Democrats and Religion

DEMOCRATS AND RELIGION….Hillary Clinton, as anyone who’s ever read anything about her knows, is a devout, lifelong Methodist. So when she came to Washington DC in 1993 she joined the “Fellowship,” a well-known organization run by Doug Coe that’s basically a collection of Bible study groups. [See Update below.] In the 90s Hillary studied with a group made up of other high-powered Washington women, and today she belongs to the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. The Fellowship leans conservative, but it’s a bipartisan organization. You can read about it in her autobiography, Living History.

Barack Obama, as everyone who didn’t spend last week on Mars knows, is a sincere and devout member of the Trinity United Church of Christ. He joined the church 20 years ago, married his wife there, and had his children baptized there. You can read about it in both of Obama’s books, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

Two Democrats, two committed Christians. So what’s it gotten them? In the case of Hillary Clinton it’s gotten her Barbara Ehrenreich, who used Hillary’s religious ties a couple of days ago in the Huffington Post as a launching pad for an unusually ugly character assassination. “When it comes to unsavory religious affiliations,” Ehrenreich informs us, “she’s a lot more vulnerable than Obama.” Why? Because the Fellowship worships Adolph Hitler and has “ties to a whole bestiary of murderous thugs.” Which leads her to wonder aloud, “What drew Clinton into the sinister heart of the international right?” — a question you can be sure she answers unpleasantly.

And Obama? Well, we all know how that story turned out. Trinity United Church of Christ was headed until recently by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a whipping boy for Sean Hannity and the fever swamp right for the past year. Then, a week ago, when ABC News started a media feeding frenzy by airing a tape of Wright making a variety of incendiary remarks in his sermons, the calls for Obama to disown Wright started up instantly. This story has yet to play out, but it’s at least possible that it could end up sinking Obama’s candidacy.

So what’s my point? Basically, this is a setup for a question for Amy Sullivan: If this is what being a sincerely committed Christian gets you in the Democratic Party, why should we bother? Are the benefits really worth the costs? There must be more than a few Democrats surveying the rubble of the past week and thinking that maybe we’d be better off leaving the God talk to the Republicans and keeping our own faith private.

UPDATE: I just talked to Jeff Sharlet, author of the forthcoming book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Although he says that Hillary Clinton’s connection with the Fellowship (aka the “Family”) is fairly shallow, he also thinks it’s quite wrong to characterize it as merely “a collection of Bible study groups.” Hillary’s association with the Fellowship is no scandal, he says, but it is fair to question her about whether she accepts Doug Coe’s particular brand of elite-centered, post-millennial theology. More here.

I haven’t read the book, so I’ll hold off on any further fire. It’s coming in May, though, and I may have more about it then.

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