At the National Baptist Convention in Kansas City, Hillary Clinton delivered a personal address titled “A Call to Faith and Service” where she reflected on the role her faith plays in her commitment to public service. Clinton’s faith has been a guiding force since she began a life of public service at the Children’s Defense Fund, and dovetails with her campaign’s message today that we are “Stronger Together.”
In her speech, Clinton praised Baptist congregations nationwide whose selfless work on behalf of distressed communities embodies this idea – from Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which delivered much-needed water to residents of Flint, Michigan, to Tabernacle Community Baptist Church in Milwaukee, which started a gun buyback program to help distressed parts of the city. Faith-based organizations will be her partner in building an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. Clinton said, “Rosa Parks may have opened up every seat on the bus; now it’s our job to create good jobs so everyone can afford the fare […] As president, I will be your partner in this work of translating love into action. Together we’ll make transformative investments in communities that have been left out and left behind for far too long – from our neglected inner cities to struggling rural communities.”
Clinton’s remarks, as transcribed, are below:
“Good evening. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. President Young, pastors, friends, I’m very grateful for this great chance to be with you during your week of convention. I’m especially pleased to see my friend, the mayor of this great city. He is someone who, if you haven’t gotten to know, I hope you do. Thank you, Mayor Sly James. I was also delighted to greet, on the way in, the new Jackson County executive, Major League baseball star and all-around good guy Frank White, who has done such an incredible amount of good work on the field and now off the field.
I want to thank all of you – Dr. Miles, Dr. Brown, all our friends from this city and this state, for hosting us. I want to acknowledge on a personal point Dr. Shaw, celebrating 60 years as pastor of the White Rock Baptist Church. When I saw him tonight, I kidded him and said he started when he was 2. I’m sure there’s a law against that, Dr. Shaw. Dr. McKinney, Dr. Brown, all the members of the executive board, and state presidents.
Now, I know that Reverend Jackson was with you on Monday, and Congressman Cleaver was with you on Tuesday. So talk about two tough acts to follow. But they are both dear, longstanding friends of mine. And I am honored to be on this same stage as so many distinguished leaders.
Now, I happen to be a born and raised Methodist, but I’ve been married to a Southern Baptist for more than 40 years. And from Arkansas to New York – friends, from Arkansas. John, they’ve got friends from Arkansas here – but across this great country, you’ve welcomed me into your congregations with open arms and open hearts. And I am grateful for the friendship, support, and Christian hospitality I have found there. As pastors, as spouses of pastors, families of pastors, you know better than anyone the importance of building relationships of trust and respect. And I am sure some of you are sick and tired of politicians who think they can just show up at election time, say a few nice words, and then earn your support. Right?
Well, you and your congregations deserve better than that. You deserve a sustained commitment to expanding opportunity, equity, and justice, not just for two or four years, not just when the cameras are on and people are watching, but every single day. And you know better than anyone that people who look at the African American community and see only poverty, crime, and despair are missing so much. They’re missing the vibrancy of black-owned businesses, the excellence of historically black colleges and universities. They’re missing the success of black leaders in every field, and the passion of a new generation of young black activists. And yes, they are missing the strength of the black church, the solid rock on which so much is built.
Well, I see you. I see the work you do and the lives you change. And today I want to say something that you don’t hear often enough: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for answering the charge given to us by Jesus, as Matthew records, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, welcome the stranger. Thank you for loving all people, especially the least, the last, and the lost among us.
And you know so well we’re not asked to love each other, not urged or requested. We are commanded to love. Indeed, Jesus made it his greatest commandment. When I used to teach the occasional Sunday School class, I often taught on that lesson. That’s a hard commandment to obey. Some days it’s really hard for me. But in so many ways, all of you have answered that call.
I’ve been privileged to see your love in action with my own eyes. I’ve seen the love at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Pastor Damian Epps and his congregation collected tens of thousands of water bottles to send to families in Flint, Michigan suffering from water poisoned with lead. Because they remembered that eight years before, when the Mississippi River rose up and flooded Eastern Iowa, others came to their aid. As Pastor Epps said, they are fellow Americans. They are human beings. We should want to reach out and help. And he’s right. That ethic is at the core of our Christian faith. And we all have work together to make sure every child in America has clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and good schools, no matter what zip code they live in.
