For nearly three decades, political observers have sought to understand the complex relationship between Hillary Clinton's faith and her politics. Now, in this first spiritual biography of the former first lady, acclaimed historian Paul Kengor sets out to answer the elusive question: What does Hillary Clinton believe?
Based on exhaustive research, God and Hillary Clinton tells the surprising story of Hillary's spiritual evolution, detailing how her lifelong religious beliefs have intertwined with her personal history to make her the politician that she is today. Born into a strict Methodist family and raised on a spiritual diet of private prayer and self-reliance, Hillary, at a young age, used the Methodist Church's emphasis on community service to catalyze her involvement in the changing world.
From this unique foundation, Kengor looks at how the chaos of 1960s and 1970s America challenged Hillary's religious underpinnings, as she found herself drifting from her roots. Following her faith through her relationship with an aspiring politician named William Jefferson Clinton, Kengor examines the motivations that eventually led Hillary back to church as first lady of Arkansas and how her revitalized beliefs shaped her time there--from her Bible-study group to her husband's infidelities as governor.
Although Hillary endured many hardships in Little Rock, her days in the White House tested her faith like no other time. Sifting through the spiritual impact of Hillary's ill-fated experimentation with New Age mysticism and the disastrous Monica Lewinsky scandal, Kengor investigates how she relied on God for the power to save her marriage and survive the most difficult chapter of her political career.
While this spiritual chronology of Clinton's life is important, it does not tell the full story of her belief. Here Kengor fills in the gaps between the facts, analyzing the fraught relationship between her faith and her secular policies--most notably how she reconciles her pro-choice stance on abortion to her Christian beliefs--and scrutinizing how these policies have changed over the course of her political career. What emerges is an unexpected portrait of a political figure whose ideals have been shaped by both the power of her politics and the depth of her faith.
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September 18, 2007
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Excerpt from God and Hillary Clinton by Paul Kengor, Ph.D.
Park Ridge Methodist
Hugh Ellsworth Rodham was tough as nails. Born in 1911, he grew up in the mining town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and managed to get himself educated during the Great Depression by winning a football scholarship to Penn State University, where he studied physical education. Phys ed looked like a good choice for Hugh, and had he chosen that path he might have matched the image that many young men have of a high school gym teacher who barks out instructions and calls them "ladies," generally questioning their manhood until they successfully bean a classmate or two in the head with a dodgeball.
Hugh, however, did not follow that road. Instead, he graduated from Penn State with his bachelor's degree in education in 1935 and went to work in the mines--the expected course for the Rodhams of Scranton--before later joining his father in the notably less dismal Scranton Lace Company. Still not content with the gray mining and manufacturing town, he packed his bags and began hopping on and off freight cars all the way to Chicago, where he found employment selling curtains at the Columbia Lace Company. It was in that capacity that he spotted a young lady named Dorothy.
Eight years younger than Hugh, Dorothy Emma Howell had a disturbing childhood. Born to a fifteen-year-old mother and a seventeen-year-old father in Chicago in 1919, little Dorothy saw her parents divorce in 1927. Her mother, Della, sent eight-year-old Dorothy along with her three-year-old sister across the country by train on a four-day trek, reportedly with no adult accompaniment, to a small town near Los Angeles, where the children lived with a badgering, cruel grandmother who criticized the innocent girls' every move.
By the time Dorothy turned fourteen, she had found life in her grandmother's home intolerable. Without much ceremony, the young woman grabbed her one blouse, one skirt, and one sweater--her entire wardrobe at the time--and sought employment as a mother's helper for two children at a nearby home. The job paid $3 a week, but it also gave her room and board, an experience that gave Dorothy the chance to discover what love between parents and their children was supposed to look like. It was a literally life-changing experience for Dorothy, and years later Hillary would say that her "mother often told me that without that sojourn with a strong family, she would not have known how to care for her own home and children."1
As she worked to help the family, Dorothy continued to attend high school. The young girl loved to read and hoped somehow to attend college, but shortly after Dorothy's successful completion of high school, Della got in touch with her daughter. Della, who was still living in Chicago, had remarried, and according to Della, her new husband promised to pay for Dorothy to attend college back in Illinois. Eager to learn and aspiring to be a part of a family like the one she had worked for, Dorothy arrived "home" to find that Della, a weak basket case of a woman, had lied. The whole situation had been a cruel hoax to try and lure Dorothy back to Chicago so that she could work as a housekeeper for Della. Sadly, her mother could not have cared less about giving her an education.2
Despite her mother's attempt to put Dorothy to work, the young woman refused to be ensnared, opting instead to go off on her own once again. It did not take her long to find an apartment, and soon after she began searching for a low-paying office job to pay her rent. She was in the middle of her search, filling out an application for a position as a clerk-typist at a textile company, when she caught the eye of a traveling salesman named Hugh Rodham. That one glance was all it took, and the couple courted for a while before marrying in early 1942.
Hugh continued his sales job through the war years, but contributed his part to the war effort, serving his country as a trainer for navy recruits sent abroad to fight in the Pacific theater. In these efforts, he applied the same tenacity that had made him a successful competitor on the football field, barking orders at young men and forcing them to push their bodies to the brink. Hugh took great pride in this form of military service, and though he did not see combat or ever travel abroad to fight, he rose to the rank of chief petty officer in the navy.
When World War II ended, Hugh started a drapery-fabric business called Rodrik Fabrics in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago's Loop. By 1950, his company was thriving, and he was suddenly able to give Dorothy the comfort and stability she never had and much deserved. He paid cash for a two-story brick house situated on a corner lot between Elm and Wisner streets in the affluent Park Ridge suburb of Chicago. It was a defining move for the young couple, one that offered them the perfect opportunity and location to start raising a family.3
Hillary Rodham was born on October 26, 1947, and three years later her mother gave birth to Hugh Jr., who was followed four years later by Anthony (Tony). Once she gave birth to Hillary, Dorothy became a full-time wife and mother, never working outside the home, and never treating her children or grandchildren the way her mother and grandmother had mistreated her and her siblings. Dorothy showered them with the care and love that had evaded her for much of her adolescence, while Hugh helped to provide a stable and dependable environment for the kids to grow up.
From the start, Hillary seemed born with a strong, determined personality, full of confidence and certitude and tenacity, much like her father. While Dorothy was an influential force among her children, it was Hugh who dominated the family and always made his presence felt within . . .
The foregoing is excerpted from God and Hillary Clinton by Paul Kengor. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022