V&V: Dr. Kengor, in the past you wrote God and Ronald Reagan and God and George W. Bush. Now, you are about to blindside us with God and Hillary Clinton, which will be published this week as one of the major fall titles by HarperCollins. Readers of your past books are asking why you’ve written this one.
Paul Kengor: Because I’m interested in the faith of public figures—in their religious upbringing, their spiritual journey, and how their faith affects their public life and the policies they advocate, for better or worse, and whether I agree or disagree with their politics.
It’s funny that people are surprised I would write this. I never intended to write strictly on the faiths of individuals for whom I would vote. I’m supposed to be a scholar, or at least try to be. That means doing your best to put aside personal biases and do honest research and arrive at genuine conclusions based on actual facts. I would argue that being a Christian scholar requires an even closer adherence to that process. A Christian scholar has a Christian responsibility to engage in a sincere pursuit of truth. We have an especially acute obligation to try to be fair when dealing with a subject as extraordinary as a person’s religious beliefs.
The added challenge comes when dealing with individuals in the current political climate—subjects of a lot of emotion. I’ve now done faith-based books on the two current politicians that people love or hate the most: George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton.
V&V: So, you wrote this book because of your personal interests?
Kengor: No, no, not just that. The other reason is the more critical: Hillary Clinton is a very smart politician, and following the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, she quickly grasped that it was the religious-moral “values voter” who twice elected George W. Bush. Only days later, at Tufts University, she was giving a major speech on the importance of faith-based initiatives. Soon after that, she hired Burns Strider, a leading Democratic Party strategist on advising candidates how to reach out to pro-life evangelicals.
That’s why I believe this book needed to be written. As Hillary seeks to run for president, as maybe the most religious Democrat since Jimmy Carter, someone needed to examine what she believes.
V&V: Will the media hold her feet to the fire? Governor George W. Bush was called all kinds of names simply for citing Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher.
Kengor: No, the media will applaud her, as it did when she campaigned in 27 churches in the two months before the November 2000 vote—including six appearances on Election Day—sometimes with literally a pool of reporters in the front pew singing and cheering, and in one case with the minister comparing her opponent to Satan. As Democrats like Hillary, Barack Obama, and John Edwards have talked openly about their faith on the campaign trail, even the New York Times seems to have gotten religion, with four major articles on the faith of Democrats carried in the newspaper in recent weeks.
Now that secular liberals in the media sense that Democrats need religious voters, they have suddenly rediscovered the Religious Left and become strikingly tolerant of expressions of faith by presidential contenders—at least Democratic presidential contenders. Call it the secular media’s Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion. Conservative Christians should prepare themselves to be sickened by the bracing double standard they are about to witness from the mainstream press.
V&V: Do you talk about Bill and Monica and some of those things?
Kengor: It was Bill’s philandering that drove Hillary to look upward unlike anything else. I tried to avoid unnecessary detail on his sordid behavior, but the story of the faith of Hillary Clinton cannot be told apart from her husband’s humiliation of her.
V&V: Overall, is the book positive or negative?
Kengor: That will be determined by the reader. I tried to include the pros and the cons—to write something “fair and balanced.”
On the positive, I do say from the outset that she seems a sincere Christian and has been since childhood. That’s defined by the basic fundamentals of the faith, such as believing in the resurrection and atoning death of Christ, the Trinity, of accepting Christ as one’s Savior, all of which she has openly and clearly professed. She prays, reads the Bible, gets counsel from ministers, raised a Christian daughter, goes to church weekly, and frequently attends and has even led Bible studies.
On the negative, readers will see that a major theme of the book is the total disconnect between her faith and her stridency on abortion. She is not simply pro-choice but fanatically pro-choice. She will not compromise on any matter of abortion policy, from banning partial-birth abortions to supporting funding for ultrasound machines to backing legislation to protect babies injured in the womb by outside parties. She’s to the left of everyone on this issue, including even her husband, who pro-lifers dubbed “the Abortion President.”
By the way, as a “pro-choice Christian,” she points to the lead of her denomination, the United Methodist Church, which is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The author of Roe v. Wade was a Methodist, and was invited to address Hillary’s congregation by her pro-choice pastor at the historic Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington in 1995.
So far, the reviews from both liberals and conservatives have been good. But it will not take long before I get hit with a few grenades, which I’m sure will be well-deserved.
V&V: Do you plan to do more of these “God and …” books, including on liberal Democrats?
Kengor: None are planned, though anytime I encounter an article on the faith of some leading Democrat or Republican, I continue to tuck it away in a file or, in some cases, a box. At some point, the material, or my interest, reaches a critical mass and I decide to write something. The Hillary box in the corner of my office eventually reached critical mass.