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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

We Know Plenty About Clinton’s Religion

Speaking to a group of evangelical Christian leaders, Donald Trump claimed there’s “nothing out there” about Hillary Clinton’s religion even though “she’s been in the public eye for years and years.” That’s inaccurate. Clinton’s religious practice as a Methodist has been well-documented and widely reported.

Trump’s comments came during a closed-to-the-press meeting with evangelical leaders in New York City, but his comments were videotaped by one of the faith leaders and posted on the internet. The video begins with Trump saying, “… don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion.”

“Now, she’s been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there’s no — there’s nothing out there,” Trump continued. “There’s like nothing out there. It’s going to be an extension of Obama but it’s going to be worse, because with Obama you had your guard up. With Hillary you don’t, and it’s going to be worse.”

In fact, there is a lot “out there” about Clinton’s religion, and its influence on her world view, starting with her religious involvement as a child.

According to the Religious News Service, “As a girl, she was part of the guild that cleaned the altar at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill. As a teen, she visited inner-city Chicago churches with the youth pastor, Don Jones, her spiritual mentor until his death in 2009.”

A Time magazine profile, which ran under the headline “Hillary Clinton: Anchored by Faith,” had this to say about Clinton’s early religious training:

Time, June 27, 2014: Clinton grew up attending First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge in Chicago, where she was confirmed in sixth grade. Her mother taught Sunday school, and Clinton was active in youth group, Bible studies and altar guild. On Saturdays during Illinois’s harvest season, she and others from her youth group would babysit children of nearby migrant workers.

The article notes that in college at Wellesley, “Clinton regularly read the Methodist Church’s Motive magazine,” that she and Bill Clinton were married by a Methodist minister, and that in 1993, she joined a women’s prayer group.

When Bill Clinton was president, the Clinton family regularly attended Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church. Hillary Clinton spoke at the church’s 200 anniversary in September. In that address, she spoke about the Methodist churches she attended as a child, in college, in Arkansas when Bill Clinton was governor, and in Washington, D.C., when he served as president.

“In place after place after place,” Clinton said, “the Methodist church and my fellow Methodists have been a source of support, honest reflection and candid critique.”

During a presidential forum in 2007, Clinton said that “a lot of the talk about and advertising about faith doesn’t come naturally to me.” She said that faith “is something that — you know, I keep thinking of the Pharisees and all of Sunday school lessons and readings that I had as a child. But I think your — your faith guides you every day. Certainly, mine does. But, at those moments in time when you’re tested, it — it is absolutely essential that you be grounded in your faith.”

CNN noted that in May 2015, Clinton impressed a voter in a bakery after she cited and discussed Corinthians 13 on the spot.

In an interview with the New York Times in 2014, Clinton cited the Bible as “the biggest influence” on her thinking. “I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it,” she said. “I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.”

As a senator, she participated in weekly Senate prayer breakfasts. The New York Times noted that she was also once a Sunday school teacher.

That article goes on to say: “In a brief quiz about her theological views, Mrs. Clinton said she believed in the resurrection of Jesus, though she described herself as less sure of the doctrine that being a Christian is the only way to salvation. As for how literally to interpret the Bible, she takes a characteristically centrist view.”

Although Clinton rarely speaks about her religious faith on the campaign trail, she did — in length — when a woman asked her about it at a campaign rally in Iowa in January. Clinton began, “I am a Christian. I am a Methodist.” Here is some, but not all, of the rest of her answer.

Clinton, Jan. 25: I am a Christian. I am a Methodist. I have been raised Methodist. I feel very grateful for the instructions and support I received starting in my family but through my church, and I think that any of us who are Christian have a constantly, constant, conversation in our own heads about what we are called to do and how we are asked to do it, and I think it is absolutely appropriate for people to have very strong convictions and also, though, to discuss those with other people of faith. Because different experiences can lead to different conclusions about what is consonant with our faith and how best to exercise it. …

My study of the Bible, my many conversations with people of faith, has led me to believe the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself, and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do, and there is so much more in the Bible about taking care of the poor, visiting the prisoners, taking in the stranger, creating opportunities for others to be lifted up, to find faith themselves that I think there are many different ways of exercising your faith.

There is even an entire book devoted to Clinton’s faith, “God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life.” The author, Paul Kengor, executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at the conservative Grove City College, writes in the preface that “some things regarding Hillary Clinton and her faith are clear: Although no one can profess to know any individual’s heart and soul, there seems no question that Hillary is a sincere, committed Christian and has been since childhood.”

In an interview with Christianity Today, Kengor said that Clinton has often butted heads with conservative evangelical Christians on issues such as abortion, and that Clinton “walks step by step with the Methodist leadership into a very liberal Christianity. She is with them lockstep on almost all issues.”

“We do, in fact, know about Hillary’s religion,” Kengor wrote to us in an email. “In fact, we know enough about Hillary’s faith that I was able to write a 334-page book titled God and Hillary Clinton way back in 2007, and I’ve written dozens of articles and given numerous interviews on the subject since—and I’m not the only one. I think that what Donald Trump was telling us is that he knows nothing about Hillary’s faith. For me as a conservative, that doesn’t surprise me one bit, as I’ve noticed painfully and repeatedly that Donald Trump also knows nothing about conservatism.”

We could go on and on about the public treatment of Clinton’s faith. But suffice to say that when Trump says there’s “nothing out there” about Hillary Clinton’s religion, that’s just not so.

We should note that the Hill and others reported that Trump said, “we don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion.” The emphasis on “we” is ours.

Later in the day, David Muir of ABC’s “World News Tonight” asked Trump about his comments, and Trump responded, “I don’t know much about her.”

Trump said his comments were prompted by a question from someone at the event.

“Somebody asked me the question,” Trump said. “I didn’t bring it up. Somebody asked me the question. I said I don’t know much about her religion.”

Based on the tape, we couldn’t determine whether Trump said “we” don’t know anything about Clinton’s religion or “I” don’t know anything about her religion.

ABC News reported, “A source who attended the meeting said that no one asked about Clinton’s religion.” We couldn’t determine that either, based on the available video.

We reached out to E.W. Jackson, the man who posted the clip on Twitter, to see if he had a fuller version of Trump’s remarks, but we did not hear back from him. Jackson, a conservative religious leader, is president of the national organization Ministers Taking a Stand. Nonetheless, Trump’s comments extended beyond responding to what he, personally, knew about Clinton’s religion, to include the claim that despite being “in the public eye for years and years” there is “nothing out there” on Clinton’s religion.

— Robert Farley, with Zachary Gross