"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“For His Next Trick, Trump Questions Clinton’s Religious Faith”: The Last Person Who Should Question Others’ Faith

Recently, most of Donald Trump’s offensive rants have focused on race and ethnicity, but not religion. Any chance he can pick up the slack and start making faith-based insults, too?

As it turns out, yes, he can.

Donald Trump questioned Hillary Clinton’s commitment to her Christian faith on Tuesday, saying that little is known about her spiritual life even though she’s been in the public eye for decades.

Speaking to a group of top social conservative evangelical Christian leaders at a gathering in New York City, Trump said, “we 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 said. “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.”

As The Hill’s report noted, the behind-closed-doors meeting was not open to the public or to journalists, but one faith leader recorded Trump’s comments and posted them online.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee added that the religious leaders in attendance should “pray for everyone, but what you really have to do is pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person.”

Let’s unpack this a bit, because even by Trump standards, this is pretty amazing.

First, to suggest Americans “don’t know anything about” Hillary Clinton “in terms of religion” is absurd. The Democratic candidate has spoken about her Methodist faith many times, including lengthy comments about her views on Christianity and the Bible at an Iowa event earlier this year.

Second, I’d love to hear more about why, exactly, Trump and his like-minded friends had their “guard up” about President Obama’s faith. What is it, specifically, that led Trump and his allies to put their “guard up” about his religion?

Third, when Trump urged faith leaders to “pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person,” he was approaching a potentially dangerous legal line. Under federal tax law, houses of worship and those responsible for tax-exempt ministries cannot legally intervene in political elections. Taking steps to have parishioners “vote for one specific person” is problematic.

And finally, of any political figure in America, Donald J. Trump is perhaps the last person who should be questioning others’ faith.

The GOP candidate’s clumsiness on matters of faith has been a point of concern for some conservative voters before, and last summer, the New York Republican refused to say which parts of Scripture are important to him, saying it was “private.” (Asked whether he’s drawn more to the New or Old Testaments, Trump said, “Both.”)

And now Mr. Two Corinthians wants to complain that “we don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion”? Seriously? I don’t expect much from Trump, but for him, there is no upside to picking this particular fight.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 21, 2016

June 22, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Faith, Hillary Clinton, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Faith’s Mysterious Ways In The 2016 Campaign”: The Politics Of White Evangelicals Are Evolving

The 2016 election is transforming the religious landscape of American politics.

It’s hard to imagine a Democratic presidential candidate receiving a mid-campaign invitation to speak at the Vatican.

But on Friday, Bernie Sanders put out word that on April 15 he’ll attend a gathering of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Both Sanders and Hillary Clinton, his front-running rival, have regularly praised Pope Francis.

And on the day of Sanders’s announcement, Francis released “The Joy of Love.” The groundbreaking document signaled what can fairly be called a more liberal attitude toward sexuality and the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics.

The pope didn’t change church doctrine on gay marriage but was offering another sign that he’s pushing the church away from cultural warfare and toward a focus on poverty, economic injustice, immigration and the plight of refugees.

On the Republican side, the conservative evangelical movement is divided over Donald Trump’s candidacy. Many of its leaders have denounced him in uncompromising terms they usually reserve for liberal politicians.

One of his toughest critics has been Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Can conservatives really believe that, if elected, Trump would care about protecting the family’s place in society when his own life is — unapologetically — what conservatives used to recognize as decadent?,” Moore wrote early this year in National Review.

He added: “Trump’s willingness to ban Muslims, even temporarily, from entering the country simply because of their religious affiliation would make Jefferson spin in his grave.”

Such denunciations are good news for Ted Cruz, who began his campaign at Liberty University, an evangelical intellectual bastion, and had hoped to unify evangelical conservatives.

But in primary after primary, Trump has won a large share of self-described “born again” or evangelical voters, particularly in the South. In the Southern-inflected Super Tuesday contests in March, his showings in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama were exceptionally strong.

Evangelicals made up 77 percent of Alabama’s Republican primary electorate, and Trump carried them 43 percent to 22 percent over Cruz. Among non-evangelicals, Trump beat Cruz 41 percent to 18 percent, with roughly a third in this group casting ballots for either Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out, or John Kasich.

Even in defeat in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump did about as well among evangelicals (he won 34 percent of their ballots) as among non-evangelicals (36 percent).

In one sense, it is not surprising that the politics of white evangelicals are evolving. Their social issue frame and the most important institutions in their movement were created in the late 1970s and 1980s. But this year’s developments do suggest, as Elizabeth Bruenig (now of The Post) argued in the New Republic, that “the old-fashioned model of reaching evangelicals no longer appears functional.”

