More on God and Hillary Clinton: Interview with historian Paul Kengor

In light of the attention given to Paul Kengor’s new book, God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life, I asked Paul some questions to go a little deeper into topics of interest to readers. Of course, the fullest treatment of these issues comes from the book, but Paul here provides more depth on the reports of “seances” and her views on abortion and homosexuality.

Throckmorton: Many are interested in the spiritual experiences with Jean Houston. Would you characterize her conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt as resulting from a seance?

Kengor: No, no, not as a seance. It has been reported that way, but that’s not what I say in the book. I note very carefully in the book that these sessions, which were indeed very strange, were described by Hillary’s critics as “seances,” but that they did not seem to be quite that weird. Now, that said, they were definitely bizarre and far more out-of-line than anything First Lady Nancy Reagan did with her astrologer in the 1980s.

Let me explain what was happening: She brought in a kind of spiritual adviser named Jean Houston, who worked with Hillary in these sort of spiritual-psychological-emotional sessions where Hillary “connected,” or “conversed” in a way, with deceased historical figures, namely Eleanor Roosevelt. Bob Woodward actually first reported this in his book in 1996. Mrs. Clinton did not deny the reports, and neither did her staff. Once the revelations became public, she tried to joke about them and move on, clearly embarrassed, especially politically.

Now, aside from a “séance,” some pundits ridiculed this as “channeling”—allegations that the first lady and her staff vehemently denied. Yet, these suspicions were not totally unmerited. The work of Houston and her husband, Robert E. L. Masters, went well beyond the typical goofy New Age stuff. Houston and Masters did channeling in the past. Masters had his patients channel the Egyptian god Sekhmet. In her book, Public Like a Frog: Entering the Lives of Three Great Americans, Houston introduced three individuals that she said were available to be contacted through a trance or altered state of consciousness: Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickenson, and Helen Keller. Somewhere along the line, Eleanor Roosevelt also presumably made herself available.

This is beyond my expertise, but in the book I pause to note that there are different forms of channeling. According to Jon Klimo, an expert on the subject, these range from full-trance channeling to sleep channeling, dream channeling, light-trance channeling, clairaudient channeling, clairvoyant channeling, open channeling, and physical channeling, among others. Some of these involve the use of Ouija boards, while others manifest themselves in scary forms like levitation and voice alteration. Among them, clairaudient channeling sounds closest to what Hillary was reportedly doing with Houston; it involves relaxing oneself in either a fully conscious or mildly altered state of consciousness and then listening to one’s “innerself.”

Hillary was not, as far as we know, levitating above a table in the White House.

Nonetheless, what Hillary was involved with had the potential to be dangerous, and is widely condemned by the vast majority of Protestant denominations.

After this, for whatever reason, whether spiritual or political or both, Hillary got back on track to more conventional Christianity. The United Methodist Church, her denomination, came to the rescue with an offer of a major speaking engagement at the annual conference in April 1996. She then gave a major speech on her more conventional religious upbringing and beliefs.

Throckmorton: You mentioned that Jean Houston felt Hillary was enduring some kind of “female crucifixion.” What does this mean and what was Mrs. Clinton’s reaction to their characterization?

Kengor: According to Bob Woodward, Houston had come to the grandiose conclusion that Hillary was personally carrying the burden of 5,000 years of women being subservient to men—nearly the entire history of female subservience had been tossed upon the back of Hillary Rodham Clinton. This was her cross to bear. Now, affirmed Houston, history was at a turning point, on the brink of genuine gender equality, and it was Hillary alone who could turn the tide—another Joan of Arc. Houston reportedly told Hillary that, next to Joan of Arc, she was there on the front line as arguably the most pivotal woman in all of human history. But she was a victim, a sufferer of bitter, unjustified personal attack; she was, said Houston, like Mozart, history’s greatest composer, but with his hands cut off.

Woodward says that although Houston herself did not articulate the image, “she felt that Hillary was going through a female crucifixion.” Nonetheless, said Woodward, Houston told Hillary she would prevail. She must persevere, as the new possibilities for the world’s women were too much for her to cast aside.

Apparently, Houston helped Hillary identify a couple of means for fulfilling her global, millennial potential: Hillary should proceed with the book on childcare that had been germinating, and she should attend that U.N. conference on women in early September 1995, specifically, the Fourth World Conference on Women in—of all places—Beijing, to be held September 4-15. There, of course, feminists hoped to save the world by winning for women a global right to legally abort children.

Throckmorton: Does Mrs. Clinton ever grapple with how she can see the face of Jesus in little children and then defend abortion rights so strenuously? From your research, how does she reconcile the two positions?

