Donald Trump’s ignorance makes him challenging to cover. It’s sometimes hard to know whether his falsehoods are the product of willful deceit or mere lack of information.
Take his statement on Tuesday to evangelical leaders that “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. There’s like nothing out there.”
Nothing out there? Biographies and magazine profiles have been stressing Clinton’s religiosity for decades. In his 1993 New York Times Magazine profile, “Saint Hillary,” the late journalist Michael Kelly stressed Clinton’s relationship with Reverend Don Jones, the youth pastor in her Methodist church in Park Ridge, Illinois.
In his book, A Woman in Charge, Carl Bernstein notes that Clinton corresponded with Jones for twenty years after leaving home. He calls Jones “the most important teacher in Hillary’s life” until she reached adulthood and declares, “Aside from her family, Hillary’s Methodism is perhaps the most important foundation of her character.”
Nor did Clinton’s faith dissipate once she entered politics. While working on George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign in San Antonio, Texas, she carried around a heavily marked Bible, something she did again while campaigning for Bill in 1992. As First Lady of Arkansas, she taught Sunday School, served on the board of her Methodist church, and gave guest sermons across the state on Methodist theology. In the White House, she carried around prayer cards, frequently said grace before meals, and joined a prayer group, something she continued in the Senate.
Over the years, numerous observers have noted religion’s influence on her political views. In his 1993 profile, Kelly described Clinton’s beliefs as “liberalism derived from religiosity,” which combined “a generally ‘progressive’ social agenda with a strong dose of moralism.” In his book about Clinton’s 2000 Senate run, Hillary’s Turn, Michael Tomasky compares her to 19th-century female reformers like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone, and Frances Willard, who “were deeply religious” and whose “reform impulses were rooted firmly in scripture.”
Clinton’s religiosity has made her both politically progressive and somewhat culturally conservative, especially on issues of sexuality and marriage. In 1994, she told Newsweek she was “not comfortable” with distributing condoms in schools. In her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, she criticized the culture of easy divorce. In a 2005 speech, she remarked, “Research shows that the primary reason that teenage girls abstain is because of their religious and moral values. We should embrace this—and support programs that reinforce the idea that abstinence at a young age is not just the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do.”
Clinton hasn’t talked as much about her faith this campaign. Perhaps she’s worried that Millennials—who polls show are disproportionately secular, and who have flocked to the ultra-secular Bernie Sanders—might find it alienating. But by questioning her faith, Trump is giving her an opening for the general election.
Clinton should give a speech about the role religion has played in her life. It might help in Utah, where many Mormons appear repelled by Trump. And it would offer a powerful contrast with the man who now suggests she’s a fake Christian. Clinton knows the Bible far better than Trump. She’s worked far harder to keep her marriage together. And from her early days at the Children’s Defense League, she’s prioritized service while he’s lusted endlessly after superficial, material things.
According to Trump, “We don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion.” Actually, people who have been paying attention do. But now might be a good moment to for Clinton to remind everyone else.