I’ve seen the love at Tabernacle Community Baptist Church in Milwaukee. Reverend Don Darius Butler has helped organize gun buy-back programs because none of us can sit back while the epidemic of gun violence ravages our communities and our country. It is, as you know, by far the leading cause of death for young black men, more than the next nine causes of death combined. And I promise you this: As president, I’ll stand with you in the fight for common-sense gun safety reforms.
I’ve seen the love at the Triumph Baptist Church in Philadelphia where Reverend James Hall, guided by what he calls the three E’s of evangelism, education, and economic development, has been led to set up a credit union to help people in the community overlooked or ignored by the banks so they can get a small business loan, save for college, or put something away for retirement. They’ve helped build a supermarket in a neighborhood that hadn’t seen one in more than 10 years. And they’re reaching out beyond the pews to help families live safe, healthy, prosperous lives.
I’ve seen the love at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was an honor to join Reverend Cromwell Handy and his congregation last December to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ courageous action against segregation.
And by the way, Rosa Parks may have opened up every seat on the bus; now it’s our job to create good jobs so everyone can afford the fare and they can actually get bus routes to reach every neighborhood that connects them with safe, affordable housing and good jobs.
As president, I will be your partner in this work of translating love into action. Together we’ll make transformative investments in communities that have been left out and left behind for far too long – from our neglected inner cities to struggling rural communities.
We’ll work with both parties to make the biggest investment in good new jobs since World War II, including $20 billion to tackle the challenge of youth unemployment, which is twice as high for young African Americans as it is for young white Americans.
We’ll ‘ban the box,’ and do more to help people who’ve paid their debt to society find jobs and housing when they get out.
And we will embrace Congressman Jim Clyburn’s ‘10-20-30’ plan – steering 10 percent of federal investments to neighborhoods where 20 percent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years. That’s a great idea whose time has come, and we can translate it into reality.
Together, we’ll face head-on systemic racism and work to reform our criminal justice system from end-to-end. Because everyone in every community should have respect for the law and be respected by the law.
We’ll beat back the assault on voting rights. It is a blast from the Jim Crow past that must be stopped. We should be expanding voting rights instead.
The best way to stand up to those who are trying to prevent any person from exercising his or her vote is to register and show up and vote against them and make sure your vote counts loudly and clearly.
There’s so much we can do if we keep love in our hearts as we do the noble work of breaking down barriers that hold Americans back.
Now, as you well know, we’re in the final stretch of an election that may be the most consequential of our lifetimes – an election in which all of these issues and so many more are at stake. Our nation’s values are being questioned in this election.
We are facing a candidate with a long history of racial discrimination in his business – who traffics in toxic conspiracy theories like the lie that President Obama is not a true American.
If he doesn’t even respect all Americans, how can he serve all Americans?
So we must keep calling him out and rejecting the hateful, bigoted rhetoric that seeks to pit Americans one against each other, and continue making the case in every way for our vision of an America that is ‘stronger together.’ An America where all our children have the choice to live up to their God-given potential, no matter where they come from, or what they look like, or what the circumstances of their lives have been.
I have laid out my vision and my agenda. In fact, Senator Kaine and I have just published a book called ‘Stronger Together’ that lays it out clearly so you know what you’re voting for, not just against. And we’re going to get the economy to work for everyone, not just those at the top; how we’re going to have more jobs and infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, clean renewable energy; how we’re going to do more to help small businesses. The fastest-growing segment of small business in America today are small businesses started by African American women. I want to be a small business president to help everyone willing to take the chance. And we’re going to make the economy fairer. We are going to raise the national minimum wage. No one who works full time should be mired in poverty at the end of a long, hard year.