Robert Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute (and with whom I have collaborated), sees many evangelicals now as “nostalgia voters.” Writing in the Atlantic, he said they are animated less by “a checklist of culture war issues or an appeal to shared religious identity” and more by an anger and anxiety arising from a sense that the dominant culture is moving away from their values.

A backlash around race, which led many white Southern evangelicals toward the Republicans in the 1960s even before the rise of the religious right, also appears to be at work. It is conjoined with opposition to immigration. And evangelicals, like other Republicans, are split by class and their degree of religious engagement.

Were Cruz to secure the Republican nomination, traditional patterns of white evangelical voting might well reassert themselves.

But with Pope Francis lifting up what can be called social justice Christianity, cliches that religion lives largely on the right end of U.S. politics might finally be overturned.

This view was already flawed, given, for example, the long-standing activism of African American Christians in the politics of economic and racial equity. Clinton especially has been engaged with black churches from the outset of the campaign.

Her own deep commitment to her Methodist faith and its social demands is central to her identity. It could be the key to solving her much-discussed “authenticity” problem, because faith is a powerfully authentic part of who she is.

In the meantime, a Jewish socialist presidential candidate will head off to the Vatican to make a case about climate change and social justice quite congenial to Francis’s outlook.

In today’s American politics, religion is working in mysterious ways.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 11, 2016

April 12, 2016 Posted by | Evangelicals, Faith, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hillary And ‘The Discipline Of Gratitude'”: A Moment No Briefing Book Could Have Prepared Her To Answer

At a CNN town hall, in Derry, New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton got the opportunity she was looking for— the chance to tell the country who she is. It was a moment that no briefing book loaded with talking points could have prepared her to answer.

Without fanfare, Clinton opened a window of intimacy that has, until now, proven elusive. Without speaking the words explicitly, she said, “Here’s why you can trust me.”

She wasn’t responding to a question involving domestic or foreign policy, nor was it a query aimed at drawing contrasts with her competitors. Instead, the question posed by Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett was decidedly more personal and required a brand of introspection that has become all too rare in the public discourse.

“How do you cultivate the ego, the ego that we all know you must have, a person must have to be the leader of the free world, and also the humility to recognize that we know that you can’t be expected to be wise about all the things that the president has to be responsible for?”

She could’ve sputtered something about grace or offered feigned humility. She could’ve talked about the profound challenges before us a nation and trumpeted her experience in various policy areas. It is doubtful that Clinton was thinking about her polling numbers as she began to speak. Instead, in an unanticipated dose of candor, she talked openly about her personal faith and how those convictions guide her.

If only for a fleeting moment, Clinton appeared vulnerable—giving in to her own human frailty.

Spira-Savett, leader of the Conservative Beth Abraham in Nashua, started by quoting a Hassidic tale from the 18th century sage Rabbi Simcha Bunim about finding a balance between ego and humility.

“Every person has to have two pockets and in each pocket they have to carry a different note. And the note in one pocket says the universe was created for me. And in the other pocket the note says I am just dust and ashes,” the rabbi said, reciting the anecdote.

The answer was intriguing, if not revealing.

“It’s not anything I’ve ever talked about much publicly,” she said. “Everybody knows that I’ve lived a very public life for the last 25 years. So I’ve had to be in public dealing with some very difficult issues.”

Sometimes she “roars” and sometimes she “retreats,” Clinton answered, alluding to some of the public scandals she and her husband have endured. She could have easily said Monica Lewinski, Whitewater, Travel Gate, or Benghazi. There was no need to call them by name. More critically, however, Clinton focused her response on a professed adherence to a contemporary theology popularized by Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen: the discipline of gratitude.

“And it basically is: Practice the discipline of gratitude,” she continued.

“The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy,” Nouwen wrote.

The philosophy that follows dictates that giving freely of oneself—not necessarily regular, systematic, even strategic—is a conscious choice to be a good steward of God’s blessings. It is a reminder that believers are not free possessors but acting out of obligation to their faith. It is a recognition that all of life is a gift, according to Nouwen.

The question now is how has that driven Clinton’s previous policy positions, including controversial Senate votes and even her support for her husband’s White House agenda, and how will the doctrine inform how she chooses to govern.

It is not that Clinton, who was reared in the United Methodist tradition, had not previously written or spoken about her spirituality. Those closest to Clinton will tell you that she is “deeply religious.”

In It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us, for instance, she wrote, “Our spiritual life as a family was spirited and constant. We talked with God, walked with God, ate, studied and argued with God. Each night, we knelt by our beds to pray before we went to sleep.”

And it was not the first time she referenced Nouwen, a widely published Catholic priest, professor, and writer. Before his death in 1996, Nouwen authored 39 books and hundreds of articles. It was in 1994, two years before he died, that his most prominent work found its way into the then-First Lady’s hands. And it could not have come at a more crucial time—a year after Bill Clinton was sworn in as commander-in-chief and amid a period of mourning and swelling controversies.

“It was given to me by a friend in 1994 after I had experienced some tragic and painful losses—my father, my mother-in-law, and our dear friend Vince Foster all died,” she said of Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son. “I was reading a lot of Scripture and theology and other books of inspiration at the time. This book struck a responsive chord, because the story is such a moving and constructive parable about what matters in life.”

That Clinton took refuge in prayer and meditation should be not surprising. If one were to point to one of the more seminal points in Clinton’s history, 1994 might take second only to 1998—the year Monica Lewinski entered the national discourse.

“By consciously reminding myself of my blessings,” she wrote for, “I could move from pessimism to optimism, from grief to hopefulness.”

If only for a fleeting moment on prime time television, Clinton confronted the same question she has faced from onset of her political life: Who am I?

Depending on what you believe about Clinton, her reference to Nouwen was either a premeditated ploy or a window into her soul. Her naysayers would readily tell you that Clinton is a calculated fraud. Her supporters, on the other hand, will tell you that she is a pragmatic, yet tireless fighter for the least of these. Both certainly cannot be true. And if Clinton is going to win, she’ll have to prove the former wrong and woo a good many skeptical independents (and left-wing Democrats) into the fold. Clinton understands that divide better than anyone—even better than those who work daily to exploit that weakness.

“I’ve had to deal and struggle with a lot of these issues about ambition and humility about service and self-gratification, all of the human questions that all of us deal with,” she said at the town hall. “But when you put yourself out into the public arena, I think it is incumbent upon you to be as self-conscious as possible.”

Despite the early and impassioned rise of Bernie Sanders and the fisticuffs going on in the Republican primary, it is difficult not to believe that Clinton will be our nation’s 45th president. Maybe that’s hasty to say since the race has barely begun to unfold, but—for better or worse—as a nation we appear to be resigned to the idea that Bill Clinton will soon be picking out curtains and china patterns.

Yet, in the midst of a hard-fought presidential primary, the near-bout-presumptive nominee and all-too-likely next occupant of the Oval Office now faces the most unlikely and formidable opponent of them all: herself.

Her challenge now is to keep that window of intimacy open and to introduce herself to the country—not the one standing under the Klieg lights waving at crowds of supporters or the one batting back a debate moderator’s questions, but the one who will answer the proverbial 3 a.m. call, whether it comes from Flint or Moscow, from Syria, Paris, or Baltimore.

It is admittedly a challenge not to see Clinton in political terms, though it’s a footing that she has fashioned for herself.  She has been nowhere and achieved nothing by accident. Happenstance has never been her calling card.

Clinton has spent much of her public life on a plane—jetting around the globe meeting with heads of state, brokering coalitions for both peace and war, hopscotching the country to galvanize primary voters in her first (and now second) bid for the presidency, campaigning on behalf of down-ticket Democrats far and wide, delivering high-dollar speeches, and raising money for her family foundation. Even when her name is not on the ballot, Clinton’s proverbial hat is always in the ring.

For all of her globetrotting—and maybe because of it—there is little left unknown about the Democratic front-runner. Once the nation’s top diplomat, the wife of a man once known as “the leader of the free world” and a former U.S. senator, her public record has been litigated with an unenviable (and often breathtaking) level of granularity. Political foes, journalists, congressional committees, government investigators, civil attorneys, and anyone else with an Internet connection hailing from sea to shining sea has collectively poured millions into “vetting” Clinton and her husband.

Clinton is the living embodiment of a Rorschach test—a perfect reflection of every negative and positive attribute cast upon her. The issue of her “likeability” appears to be hinged not on her experience or command of the issues, but on whether or not Americans find the former First Lady trustworthy—can you believe what she tells you about this or that? Perceptions about her authenticity have certainly dogged Clinton almost from the inception of her 25 years in public life.

But once one gets beyond the well-polished veneers, craftsman-like hewn talking points and the entire pretense that comes along with living out a life on the public stage, can we truly say what motivates her? Clinton tells us it is that discipline of gratitude.

“Be grateful for your limitations, know that you have to reach out to have more people be with you, to support you, to advise you,” Clinton said in her answer at the town hall. “Listen to your critics, answer the questions, but at the end, be grateful.”

Certainly, those limitations and the depth of her gratitude will be tested in the coming weeks and months of the campaign. Clinton may well win the White House, but how tightly the country embraces her may depend on how willing she is to keep the window open.


