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.