The latest dust-up concerning religion and politics involves New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Anxious for an issue that might get her some traction in their Senate campaign, Mrs. Clinton has dredged up a 4-month-old Giuliani fundraising letter in which the mayor accuses the former full-time first lady of holding positions anathema to religious people. Mrs. Clinton protests the injection of her beliefs into the campaign. Mrs. Clinton has, in fact, used religion-in her case a socially updated brand of United Methodism-to advance progressive social policies. She owns every copy of a defunct Methodist magazine called motive, saying on several occasions how the publication deeply influenced her undergraduate years at Wellesley. She has praised a 1966 motive article by Carl Oglesby titled "World Revolution and American Containment" as decisive in forming her opposition to the Vietnam War. Newsweek described Mr. Oglesby as a "Methodist theologian," but his resumé includes president of the radical Students for a Democratic Society. In one magazine article he railed against the "virulent strain" of American imperialism enforced by big business and the Marines. "What would be so obviously wrong about a Vietnam run by Ho Chi Minh, [or] a Cuba by Castro?" Mr. Oglesby asked in a 1966 essay. He said socialist governments were merely trying to "feed, clothe, house, and cure their people." In Mr. Oglesby's view (and apparently Mrs. Clinton's as well, given her high praise of him), the Soviet Union and all other socialist governments were always in the right and America in the wrong. Soviet foreign policy, wrote Mr. Oglesby, had tolerated America's Vietnam "outrages" and "theft" of the Dominican Republic. Mr. Oglesby hoped a large country like Brazil would fall to leftists, "who will break up foreign monopolies, raise wages, redistribute land and trade freely with all nations." How much of this "religious" worldview does Hillary still hold? Someone should ask her. In 1996, when Mrs. Clinton asked delegates to the AME Zion convention in Washington to "see the face of Jesus in every child," she transposed this image into a call for support of federal health care and education. "How could I deny Jesus health care or education ... the chance to live in a home that was safe?" she asked. The record says the adult Jesus had no home, but why quibble over such matters when religion can be used to advance a political agenda and most reporters don't care? In one of the more blatant attempts to link religious language with political objectives, former D.C. congressman and Baptist minister Walter Fauntroy told an "ecumenical" gathering of 35 faith groups in 1995: "I'm trying to make sure you don't go to hell like Ronald Reagan." Mr. Fauntroy said Mr. Reagan's "cuts" in Medicaid and food stamps (he actually cut the rate of growth) earned him eternal damnation. Mrs. Clinton spoke to the same group and denounced the Republican Contract With America. In a 1996 address to the United Methodist General Conference, Mrs. Clinton amplified the theme in her book, It Takes a Village: "As adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn't really any such thing as someone else's child.... For that reason, we cannot permit discussions of children and families to be subverted by political or ideological debate," which, of course, is precisely what she does. She said, "Letting people hear the message of the gospel as well as the example of our works, we'll do more to change lives than any program that could be passed by any legislative body." But what is the "gospel" to Mrs. Clinton? And what does "works" mean to her? Is it works by individuals or "works" performed by the government? If Mrs. Clinton were upset about the politicizing of religion, she'd be criticizing Rev. Floyd Flake, who last Sunday endorsed Al Gore for president from his pulpit in New York City, a clear violation of church-state separation and probably the IRS Code. But don't look for the IRS to revoke the nonprofit status of Mr. Flake's church. The Giuliani fundraising letter may stretch the truth, as most do in order to get people to send money, but Mrs. Clinton's objections to the "introduction" of religion into the campaign ignores her own record of using religion to advance a political agenda.
-© 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate