In personal exchange, Clinton laments using faith to 'judge so harshly'

Story highlights

  • Clinton's friends and confidants describe the former first lady as a devout Methodist
  • But rarely is that side of her ever publicly on display

Knoxville, Iowa (CNN)Jessica Manning had prayed that this moment would happen. And on Monday here in Knoxville, she got her chance to ask Hillary Clinton to describe her Christian faith.

"In these next few months, as I am supporting you and defending you to my Republican friends," said Manning, a self-described Clinton supporter who lives in conservative Pella, Iowa. "I am just curious how you would say your beliefs align with the Ten Commandments and if that is something that is important to you?"
The question, which visibly moved Clinton, delves into an area of the candidate's life that is deeply personal but rarely discussed. Clinton's friends and confidants describe the former first lady as a devout Methodist whose faith guides much of what she does.
But that side of her is rarely on public display.
"It is very important to me. I am a person of faith. I am Christian. I am a Methodist," Clinton said to Manning at the event inside a school gym. "My study of the Bible, 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 and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do."
Manning, a life-long Catholic, said she asked the question because her opposition to abortion leaves her conflicted when supporting Democrats, many of whom who are pro-abortion rights.
Earlier in the event, when asked about Planned Parenthood, Clinton told voters that she was pro-abortion rights. The man who asked the question, upset at the answer, left before she could finish responding.
The mother of three said the split between religion and politics has created a "moral dilemma" for her because she feels like she is "picking and choosing" what issues she sides with Clinton on and where she sides with her faith.
More than just delving into Clinton's personal faith, the question also represents a split in Iowa, a state where religious Republicans wield considerably more power than religious Democrats.
"Homosexuality, immigration, health insurance, all of those are things that I put my Christian beliefs into when I am analyzing them," Manning said. "And I really believe that Jesus Christ would have put all his effort into helping the people who were hurting the most."
Clinton answered Manning's question by acknowledging that divide she is experiencing, and that fact that people who go against some of their religious teachings in their political beliefs may be judged for that decision.
"I think there are many different ways of exercising your faith, but I do believe that in many areas judgment should be left to God," Clinton said. "Being more open, tolerant and respectful of people who have different life experiences is part of what makes me humble about my faith."
Clinton said she is has grown "very disappointed and sorry that Christianity, which has such great love at its core, is sometimes used to condemned so quickly and judge so harshly when I think part of the message that I certainly have tried to understand and live with is to look at yourself first."
Manning was moved by the answer, telling reporters after the event that Clinton "nailed" it.
Standing with her four-year-old son Emmett, who hid behind his mother in the face of cameras, Manning said that while she grew up in a Democratic household, she finds herself political beliefs at odds with her faith.
"In the end, the judgment is up to God," Manning said. "We can sit here and be as judgmental as we want and try as hard as we can to put certain policies in place, but ultimately, I think it is best to let God decide."
Manning said she was unaware of Clinton's faith before the event but felt he answer was "genuine."
This was not the first time Clinton has won over a voter with her subtle faith. Clinton chatted with Rev. Frederick Donnie Hunt during her first trip to South Carolina in May, talking to the minister about First Corinthians 13 and faith in action.
"It's alive," Clinton said about the Bible. "It's the living word."
Clinton's faith is something she developed as a child growing up in Park Ridge, Illinois, attending the suburb's First Methodist Church. But aside from offhand mentions to God or religion in general, Clinton rarely speaks about her personal faith history on the campaign trail.
Clinton has said in the past that she turned to her faith during the most difficult times in her life, including the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal of the 1990s.
After the event in Iowa, a Clinton aide asked Manning, at the request of the candidate, to come to a small room to chat with her more about faith.
"Thank you for asking," Clinton said after Manning said she had prayed they would be able to have this conversation. "It was so thoughtful."
"It was exactly what I wanted to hear," Manning told the former first lady, who told the mother that it's important to get people "to start listening and talking to each other" about faith.
"What you said that we only let God judge ... that means a lot to me," Manning said before hugging the candidate. "God bless you."