Hillary’s Methodism

on September 14, 2015

Hillary Clinton’s much publicized visit to Foundry United Methodist Church yesterday brought back many memories.  My first assignment with IRD 20 years ago was to research and publish an article on Foundry’s then controversial pastor Phil Wogaman, a longtime liberal theologian who had taught at Wesley Seminary.  He was an old time Social Gospel modernist, skeptical of biblical miracles but confident about  perfecting society through state power. 

My subsequent report on Wogaman’s theology and politics was picked up by columnist Cal Thomas, which led to longtime Foundry members Bob and Elizabeth Dole, then in a presidential campaign, publicly quitting Foundry.   I actually attended Foundry on the Sunday of Elizabeth Dole’s final attendance.  The church bulletin advertised a critique of the Republican Contract With America.  Wogaman afterwards mentioned me in his response to the Thomas column from the pulpit, with the Clintons present.  Later he covered the episode in his memoir, as I did in my own book.   

During that time IRD’s office was across the street from Foundry Church, fueling suspicions of ongoing surveillance.  Memories!

Wogaman, long retired, joined the Clintons yesterday for Foundry’s 200th anniversary, an illustrious history that includes presidents and other world leaders such as Lincoln, FDR, Churchill and Madam Chiang Kai-shek, among many others.  Hillary’s speech recalled her own Methodist upbringing, an influential youth pastor who introduced her to the Social Gospel, her White House years at Foundry, during which the congregation formally rejected its denominational teaching on sexual ethics, and her ongoing Methodist-inspired devotion to promoting human equality.  Understandably she did not cite Wogaman’s prominent role defending and counseling Bill during the Monica scandal.

To my knowledge, Hillary has not been a regular church goer since leaving the White House 14 years ago, although daughter Chelsea was married by a Methodist clergy in New York, whose congregation maybe a sort of home church for the Clintons. 

But active church participation is not central for the Social Gospel, which focuses on transforming society, not saving individual souls.  All the denominations that embraced the Social Gospel have suffered dramatic declines.  It’s been argued that even as these churches die, their message has won, with Obamacare, same sex marriage, abortion rights, and an expanding welfare and regulatory state.  

Under the Social Gospel, Christ’s message is so immanantized through political achievement that Christ Himself and His message of redemption, not to mention His Church, become sideline if not almost unnecessary.  Instead, government becomes the primary mediator of justice and grace, and even of transcendant authority, with few firm restraints on its ultimate power.

The Social Gospel has lofty aspirations inspired by Christ’s desire to feed, clothe, house, heal and uplift.  But the Social Gospel and its adherants in their zeal for building God’s Kingdom on earth forget the eternal Kingdom and its standards of righteousness possible only through the King.

Hillary’s message at Foundry yesterday and her personal spiritual biography encapsulate where liberal Protestantism has triumphed and failed, with consequences for us all. 

(Above photo credit here.)    

  1. Comment by Pudentiana on September 14, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    The simplicity of this little essay clearly states the poverty of liberal Protestantism and how the mystery of the Gospel is lacking within the teachings of Foundry which was sadly named after one of the most effective centers of ministry in early Methodism. God help us from the classic lies of the Social Gospel.

  2. Comment by Dan on September 14, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Excellent article! Recalling William F. Buckley’s phrasing, I plan go get a bumper sticker made that says “Don’t immanentize the eschaton!”

  3. Comment by ken on September 14, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Malcolm Muggeridge wrote that “the great moral fallacy of our time–that collective virtue may
    be pursued without reference to personal behavior.” Take a look at Bill and Hill in that photo and what do you see?

  4. Comment by OhJay on September 15, 2015 at 1:06 am

    I’ve heard it said that if Christians circled the wagons, we’d all be dead from friendly fire within a week.

    Granted, Hillary’s version of the faith doesn’t match my own, but surely this Methodist vs. Methodist sniping is unflattering at best. After Mitt Romney, and with the possibility of a Donald Trump candidacy crystallizing before our eyes, has the firing range become so circular that Clinton risks being shot for being the wrong kind of Methodist?

  5. Comment by Orter T. on September 15, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    You hit the nail on the head: the United Methodist Church in America has too many different kinds of Methodists, each with their own understanding of who God is, who we are, what is required of us in this lifetime, as well as how the church exists in relation to society. If you think John Wesley would be pleased with this amount of theological diversity within the denomination that evolved from the movement he helped bring into being, I invite you to make a careful reading of his sermon, “The Catholic Spirit”. Please pay special attention to the second half of the sermon that describes, in detail, the person of the truly catholic spirit. My guess is you will be just as surprised as I was! He was a ‘live and let live’ kind of guy only when talking abut the differing factions of Christianity. Within early Methodism, if you joined yourself to Wesley, you joined yourself to a specific set of beliefs and understandings. And just for the record, I have personally found the amount of theological diversity present in The United Methodist Church a problem because it was not until I distanced myself from the church that I began learning anything in particular. Up until that point I had learned random sound bites about nothing in particular.

