Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, also a lifelong United Methodist, spoke at the quadrennial gathering of United Methodist Women (UMW) in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday, April 26. Amid nonstop speculation about whether or not Clinton plans to make another presidential run in 2016, many saw the speech as Clinton’s way of bolstering her faith credentials.
Clinton was introduced by Yvette Richards, board president of the UMW. “She is the daughter of the United Methodist Church and the daughter of the United Methodist women,” Richards said to thunderous applause. “We are paired together; we are connected. She is one of us.”
Clinton began by recalling her Methodist upbringing in First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge, Illinois. “I loved that church. I loved how it made me feel about myself. I loved the doors it opened up in my understanding of the world. I loved how it helped deepen my faith and ground it.”
She spoke fondly of her father’s nightly prayers, her mother teaching Sunday school (“Mostly because I think she wanted to make sure my brothers’ showed up!”), and her own experience in the group that cleaned the altar. She even boasted that her grandmother could trace her Methodist roots all the way back to the Wesley brothers themselves.
Clinton spoke of how her political understanding was shaped by her young years in the church, when a youth pastor broke her out of their “sheltered, middle class, all-white community.” The young pastor took her youth group out of their comfort zone to visit inner-city communities, and introduced a young Clinton to social justice issues.
The theme of the UMW Assembly was Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitude, so Clinton gave her takeaway from the story. She jokingly referred to it as the “first great potluck dinner,” and said that while her youth group always focused on the miracle, she loved the lesson behind the miracle: “In the story, when the hour grows late and the crowd grows hungry, the disciples come to Jesus and suggest they send away the people to find food, to fend for themselves. Jesus said ‘No, you feed them.’ He was teaching a lesson about the responsibly we all share to step up and serve the community, especially to help those with the greatest need and the fewest resources.”
Much of Clinton’s speech focused on women’s issues and the contributions to important world isses made by women. Women are feeding the multitudes every day, she said, by leading the fight against human trafficking, against modern slavery, against environmental degradation, and for improvements in maternal health. “Like the disciples of Jesus, we cannot look away,” Clinton stressed. “We cannot let those in need fend for themselves and live with ourselves. ‘You feed them,’ he said. Feed them, rescue them, heal them, love them.”
In general, politics took a backseat to faith during Clinton’s address. Clinton did tout her work in the State Department in pushing maternal health and human trafficking in America. She endorsed city-level “safe harbor laws” that would treat trafficked prostitutes as victims rather than criminals. She also spoke about wage inequality in the US and overseas, and called on women to push for paid family leave, STEM mentoring for women, and raising the minimum wage.
The IRD issued a press release on last Friday calling on Clinton to distance herself from the more troubling aspects of the UMW’s Assembly, including an anti-Israel workshop entitled “Why Justice in Palestine Is a Racial Justice Imperative” led by an anti-Israel activist. “UMW’s anti-Israel stance doesn’t represent the views and policies of Hillary Clinton in her public life,” said IRD President Mark Tooley. “It would be so helpful if she urged UMW’s officials in a new, more helpful direction of democracy, security, liberty and especially religious freedom for all.”
The entirety of Clinton’s speech may be watched here, on the UMW Assembly’s website.