As Barack Obama hopes to politically extricate himself from his church of two decades — where he was married, had his children baptized, found his spiritual mentor, and got the inspiration for the title of his bestselling book — Hillary Clinton may find herself at odds with her entire denomination.
Hillary Clinton is a lifelong, strongly committed Methodist, and is very pleased with the long-running leftward drift of the United Methodist Church. For the UMC, this is a multifaceted tilt ranging from support of abortion services to various third-world inanities, all nicely (albeit disturbingly) documented in Mark Tooley’s new book Taking Back the United Methodist Church.
In fact, Mrs. Clinton can quote the UMC’s Book of Discipline, which advocates abortion as a “legal option.” As her Arkansas OB-GYN, William F. Harrison — the leading abortion doctor in the state of Arkansas over the past 30 years — told me: “Hillary [is] a Methodist and I was raised a Methodist. The Methodist church [is] very strongly pro-choice.” Harrison’s memoirs are rich with Biblical exhortations — each chapter leads with a verse from Scripture. For decades now, the UMC has led the flock on these moral issues, and the flock — from Harrison to Clinton — has responded appreciatively.
The UMC has gone so far as to join the tragically misguided Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a confused organization of religious groups that preaches a “pro-choice” gospel. That thinking permeates the UMC ranks, including Mrs. Clinton’s Washington, DC church, Foundry United Methodist Church. One of the attendees, Mark Tooley, recalls the moment in 1995 when Hillary’s pastor, Rev. Philip Wogaman, angrily decried the pro-life protestors who had the audacity to oppose an upcoming visit to the pulpit by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackman, fellow Methodist and author of Roe v. Wade. “What a tragedy!” snapped Wogaman, unhappy not with Blackman’s judicial decision but at the would-be picketers.
This pervasive advocacy for legalized abortion is one of the reasons Hillary says with a smile, “I’m comfortable in this church.” But Hillary Clinton may begin to feel less comfortable. The UMC recently concluded its 2008 General Conference — Hillary has addressed the conference in the past — where it made some positive steps back from the abyss of the Culture of Death advanced by its most liberal members.
Among the steps taken was a statement encouraging the church to “assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.” The conference made some important changes in language, deleting a previous assertion that advocating legalized abortion was “in continuity with past Christian teaching,” and even adding a sentence informing Methodists that they are “bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and unborn child.”
Of course, for pro-lifers, this is a bit maddening. It suggests that the UMC’s best and brightest could not divine a respect for the sanctity of life until this particular conference. What’s more, this binding respect for the sacredness of unborn human life continues to include the right to terminate it. Nonetheless, for the UMC, this is progress.
Another impressive change at the recent conference is that even feminist Methodists found a form of abortion they are willing to denounce: gender-selective abortions. Aborting a baby because a would-be mother simply does not want it is one thing, but to abort because the unborn baby is, say, a girl . . . well, that’s just unacceptable.
The one major disappointment was the decision to remain a part of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. This victory was hard-fought by the liberals and through lobbying efforts by representatives of the RCRC. According to John Lomperis of National Right to Life, a key to victory was a decision to schedule the RCRC vote when the 100-plus African delegates were not present. The African delegates are more conservative than the Americans, which is true for many American Protestant leaderships that have moved to the left. This apparent disenfranchisement of the Africans gave the liberals the victory they needed.
It’s a shame that the RCRC vote failed, but it was also surprisingly (and refreshingly) close. Mark Tooley told me that this was “the closest margin ever.” He said if not for the missing 100 African delegates, the resolution to leave RCRC “would have passed.” He says confidently, “We’ll win next time.”
So, what does all of this mean for Hillary?
There’s no issue on which Hillary Clinton is more radical than abortion. She is already to the left of the UMC leadership on the issue. No doubt she is not pleased with these changes, which may isolate her even more. John Wesley, who helped launch Methodism in the 18th century, would be elated, so perhaps his corpse can begin returning to its original position in his grave. But Hillary Clinton, like Barack Obama, may be forced to publicly rebuke her church for its latest actions.
Of course, Mrs. Clinton can take solace in the fact that her church remains a member of RCRC — but perhaps not for long. Given her lack of success in securing the Democratic nomination, maybe she can look toward another presidency, that of the United Methodist Church. Besides, Obama will ensure that the pro-choice flag flies high for the Democratic party in 2008. The UMC may ultimately fail the abortion crusaders, but the Democratic party — abortion’s true spiritual home — will not.
— Paul Kengor has most recently published God and Hillary Clinton (HarperCollins, 2007) and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). He is professor of political science at Grove City College.