In an unusual meditation on her Christian faith, Hillary Clinton told a small crowd in rural Iowa on Monday afternoon how her belief in God has helped guide her politics and criticized those who use Christianity to "condemn so quickly" and "judge so harshly."
"I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am Methodist," Clinton said at a local school gymnasium in Knoxville. "My study of the Bible and my many conversations with people of faith has led me to believe that the most important commandment is to love the lord with all your might, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do."
For the former Secretary of State, such a personal discussion of her faith is rare. In churches over the past year, Clinton has spoken about Bible passages she has found meaningful and discussed her Methodist upbringing, but she typically does not discuss her Christian beliefs on the campaign trail.
Her meditation on Monday was not part of her planned comments, but came in response to a question from a voter named Jessica Manning, a 36-year-old high school guidance counselor, who said she was Catholic and at first undecided about whether to support Clinton.
“I am by no means a perfect person," Clinton said in a hushed voice. "I will confess that to one and all. But I feel the continuing urge to try to be better, to try to be more loving even with people who are quite harsh."
She also suggested that some in politics have misused their faith. "I have been very disappointed and sorry that Christianity, which has such great love at its core is sometimes used to condemn so quickly and judge so harshly," she said.
Clinton added that charity and treating others has been an important influence on how she sees her role in politics. "There is so much more in the Bible about taking care of the poor, visiting the prisoner, taking in the stranger, creating opportunities for others to be lifted up," Clinton said.
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Clinton grew up in a Methodist household and says that her mother first taught her about faith. She attended church as a child, in college and as First Lady of Arkansas. She has said she was heavily influenced by a young minister, Donald Jones, who brought Clinton to see Martin Luther King when he spoke in Chicago in 1962. Methodists "have been a source of support, honest reflection, and candid critique," Clinton said last year. She told the New York Times in an interview in 2007 that she viewed her faith as the "background music" of her life.
"I am in awe of people who can truly turn the cheek every time," Clinton said on Monday. " Who can go the extra mile that we are called to go. Who keep finding ways to forgive and move on. Those are really hard things for human beings to do."
Evangelical and religious Christians in Iowa tend to dominate the Republican caucuses, boosting candidates like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee to victory. They are less influential in the Democratic side, but those primary voters tend to be more religious than liberal voters in New Hampshire and some other early primary states. Nearly one-third of Iowans consider themselves born again or evangelical and more than three-fourths consider themselves Christian.
Manning, the Iowa voter who asked Clinton the question, said she was happy with Clinton's answer and was convinced to caucus for her. " I got the answer I wanted to hear from her," Manning said. "I didn't know how strongly she felt about speaking about her Christianity. Some of the Republicans are using it to gain votes but she doesn’t do that a lot."