I’m writing to friends and family and other contacts to share one side of the story about one of our presidential candidates, which may not be familiar to many, at least in the terms that I know them. A hundred years ago, I worked closely with a bright young Methodist student at Wellesley College, where I was serving as a teacher and Chaplain, one Hillary Rodham. She was then, and, I believe, still is a person of deep moral passion, notwithstanding press caricatures of her that have appeared in recent years with predictable regularity.
Hillary came to Wellesley as an enthusiastic “Goldwater Girl.” Hers was a dedicated voice of the Midwestern Right. Then she took the (at that time) required sophomore Bible course, and it changed her life. She was especially fond of Amos, texts such as 5:24, “Let justice roll down like waters.” And she did not just talk the talk.
One example. As president of the student government, she and a group of young women like her (I was a kind of back-row advisor to all this), wanted to address the mostly lily-white complexion of the student body. At that time there were, as I recall, 12 African-Americans in a student body of some 2000. The College’s administration wanted nothing to do with all this. Hillary took the lead with her group to raise money independently to pay for those African-American students to make recruiting trips to predominantly black high schools across the country. Not only had those schools never been visited by Wellesley College recruiters before, they were unknown to the Admissions Office. That project turned out to be a minor success. But my point here is not minor successes, but Hillary’s impressive moral passion and her eagerness to act on that passion.
I have kept close tabs on her personal and political trajectories ever since. Notwithstanding her being the object of sometimes vicious attacks (tell me that sexism is not alive and well in this country) and notwithstanding mistakes of her own along the way, I believe that the faith that she discovered in Amos and the moral passion she exemplified at Wellesley College have not left her. If anything, given the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, that faith and that moral passion have deepened and become the driving force of all she does. I believe that she has added the wisdom of spiritual depth, too, which sometimes comes with maturity. Did you notice that when asked, during one of the New Hampshire debates, about spiritual influences on her life she spoke at length and with some conviction about how much she has learned from that great Catholic spiritual teacher of our time, Henri Nouwen?
I, of course, am not an unbiased witness. I affirm what I once saw, and I affirm what I now see. I have walked the streets of New Hampshire in her behalf and I support her current campaign financially.
I write only with this hope, that, as you continue to reflect about the current campaign, you will take into account her moral passion and her spiritual depth. She is much more than her popular detractors, even on the liberal side, make her out to be. I also believe that she has even more to offer. Her much vaunted “experience” is not something to shake a stick at, for example, not to speak of a certain wisdom she brings with her as a knowledgeable student of history. But those are themes for another day.
This link will take you to Hillary Rodham’s commencement speech, in which she mentions The Rev. Dr. H. Paul Santmire, then Chaplain at Wellesley College.
Race, Activism, and Hillary Clinton at Wellesley, The New Yorker
Faith Intertwines with Political Life for Clinton, The New York Times
I read your letter with a lot of interest. I learned about you only because you were mentioned in Hillary Rodham’s 1969 commencement address.
I would say this. I was inspired when Hillary tried to get us single-payer healthcare in the 1990’s. I’m an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders because he has continued to work for that sort of healthcare. Hillary has declined from being admired to being mistrusted. And I think it’s from a combination of factors, the outstanding one being the amount of money she and Bill have taken in in 15 years since leaving the White House. As a practicing lawyer, I learned to be mistrustful, even of my clients, but to work hard. I think “follow the money” is one of the wisest sayings we have. I compare Bernie Sanders, who lives modestly, with the Clintons, and that factor alone makes me trust him. I really like his position on practically all issues. Hillary tries to sell herself as supporting the same issues, but she always leaves herself wiggle wrong. And I am tired of having the country be sold down the river.
Thanks for this. It’s a cool moment when one learns that a theologian who is shaping me even now once played a part in shaping someone else whom I admire. And a reminder of how taking a required Bible class can change your life as it has mine and so many others.
Program Associate – Green Seminary Initiative
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Thank you Paul, for sharing this personal experience and giving your public witness. I appreciate your perspective.