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Balancing Religion in the Public Arena: A Clinton Case Study

I’ll admit, I’ve never really thought of Secretary Hillary Clinton as a religious or spiritual person.

I’ve admired her toughness, her commitment to civil service, her ambition, her political acumen, and rooted for her—not just as a presidential candidate, but as a successful woman and leader in a country I love, where we have yet to have a female head of state.

At the same time, even as a devout Christian, I worry when I see political leaders admitting that their religious, spiritual, or ethical commitments influence their political leadership.

On one hand, how could they not? We humans are not robots—part of our human nature, and part of human learning and leading is to use the sum of our experiences, education, philosophical endeavors, and periods of struggle and growth to make decisions.

And I would not want my civic leaders to operate in a moral vacuum—it heartens me to hear those in power share wisdom, humility, and perspective they’ve found in religious or ethical traditions.

In “Hillary Clinton’s’ Moral Conflicts on Abortion,” Myriam Renaud explores Clinton’s Christianity, and her status as a “Social Gospel Methodist.”

Renaud’s article is illuminating on two points.

  • First, I found something new about a woman I’ve admired: that she has a deep and long-lasting commitment and love for her church and its teachings.
  • Second, Clinton carefully navigates her own moral commitments against what she understands to be the public good.

That is, even while she admits that her confessional connection to Christianity and Methodism support her and imbue her understandings of human realities, she works to balance the decisions she makes as a lawyer and senator (and hopes to make as commander in chief) with great care.

Renaud’s careful examination of how this decision making process plays out centers on Clinton’s beliefs (personal, and as a leader and legislature) about abortion. If Clinton were not a presidential candidate, but merely an elected official, I would still find the article fascinating and inspiring. We should all work to remain connected to our religious or ethical commitments, but never forget that as leaders, we also have a responsibility to enact and foster practices that allow the greatest number of us to flourish.

Renaud’s thesis is this: “Clinton’s views on abortion are more nuanced and reflect her religious commitments to a greater degree than partisans on either side of the issue may realize.”

As leaders, we work and move in the public sphere. Our religious and ethical commitments necessarily intersect with our public work.

How can we ensure we aren’t blinded or fettered by our beliefs? We must move increasingly to nuance, practice reflection, and hold the greater good in highest esteem.

Read Renaud’s article here.

Photo credit: © Andy Katz | Dreamstime.com

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University

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Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

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