Kengor: She is very careful to avoid addressing questions like “does life begin at conception?” or “what would Jesus think of abortion?” She shrewdly recognizes that this is a minefield. Unlike pro-choice liberals like John Kerry, she seems smart enough to realize that once you acknowledge the humanity of the unborn child, and particularly from the moment of conception, then it becomes very troublesome to argue for the right to take that life. She generally avoids publicly trying to reconcile the two.

Of course, we must keep in mind that her denomination, the United Methodist Church, supports legal abortion and in fact is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. So, she points to her denomination for guidance on this matter and, lo and behold, gets backing in being “pro-choice.” The minister at her Washington, DC church, one of the top Methodist leaders in the nation, is pro-choice. Why wouldn’t he be? The UMC leadership is pro-choice, as was, by the way, a fellow Methodist named Harry Blackmun, author of Roe v. Wade, who, incidentally, was invited to take the pulpit at Hillary’s church one day in 1995.

Throckmorton: Does Mrs. Clinton’s religiously based opposition to gay marriage carry over to her views regarding civil unions? Did your research turn up anything on Mrs. Clinton’s religious views regarding the morality of homosexual behavior?

Kengor: This is a very interesting issue. She has traditionally been against gay marriage, citing the Bible and the Biblical tradition. She defends the Defense of Marriage Act passed by the Republican Congress and her husband. On the other hand, she continues to become ever more embracing of gay rights. This is one issue where she is obviously increasingly ambivalent, and I could see her eventually changing on this one if it helped her politically.

Throckmorton: Do you think Mrs. Clinton will be able to garner any high level evangelical endorsements? If so, who might be inclined to support her?

Kengor: Only from liberal evangelicals like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, not from conservatives. Look, I try to be as fair and charitable to her as possible in this book, even saying from literally the very first pages that she undoubtedly appears to be a Christian and is truly a lifelong committed Methodist, albeit a very liberal Christian, a Religious Left Christian. She is also a Christian who in my view is tragically wrong and misguided on abortion. That said, if you’re a conservative evangelical and someone who is a deeply pro-life Christian, you are almost certainly going to be repulsed by her stridency on abortion. She is to the left of everyone on the abortion issue. I would not expect any high-level endorsements from conservative evangelicals.

For more information about this new book, see my first post on the matter…

26 thoughts on “More on God and Hillary Clinton: Interview with historian Paul Kengor”

  1. Corakta –

    You stated:

    “If the unborn child is at an earlier step in his or her gestational life, then it’s suddenly okay becuase she or he doesn’t look so much like a baby? He or she becomes no more human during that time–they just mature.”

    That’s a little illogical, don’t you think? For example, there is a point immediately after sex where you have no idea if a “life” will begin development or not. For example, a woman is raped and goes to the emergency room. Is she not having an “abortion” according to you? It is according to many.

    If so, you are preventing a potential life everytime you use protection during sex. We should outlaw birth control pills (prevent a life from taking place), condoms, etc. It would be a logical extention of your thoughts.

    I think the cases on both sides are often exaggerated with little reality coming in. The woman whose child is aborted late-term because the life of the mother is at stake, etc..

    These are tough issues to grapple with. I cannot pretend to know the correct answers to things like this…but I do think they should be at the discretion of the family, and most importantly, the women carrying the child.

    1. For me, it just comes down to bodily autonomy. I don’t have the right to use another person’s body against their will. That’s called rape. I don’t have the right to demand even a drop of blood from somebody, not even my mother. That’s theft. So how does a fetus/pro-human being get that right?

      Before we start granting rights to unborn, we need to ensure that the born retain their rights. When balancing the two, I recognize a woman as a human being with rights to her body because anything less would mean that I’m on the side of rapists and slavers. It’s just that simple for me.

      What I want is for there to be some way to implant embryos into men against their will (naturally). Then, we can use all the arguments that the “pro-live” group uses against them. Watch how quickly they will go “My body, my choice”.

      At the end of the day, I have no skin in the game. When I risk my life and my body, or when the risk is even possible, that’s the day that I get a real voice in the abortion debate. And if any gods want to interject, they better send down a few stone tablets, possibly parting a sea or two, sending a global vision.. you know, god like things rather than using stupid apes.

      (I understand why religious people would have a problem. At least the abrahamic religions are predicated on two very toxic ideas: 1. women are property 2. believe the unbelievable. Point one is quite obvious and one only has to read several verses in both OT and NT to understand that the entire concept of the authors in the Bible was women are chattel property. Point 2 is less direct. But, it goes simply like this. If a religion can make you believe an imaginary creature exists, is it so hard to believe that an imaginary baby exists? Hell, they even have ultrasounds so there’s more proof for that fetus than there is for their God. But then, you go back to that moral question – Do you have the right to use another person’s body against their will? Does any human being have that right? The logical conclusion is either – Yes, I’m a rapist or No, I’m not a rapist. There is no partial rape scenario that is possible.)

