Sunday :: Sep 2, 2007

Faith And Hillary

by Steve

According to the current issue of Mother Jones magazine and reporters Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet, Hillary Clinton has been participating in bible study and prayer groups since she came to Washington in 1993, first as part of a Washington wives group while she was First Lady, and then as part of an exclusive weekly Senate prayer group when she joined the Senate. That news, in and of itself is not startling given Clinton’s long-standing faith and religious background. Hillary’s willingness to seek out and associate with people of faith, even in such a cutthroat environment as Washington is certainly not disqualifying. But seeking a faith-based area of common ground with those on the other side of the aisle, including many who could easily be described as her and her husband’s enemies does however raise questions about her judgment and what exposure she has as a result of these supposedly confidential associations.

Many will find it understandable and laudatory that she seeks spiritual guidance and reinforcement, and has for years. But what may startle people, including her supporters, is that the group she has associated herself with since 1993 which sponsors these groups as well as the National Prayer Breakfast is very conservative and exclusive. Known now as the Fellowship, it is a group that reporter Sharlet knows very well given his past investigative pieces in Harper's Magazine several years ago, and a Rolling Stone piece about Sam Brownback in 2006. Digby has written about this group as well. Even though Mother Jones will not post the piece online until Tuesday, I have been given permission to post segments of the piece in the extended entry. I encourage all of you to buy the current issue and read the piece for yourselves, because Hillary’s association with the Fellowship may lead some to question her judgment and true beliefs, given what the group stands for. Having said that, keep in mind that the Senate prayer group has been attended by other Democrats, and seems to be the only group of its type operating on Capitol Hill, which itself raises questions.

Ignorance cannot be an excuse here, because a Google search would tell you the Fellowship believes that Christian elites have a duty to rule the world, and serve Jesus Christ in a higher calling than their duties as leaders of nations. Plainly put, according to Sharlet, “the Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God’s plan.” The notion that Christian elites should rule the world for the rest of us, and should lead their countries not for the benefit of all, but to pursue God’s plan as defined by the Fellowship and founder Doug Coe runs contrary to what this country was founded upon, and is anything but progressive.

Are we to assume that Hillary endorses what the Fellowship stands for, given her 14-year association? Alternately, is it possible that she doesn’t literally accept what the Fellowship espouses, or that she associates with them out of a lack of egalitarian and progressive faith options for senators and representatives inside Washington?

In raising these questions about Hillary’s judgment and motivation, fairness dictates that her opponents be held to the same standard. John Edwards likewise was a co-chairman of the same Senate prayer group when he was in the Senate, so he also must have known about the Fellowship’s goals and objectives. As for his judgment, Barack Obama singled out far right GOP senator Tom Coburn, a member of Hillary’s Senate prayer group as someone whom he can do business with, notwithstanding Coburn’s documented extreme positions on women and gays. Does Obama’s desire for a new kind of politics with such people, and Edwards’ and Hillary’s association with the Fellowship disqualify them from progressive support? Or is it an unfortunate sign of the times in Washington that our top three candidates associate with and tolerate those like Coburn and the Fellowship, instead of shining a light upon such beliefs?

While they tout their commitment to progressive values, Hillary and Edwards should clarify whether or not they endorse what the Fellowship stands for. And Obama has a duty to tell us why a "new politics" requires the submersion of Coburn's views for the sake of a Liebermanesque bipartisanship.

But there is another question that deserves an answer as well. Why is it acceptable for both the National Prayer Breakfast and the singular Senate prayer group to be sponsored by a group advocating Christian theocracy and elitism?

(Excerpts from the Mother Jones story follow in the Extended Entry)

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. “A lot of evangelicals would see that as just cynical exploitation,” says the Reverend Rob Schenck, a former leader of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who now ministers to decision makers in Washington. “I don’t....there is a real good that is infected in people when they are around Jesus talk, and open Bibles, and prayer.”


When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian “cell” whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the antiunion Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat. Clinton’s prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or “the Family”), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to “spiritual war” on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship’s only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has “made a fetish of being invisible,” former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God’s plan.

Clinton declined our requests for an interview about her faith, but in Living History, she describes her first encounter with Fellowship leader Doug Coe at a 1993 lunch with her prayer cell at the Cedars, the Fellowship’s majestic estate on the Potomac. Coe, she writes, “is a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God.”


The Fellowship’s long-term goal is “a leadership led by God—leaders of all levels of society who direct projects as they are led by the spirit.” According to the Fellowship’s archives, the spirit has in the past led its members in Congress to increase U.S. support for the Duvalier regime in Haiti and the Park dictatorship in South Korea. The Fellowship’s God-led men have also included General Suharto of Indonesia; Honduran general and death squad organizer Gustavo Alvarez Martinez; a Deutsche Bank official disgraced by financial ties to Hitler; and dictator Siad Barre of Somalia, plus a list of other generals and dictators. Clinton, says Schenck, has become a regular visitor to Coe’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters, a former convent where Coe provides members of Congress with sex-segregated housing and spiritual guidance.


The Fellowship isn’t out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward.


These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.


Then, as now, Clinton confounded secularists who recognize public faith only when it comes wrapped in a cornpone accent. Clinton speaks instead the language of nondenominationalism—a sober, eloquent appreciation of “values,” the importance of prayer, and “heart” convictions—which liberals, unfamiliar with the history of evangelical coalition building, mistake for a tidy, apolitical accommodation, a personal separation of church and state. Nor do skeptical voters looking for political opportunism recognize that, when Clinton seeks guidance among prayer partners such as Coe and Brownback, she is not so much triangulating—much as that may have become second nature—as honoring her convictions. In her own way, she is a true believer.

Steve :: 6:45 PM :: Comments (48) :: Digg It!