his leadership role at the Eleison Group (it appears Strider connections have been removed from the website). The group's motto: "Eleison, pronounced ee-lay-zon; from Greek, meaning "have mercy. Aligning what's right with what works politically and economically."
Readers who are interested in this story really need to head over to Slate and read it's new report on the fall of Strider. The headline: "What Is a 'Faith Consultant'? Understanding Burns Strider’s Complicated Role in the Clinton Campaign."
Basically, this piece contained lots of the information that I wanted to know about this Southern Baptist from Mississippi, in terms of his past work for Clinton, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, NPR and lots of other Beltway folks.
Strider was arguably the most prominent member of a very small group of people who make a living as “faith consultants” to Democrats -- advisors who make introductions between candidates and religious influencers, and help candidates craft language and policies to appeal to them. It’s a tiny community in large part because contemporary Democratic campaigns do so little outreach to religious groups. ...
Strider’s job in the 2008 campaign was “to close the God Gap and the Bubba Gap,” as the Times wrote in a 2008 profile. At the time, candidate Obama had been recently caught on tape referring to working-class voters as “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion.” Strider’s credibility came in part from his Mississippi upbringing; he is a one-time Southern Baptist missionary and the son of a local sheriff known as “Big Daddy.”
Another short biographical piece online added this:
A leading figure in the nation on the cross-section of faith, values, and culture, Strider is known as the "faith and values" guru for the Democratic Party. ... He first interned for then-Congressman Mike Espy (D-MS) and then-Senator Al Gore (D-TN). He also served as a speechwriter to Mississippi Secretary of State Dick Molpus. He then spent three years as a Southern Baptist youth minister at International Baptist Church of Hong Kong, leading a youth group of more than twenty ethnic groups at the Southern Baptist Convention megachurch.
For his efforts, Religion News Service named Strider one of the 12 most influential Democrats in the nation on faith/values issues and politics.
Does any of this matter?
Certainly, one could argue that my interest in Strider is rather narrow and perhaps biased, in light of my background as a conservative Democrat from the Bible Belt. However, in this case I would say that I am biased in terms of thinking that faith content -- a few crucial facts, at least -- should have been an essential part of news coverage focusing on a hidden scandal during the peak years of influence in the life of the "faith and values" guru of the Democratic Party.
FIRST IMAGE: From Twitter profile of Burns Strider.