  2. Sherri, The real prison is living with all that inside of you. Feeling forgiven is healing because it liberates your spirit.

  3. Sherri,

    Because you believe that you have done great evil and probably should be imprisoned or executed, can I suggest a compromise. Perhaps you can dedicate your life to feeding the hungry.

    I am absolutely certain that there are plenty of people who would greatly benefit from all of your time and it would be as easy as calling a food bank. Even if you don’t have great financial ability to help, think of all the good you could do by sorting or cooking or serving. It might go a long way towards helping you feel less guilty and more forgiven.

  4. Sherri,

    It is when you acknowledge what you believe you have done wrong that you are graced with forgiveness. We have all done things that are wrong and if we didn’t have the belief that we can be forgiven, then we have nothing. Dr. Throckmorton is right – all sin is forgiven – that is what Jesus came to earth and died for. There is a wonderful book called “Tilly” that I want to recommend to you. Please let me know if you read it and what you think. You do not have to be imprisoned for life – you can begin anew right now and know you are completely forgiven. I am thinking of you tonight and your name will be said in my prayers.

  5. Sherri – In my Christian tradition, all sin is forgiven. Paul said, I am the chief of sinners, and yet he was forgiven and restored. I hope you will seek a group for those who are post-abortion and begin to heal.

  6. Having had three abortions (killed three people) I realize that I have committed Mortal Sin and should be under the death penalty or imprisioned for life. If I cannot be forgiven, then I am imprisoned for live and condemned to death. Nothing I can do on this earth will atone for my sin, I believe. I will burn in hell or I will be put in a place thereafter where I cannot see the face of God.

  7. Corakta, I agree with you. It’s like the story of the atheist on his/her death bed. When you are faced with that ultimate moment of truth, you may decide you’ve been fooled into accepting lies all your life. the time WILL come when everybody will definitely know what is the truth regarding all the decisions made about life. Heaven help us. We think we are gods and can determine the truth ourselves ! Justifying this and that with lies, excuses.

  8. Abortion should be “legal, safe and RARE?” How about murder of the more ordinary kind? Should we say that it’s okay to murder people as long as you really think about it? That’s such a slippery moral position–as is the late-term abortion ban. The Methodists must flinch at the gruesome and obviously evil step of murdering a child that looks like a child. If the unborn child is at an earlier step in his or her gestational life, then it’s suddenly okay becuase she or he doesn’t look so much like a baby? He or she becomes no more human during that time–they just mature. You as embryo is no less you…if you went back in time and saw yourself as an embryo…that would be you. And if that embryo or early fetus were destroyed–you would be destroyed. It’s murder.

    All these things: channeling spirits and murdering innocent life…they’re all prohibited by God almighty. We all live as though we’ll never face the Lord, as though religion is a set of rules we make up and quibble over and congratulate ourselves about.

    One day, we’ll be confronted by the end of life and then what?

  9. To me, what Hillary did in the past IS a little wacky (but I’m filtering things through my own traditional Christian lens) – Is that STILL the Hillary of today? Has she not changed at all? I’m curious. I do remember Nancy Regan’s own bout with her astrologer – although I can’t remember the specific stories about what went on

    I do like what she and Bill have said about abortion: That it should be “legal, safe and RARE”.

  10. “Now I’m both laughing and feeling guilty for laughing at the same time.”

    Me, too, Timothy. And also revolted that Houston and Masters would capitalize on her life in this way.

  11. Jonathan, I’m not sure why you directed your comment above to me. As a pastor, I certainly didn’t approve of what I read about Mrs. Reagan’s “spiritual” life either. Both, I think, are bordering on paganism.

    As far as I recall, though, Nancy’s main reason for consulting soothsayers, or whatever you want to call them, had to do with security concerns for Ronnie. I don’t remember her having the messianic aspirations that Kengor reports Hillary has.

    Hillary is free to follow any spiritual path she chooses, but its her grandiose pride that scares the heck out of me.

  12. Timothy, Karen:

    I too felt guilty for laughing so hard…so I ran the gist of the story with Karen’s comment past a blind friend I ride the morning bus with. He laughed out loud and then grinned for several blocks.

    I do have to concede, though, that he IS a friend…meaning we share some crazy viewpoints about life in general…so I’m still cautious about with whom I share the anecdote. (Yukk! I like that sentence better with the ‘with’ at the end.)

  13. Ann –

    “It seems very unfair and selfish to me. If a woman chooses to terminate this life, then that is her choice – I just think it is paramount that we give all the facts about it and not try to minimize the other life as if it is not viable. When a woman knows all the facts about what they are actually doing then many times they stop and are glad they chose differently.”

    I totally agree with you. You worded this wonderfully.

  14. I couldn’t help but wonder most of the evening … how does one “channel” Helen Keller?

    Karen, NOT FAIR!!!

    Now I’m both laughing and feeling guilty for laughing at the same time.

  15. Karen:

    I don’t see absolutely any difference in what HRC did in office re mysticism and the stuff that Nancy Reagan was involved with. Other than, of course, one holds political views much more in line with Mr. Kengor than the other.


  16. Jag,

    I advocate individual choice – the problem with the pre-born child facing death is that they have no voice and are at the mercy of another. There are two people involved – not just an individual. One has a voice and the other one doesn’t. To terminate this life is equal to any other hate crime I can think of and yet I hear nothing from those who want a hate crime bill legislated that would also include these thousands of lives in emminate danger. It seems very unfair and selfish to me. If a woman chooses to terminate this life, then that is her choice – I just think it is paramount that we give all the facts about it and not try to minimize the other life as if it is not viable. When a woman knows all the facts about what they are actually doing then many times they stop and are glad they chose differently. It is easy to make decisions based on how we rationalize things but when we actually absorb the whole truth about it, many times we take pause and realize what we were about to do is not what we know to be the right thing for ourselves and the other person or people we might hurt by doing so.

  17. Jahen, I think it does finally all boil down to how one defines “pro-choice.” When I hear the term, I think of abortion without limits, with no restrictions whatsoever, such as late term. The United Methodist position is more nuanced than that, though, yes, we do believe that the decision does finally reside with the woman, who hopefully has given it prayerful consideration.

    My major beef with Mr. Kengor, at least in the interview with Warren, was the simplistic way he described us. (Maybe he’s getting that from Hillary herself.) If the mian instruction she’s gotten about United Methodism and abortion is coming from Foundry Church in DC, that’s no wonder.

  18. THIS practice is seen as “dangerous?”

    “it involves relaxing oneself in either a fully conscious or mildly altered state of consciousness and then listening to one’s “innerself.”

    Sounds like meditation or even a form of deep prayer to me. Wow, people really try to hop on anything.

    Also – her views on abortion. I have difficulty with those who so fiercely defend the unborn child, and yet believe in capitol punishment. Kill them when they’re old but not when they are young? Do we have the right to ever end the life that God has granted us? It’s tough to say.

    In capitol punishment, viewed around the world as barbaric in most western cultures. Especially given rates in this country of misapplication, racial difference in application, and the clear biases toward the wealthy in our justice system (OJ anyone?) – it’s questionable.

    I’d say at least she’s consistent. Pro-choice, and pro-death penalty from what I understand.

  19. Karen–

    I haven’t laughed this hard in ages. That IS a most intriguing question! Thanks!!!! I’ll be pondering it for days to come.

  20. Karen – that is a pro-choice position. If the woman prays and determines that the pregnancy is unacceptable, then she may choose abortion. I think Kengor is right on.

  21. Thanks Warren, Paul and Karen for some very interesting and informative reading! (LOL! I’m hoping the hypesters on the other Hilary thread don’t find their way over here.)

    More than eight levels/means of channeling! Who’d have believed it? (Heck, I don’t even get that many channels on my TV!)

  22. Ticked as I get with The United Methodist Church (even though I’m a pastor within it), I get even angrier when folk misrepresent our official teaching. I guess it all depends on your definition of “pro-choice,” but here is what we UMs believe about abortion, and it’s not nearly as simplistic as Mr. Kengor claims:

    “The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born.

    Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy. In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection.

    We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life. We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may warrant abortion. We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, and to those who give birth. We particularly encourage the Church, the government, and social service agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption. (See ¶ 161.K.)

    Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.”

    This statement is from our 2004 Book of Discipline, the official doctrine and polity of the denomination, reviewed and often revised every four years at our General Conference.

    Yes, some of our denominational leaders network with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, particularly our feminist-oriented Women’s Division. Many other folk see that as being in direct conflict with our official teaching. Our problem, as with that of human sexuality, is holding people accountable to who we say we are.

    I had a similar enounter with a reporter in Nashville from the Southern Baptist Richard Land’s office. She started out the conversation by saying, “So, tell me how you feel about The United Methodist Church being pro-gay.” On paper, we’re not. And after explaining to her what our official teaching is, she said, “No one’s ever said that to me before.”

    These cultural/religious battles are difficult enough without people failing to do their homework.

  23. Not sure, but April 1996 would have been United Methodism’s General Conference, the once every four years intenational legislative gathering. That one was particularly caustic.

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