And yes, we are finally going to guarantee equal pay for women’s work so that we raise family incomes and provide the respect that comes from being paid what you are entitled to earn. And we’re going to make education work for every child – early childhood education, universal prekindergarten. I want to bring technical education back into high school. It was a mistake when we took all of that vocational education out of our high schools. I want every young person who wants to go to college to be able to go to college, but I want every young person who wants to do a good day’s work in a job that builds America – the machinists, the tool and die makers, the computer coders – I want them to feel they are just as welcome and wanted. And we’re going to make college affordable for everybody. And I have a $25 billion plan specifically focused on historically black colleges and universities that served our nation and provide the leaders of the next generation.
And we’re going to help you pay down your student debt. It is way past time. And let’s make sure health care is free – is available, affordable, of high quality for everybody. And we’ve got to get the cost of prescription drugs down and we have to do more to help with mental health and addiction, two problems I hear about across our country, which I know you hear about in your churches.
So we have a lot of work to do, and we’re going to keep working to earn every vote and never take any community or any person for granted. Tim Kaine and I have launched a nationwide drive to register and commit 3 million Americans to vote by Election Day, and I hope you will be part of it. This election is too important for anyone to sit on the sidelines.
Today, for a few minutes, I want to leave aside the politics and do something that doesn’t always come naturally to a Midwestern Methodist; that is, to talk about my own faith, how it led me to a life of service, how it will guide me as president. Sometimes people ask me, ‘Are you a praying person?’ And I tell me if I wasn’t one before – whoo, one week living in the White House or on the campaign trail would have turned me into a praying person.
But I had the great blessing to be raised by a family and a church that instilled in me a deep and abiding Christian faith and practice. I still remember my late father – a gruff former Navy man – on his knees praying by his bed every night. That made a big impression on me as a young girl, seeing him humble himself before God.
My mother taught Sunday school in our church, partly she said because she wanted to make sure that my brothers actually showed up at Sunday school when they walked out the door. Her faith was rooted in gratitude for the love that helped her survive a painful childhood after her own family abandoned and mistreated her. She was sustained by the kindness of others, like the first grade teacher who saw she had nothing to eat at lunch and brought extra food to share.
My mother was determined to pay that kindness forward. And she really liked the Wesleyan credo of our church, ‘Do all the good you can for all the people you can in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.’ I was also so blessed to have a remarkable youth minister who believed, like John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, that the world is my parish. He told us – these young white kids in a suburban area of Chicago – you can’t just be satisfied in your own church, in your own middle-class life; we’re going into the inner city of Chicago, we’re going into church basements for fellowship with young people your age from African American churches and Hispanic churches. That was the first time I was in a black church, when I was a teenager.
He took us to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speak. He sent home the permission slips whether we could get in the church van to go into Chicago on a Sunday night to hear Dr. King, and some of the parents wouldn’t let their kids go. My mother said this is a historic opportunity. I remember, remember hearing Dr. King preach one of those well-known sermons, staying awake during the revolution, and then I stood in line with everybody in that big hall just to shake his hand and look into his eye.
His words, the power of his example, affected me deeply and added to the lessons of my minister to face the world as it is, not as we might want it to be, but to commit ourselves to turning it into what it should be.
So thanks to my family and my church, I embraced an activist social justice faith, a roll-up-your-sleeves and get-your-hands-dirty faith. As St. Francis of Assisi reportedly advised, ‘Try to preach the gospel always, and if necessary use words.’ The scripture tells us that faith without works is dead. The Epistle of James tells us we cannot just be hearers of the Word, we must be doers. And I believe that with all my heart. I am grateful for the gift of personal salvation and for the great obligation of a social gospel. To use the gift of grace wisely, to reflect the love of God and follow the example of Jesus Christ to the greater good of God’s beloved community.
That’s what led me to devote my life in the ways that I could to serving others, especially children. I went to work right out of law school for the great Marian Wright Edelman the daughter of a Baptist minister from Bennettsville, South Carolina, and the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. She sent me door to door in New Bedford, Massachusetts on behalf of children with disabilities who weren’t able at that time to attend public school, to South Carolina to investigate the plight of 12 and 13-year-old boys imprisoned alongside grown men who had committed serious felonies, and to Alabama to expose the racism of segregated academies. I went undercover to Alabama all by myself. Marian just said, ‘Well, you just have to go do it.’ And I did.