By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, February 7, 2016

February 8, 2016 Posted by | Faith, Hillary Clinton, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , | Leave a comment

“In The Name Of God”: If You Preach Religious Peace And Tolerance, Then Practice Them

The narrative of Jesus’ birth in Luke’s Gospel has retained its power beyond the realm of believers because it renders one of the most peaceful moments in all of scripture: a gathering of angels and shepherds celebrating the “good news” and “great joy” of the birth of a baby “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Although my favorite Christmas song will always be “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” it is “Silent Night” that may be truest to the spirit of Luke’s account. There are no rumors of war, no clashing armies, only a bright and blessed calm.

This will not be the first or the last Christmas when the world mocks the day’s promise and when religion finds itself a source of violence, hatred and, among many not inclined toward either, a dangerous mutual incomprehension.

Killing in the name of God is not a new thing in history, and nothing does more to discredit faith. Believers regularly argue that religion is often invoked as a cover to justify violence carried out for reasons of politics, economics and power that have nothing to do with God. There is truth to this — and also to the idea that in the 20th century, secular forms of totalitarianism unleashed mass murder on an unprecedented scale.

Nonetheless, as Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi in Britain, argues in his remarkable book “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” believers must face the painful facts.

“Too often in the history of religion,” Sacks writes, “people have killed in the name of the God of life, waged war in the name of the God of peace, hated in the name of the God of love and practiced cruelty in the name of the God of compassion.”

We are now focused on the thoroughly ungodly violence of the Islamic State, but Sacks is careful to document that wars of religion are not unique to Islam. He believes that to persuade religious people of the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — arguments against religious violence must be rooted in theology, not in secular ideas alone. These have to do with the nature of God. “When religion turns men into murderers,” he insists, “God weeps.”

Sacks argues for a separation of religion from power because religion and politics “are inherently different activities.” This is tricky, since many of the genuinely ethical norms that religious people bring to public life are rooted in their faith. Nonetheless, he is surely right that religion “is at its best when it relies on the strength of argument and example. It is at its worst when it seeks to impose truth by force.”

And the strength of example must mean that those who preach religious peace and toleration should practice them. This is why the rank prejudice being shown against Muslims, usually for political reasons, is so destructive, as Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, argued in a powerful column this month in his diocesan newspaper.

“One of the most pernicious effects of terrorism is that it can instill prejudices and group hatred in people’s hearts and minds,” O’Malley wrote. “All of us are horrified by the evil perpetrated by radical terrorists, but we must not let their inhumanity rob us of our humanity.”

He also issued a warning that could usefully be repeated week after week during next year’s presidential campaign: “Fear can cause us to do terrible and stupid things.”

And there is an important lesson in the Christmas story that, God willing, will be heard from many pulpits. “As we mull over the debate about refugees, let us remember the doors that were closed in the face of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem,” O’Malley said. “We must ask our leaders to be vigilant and protect our citizens, but at the same time we cannot turn our back on so many innocent people who are hungry, homeless, and without a country.”

Muslims are constantly called upon to condemn violence. One who has done so consistently is Eboo Patel, an American whose argument in his book “Acts of Faith” parallels the lessons from Rabbi Sacks and Cardinal O’Malley.

“To see the other side, to defend another people, not despite your tradition but because of it, is the heart of pluralism,” Patel writes. “We have to save each other. It’s the only way to save ourselves.”

This idea is worthy of the good news in Luke where an angel tells us: “Do not be afraid.”


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 23, 2015

December 26, 2015 Posted by | Faith, God, Religion | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“A Sinful Tendency To Pervert Faith”: Pope Francis’ Familiar Denunciation Of ‘Ideological Extremism’

It’s hard to overstate just how furious conservatives were in February after hearing President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. I’ll be curious to see how many of them are equally livid with Pope Francis today.

Nearly eight months ago, the president noted that while many faith communities around the world are “inspiring people to lift up one another,” we also see “faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge – or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.” The president explained that no faith tradition is immune and every religion, including his own, has chapters its adherents are not proud of.

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he said. “And lest we [Christians] get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ…. So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”

Conservatives, quite content atop their high horse, were disgusted. Just this week, we saw Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) continue to whine about the Prayer Breakfast remarks, pointing the speech as evidence of the president serving as an “apologist for radical Islamic terrorists.”

But take a moment to consider what Pope Francis said this morning during his address to Congress.

“Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.”

In U.S. News, Gary Emerling noted, “The pontiff said all religions are susceptible to extremism and violence, just like Obama said in February.” I heard it the exact same way.

In fact, as best as I can tell, when Pope Francis said that “no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism,” the only difference between this sentiment and Obama’s in February is that the president bolstered his point with examples.

Will the right lambaste Francis with equal vigor? Somehow I doubt it, but if readers see any examples of this, I hope you’ll let me know.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 25, 2015

September 26, 2015 Posted by | Faith, Ideological Extremism, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: