BY JACK BASS
Hillary Clinton isn’t much given to talking about religion while on the campaign trail, but she veered off that path in Iowa in a detailed response to a voter’s question a few days before the Iowa caucuses.
That insight may be of interest to South Carolina voters as focus here turns to the Democratic presidential primary.
The source here is a detailed article of her speaking at length and spontaneously on her religious outlook that ran on an inside page of The New York Times on January 30.
A voter in Knoxville, Iowa, a county seat town of 7,300, asked Clinton if her beliefs aligned with the Ten Commandments.
Times reporter Amy Chozick stated that Mrs. Clinton “reflected at length and spontaneously on her religious outlook.”
“I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist,” she said. “My study of the Bible, my many conversations with people of faith has led me to believe the most important commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself,” she continued, “and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do.”
Chozick noted that Mrs. Clinton’s Methodism has seldom come up on the campaign trail, but cited friends who said she turns to religion in difficult times.
In Knoxville, a high school guidance counselor who opposes abortion said she was conflicted about being Roman Catholic and supporting a Democrat.
In response Mrs. Clinton said, “What does the Sermon on the Mount really mean?”
She was referring to the sermon in which the eight Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew are outlined by Jesus Christ, including, “Blessed are the meek.”
She continued, “It sure does seem to favor the poor and the merciful, and those who in worldly terms don’t have a lot, but who have the spirit that God recognizes as the core of love and salvation.”
A few days later, Bill Clinton mentioned to a crowd in Mason City, Iowa, that one of Hillary’s favorite hymns was “If I Could Help Somebody.”
Chozick wrote that Hillary added that she wouldn’t bore them with all the verses, “but the last line of every one is, ‘If I can help somebody when I travel along, then my living will not be in vain.’ ”
In her memoir “Living History,” she traces her Methodist roots to the 1700s.
Her father’s parents “claimed they became Methodists because their great-grandparents were converted in the small coal-mining villages around Newcastle in the north of England” by John Wesley himself, she wrote.
Paul G. Kengor, a professor of Grove City College and the author of “God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life,” describes her as “a classic, standard religious-left Christian who connects her faith to issues of poverty and helping people.”
Growing up in Chicago, Mrs. Clinton was active in the first United Methodist Church of Park Ridge, Ill. She taught Sunday School in Little Rock, Ark., and set up a Bible study group soon after moving to the White House.
Chozick reports that after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, Mrs. Clinton wrote in “Living History” that she “spent a lot of time alone, praying and reading.”
She and her husband prayed with Gordon MacDonald, an evangelical minister and author, and she became a friend of Billy Graham.
Since moving to Chappaqua, N.Y., the Clintons have attended the United Methodist Church in nearby Mount Kisco.
She has worshiped in church less frequently during the campaign, but regularly reads a leather-bound Bible, which she has called “the biggest influence on my thinking.”
Jack Bass is professor humanities and social sciences emeritus at the College of Charleston and author or co-author of eight books related to the American South.