Now, it would have been easier and certainly more remunerative to follow many of my law school classmates to a high-powered New York law firm, but the call to service rooted in my faith was just too powerful. For me, it has always been about trying to live up to the responsibility described by the Prophet Micah that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
Humility is not something you hear much about in politics, is it? But we should. None of us is perfect. St. Paul reminds us we all see through a glass darkly and for now only know in part. It’s because of that, because of the limitations we all face, that faith requires a leap, the conviction of things unseen. It’s because of our limitations and imperfections that we must reach out beyond ourselves, to God and to each other. It isn’t easy, but I have learned to be grateful not just for my blessings but also for my faults – and there are plenty! I’ve made my share of mistakes. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. Everyone here today has stumbled on their own stony paths. It’s grace that lifts us up, and grace that leads us home.
But it’s also our job to learn from our mistakes; to do all we can to do better next time, and to stay grateful. To live by the ‘discipline of gratitude.’ Our Christian faith is a journey that never ends. It’s a constant challenge to live up to our own hopes and ideals. To love and forgive others as we want to be loved and forgiven ourselves. You know, as President Obama reminded us, seeking high office is, by definition, an act of audacity. And yet, our greatest leaders are often the most humble. Because they recognize both the awesome responsibilities of power and the frailties of human action.
I’ve sat in the Situation Room with President Obama, weighing conflicting advice and imperfect information, wrestling with the hardest choices a leader can make: whether to send our young men and women into harm’s way, knowing that some of them will never return. There’s nothing more humbling than that. Nothing that should drive you to your knees more than that. That’s why in this time of both peril and promise, we need a President who understands that none of us has all the answers and no one person can fix our problems alone. A President who understands we have to look out for each other and lift each other up, not tear each other down.
That’s what we need to do together: invest in our people, believe in each other, create the jobs and the schools and the opportunities for young people, so that they believe that we care about them. Send our children to schools that reflect their promise, not our neglect. Make sure every child is given the healthcare he or she needs, whether it is for an ailment of the body or the mind. Stand ready to lift each other up when we fall, as we will. Give those who have made mistakes a second, third chance. Our faith is a faith of second and third and fourth and fifth chances for those who genuinely are seeking redemption.
And we need a President who understands the powerful role that faith – and communities of faith – have always played in moving our country toward justice, from the abolitionists of the 19th century, to the civil rights movement of the 20th century, to the unfinished business of today. A President who will pray with you, and for you, who will defend the dignity of every individual, and the principle of religious freedom that was woven into the moral fabric of our nation from the very beginning. Yes, we need a President who will do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
My friends, one of the greatest privileges of this campaign has been getting to know a remarkable group of women who’ve lost children to gun violence or police incidents. They’re known as the Mothers of the Movement, and their hearts may be broken, but their souls shine thorough. I’ll never forget listening to Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, describe the mission these mothers feel called to lead. We were at the Central Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, pastored by Reverend Ricky Ray Ezell, Sr.
I wish you all could have heard her – Gwen was as eloquent as any preacher. She recalled the pain of losing her son. She said, at first, she couldn’t even get out of bed. But then, she said, ‘The Lord talked to me, and told me, ‘Are you going to lay here and die like your son, or are you going to get up and uplift his name?’ She realized in that moment that none of us can rest as long as there are others out there to be saved. And that her voice could move people to action. And then the said this: ‘I had to turn my sorrow into a strategy, my mourning into a movement,’
Gwen hasn’t stopped working since, bringing more and more allies to the cause of peace and justice. Because she knows, in a way, that tragedy and profound loss can teach us that we are stronger together than we could ever be alone. Gwen and the other Mothers of the Movement are living what the Scripture tells us: ‘Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.’ Those are words we all should live by. And if I have the great honor of serving as your President, these are words that I will lead by. Thank you all and may God bless you.”