  6. Comment by Troy on September 17, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    “…a man of a catholic spirit is one who…gives his hand to all whose hearts are right with his heart…all, of whatever opinion or worship, or congregation, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; who love God and man; who, rejoicing to please, and fearing to offend God, are careful to abstain from evil, and zealous of good works.”
    The gist of The Catholic Spirit is that we need to examine ourselves and make sure we are right with God in the strictest sense. In Wesley’s view, one of the largest parts of being right with God is accepting in catholic love all of our Christian brothers and sisters who are sincerely trying to follow the God of the Scriptures.
    Wesley was never a systematic theologian, nor did he claim to be. There are important overarching beliefs of Wesley’s Methodism; however, his holiness clubs were more of a method of learning the Scriptures and holding one another accountable rather than to spread theological orthodoxy.

  7. Comment by Troy on September 15, 2015 at 8:47 am

    I’ve read quite a few of your articles, Mr. Tooley. You seem to have quite a bit of darkness in your heart toward our more liberal brothers and sisters. Wesley, while living a holy life, never seemed to judge so much.

  8. Comment by jjgrndisland on September 15, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Then you need to read more about Wesley. His famous split with George Whitefield was only one of his many quarrels. Wesley had a personality just as autocratic as Paul’s.

  9. Comment by Troy on September 17, 2015 at 9:37 am

    His famous split is generally blamed on a single doctrinal matter. After a few years of a split, they decided to agree to disagree (first found in print in Wesley’s funeral sermon for Whitefield). Whitefield was allowed to speak at Wesley’s societies and Wesley loaned his preachers to Whitefield. He had an autocratic personality sure, but a very generous view of God’s grace towards those he disagreed with.

  10. Comment by Skipper on September 16, 2015 at 10:21 am

    John Wesley wanted people to be justified before God, not their sins. What’s the use in justifying sins? It’s the person that needs to justified. Wesley once told a new congregation he had started, that they must stop cheating on their taxes to the king, or else he wasn’t coming to preach to them any more! That’s how important living a holy life meant to him.

  11. Comment by Troy on September 17, 2015 at 9:31 am

    I agree the holy life meant everything to him. However, if you read his sermons, he exhorts rather than judges.

  12. Comment by Skipper on September 17, 2015 at 10:55 am

    Good point about his sermons. In his personal life and in the lives of those around him, he did not accept sin, like we see today in a marriage as “two people”. Also, identifying sin is not judging and often the loving thing to do. Christ, Peter and Paul did this often. How else can we become more like the Master?

  13. Comment by The original Mr. X on September 18, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Fun fact: the person in the Bible who talks about Hell the most is Jesus.

  14. Comment by Alan on September 24, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Example: ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

  15. Comment by Troy on September 25, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Somewhat unfair because the O.T. almost never mentions Hell (and the Hell it mentions is rather different than what the N.T. talks about) and Jesus says most of the important things in the N.T.

  16. Comment by Troy on September 25, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Marriage as “two people” 🙂 There is very little scripture to stand on to denigrate homosexuality unless you go to the O.T. right near where they stone someone for disrespecting his parents..
    Identifying sin is one thing. Judging Hillary Clinton when we don’t know her heart, her thoughts, or even what she does in her non-extremely managed-public life has nothing to do with identifying sin.

  17. Comment by accelerator on September 24, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    LOL. Troy, read a bit more. Wesley would be scandalized by Ms. Clinton’s “theology.”

  18. Comment by Troy on September 25, 2015 at 9:31 am

    He would not agree with her theology, but he would accept her in love as a sister. I have Wesley’s complete works and have read them a number of times. I actually have degrees from Asbury University and Asbury Seminary, places Mr. Tooley knows well, and two of the premier Wesleyan institutions in the U.S.
    I doubt Mrs. Clinton has systemized her theology.
    Wesley would be most scandalized by one’s pride in believing it was one’s place to judge one who is attempting to seek out God. (I know your response will be that she is not sincere, but again, how do you know her heart?)

  19. Comment by Troy on September 15, 2015 at 8:47 am

    I’ve read quite a few of your articles, Mr. Tooley. You seem to have quite a bit of darkness in your heart toward our more liberal brothers and sisters. Wesley, while living a holy life, never seemed to judge so much.

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