No Schism Here: Hillary v. Sanders and Party Unity

By now, you have probably heard about the latest dust-up between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

So far, the spat seems curiously one-sided. At the time of writing, Sanders had sort-of-kind-of reaffirmed his point about Clinton’s qualifications, and as the link above indicates, his campaign manager Jeff Sanders went all in on the attack. Clinton, by contrast, had this to say:

“Look, I don’t know why he’s saying that,” she added, “But I will take Bernie Sanders over Donald Trump or Ted Cruz any time, so let’s keep our eye on what’s really at stake in this election.”

Without getting into who’s right and who’s wrong, I think it’s fair to say that at the moment, Clinton seems more interested in party unity than Sanders. It’s not that she hasn’t criticized him, roundly, or that she or her surrogates haven’t in some ways questioned his qualifications. But they’ve done it indirectly, discreetly, in a way that’s easier to climb down from than what Sanders said the other night.

I can’t help wondering if this isn’t connected in some way to Clinton’s Methodism. Like the Anglicans from which they descend, Methodists are famously committed to church unity, so much so that their “connectional” polity binds the American United Methodist Church includes conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. “Schism” is about the dirtiest word in Methodism, behind only “apportionments.” The desire to stay together has caused the UMC no end of headaches, since it locks together liberals and conservatives in an uneasy marriage. But they figure it’s more productive than becoming a bunch of wild-eyed separatists (like my people).

I’m generally hesitant to read too much into politicians’ religious backgrounds. Most Christians, pols included, don’t pay very much attention to the nuances of their church’s teachings. But consider this: Methodists are so well-known for their emphasis on unity that in Britain, they were recently used as the sharp end of a pointed comment against a leader often accused of divisiveness.

As well, Clinton is well-known as someone who has read and absorbed theology, and, she has been a a proponent of coming together for the sake of the party in the past, even when she’s been on the losing end.

It’s possible, then, that some of this has filtered down into her way of thinking about politics. Or it might be that at the moment, party unity is simply the handiest way she has to throw Sanders an anchor while he’s struggling to keep his head above water. We shall see.