Dr. Joel C. Hunter, is senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, outside of Orlando, Florida. This is his reflection on the answer Senator Clinton gave to his question at Sunday night’s Compassion Forum for the presidential candidates. The full exchange between Hunter and Senator Clinton is below
Since my question referred to Sen. Clinton’s personal process for making important moral decisions, she answered it perfectly. The question was designed to give us all a picture of how she tries for moral clarity, and we heard not only the basic elements of her process (prayer, study, contemplation, broad consultation), she also conveyed the humility of uncertainty. While some of us might have added a few elements, and expected more inner reassurance than we heard from her, that would have been our answer, not hers. I was grateful for a pre-ramble to her moral constitution.
Joel Hunter: Senator, many of the issues we’re going to be talking about tonight, Darfur, AIDS, abortion, torture, could present you with choices that will have life and death consequences for countless people around the world. What are the first principles you fall back on to make such decisions? Are there certain activities or references or people with whom you consult in order to do what is morally right?
The Compassion Forum exchange:
Senator Clinton: You know, Dr. Hunter, I think this is one of the challenges that face any of us who are in public life where literally you do have the authority to make these decisions that could very well be life and death decisions and they are daunting and I do not pretend to know how I will deal with every single one of them. But I do have a sense of the process by which I will try to approach them. And it really is rooted in, you know, my prayer, my contemplation, my study. I think you have to immerse yourself in advice, information, criticism from others. I don’t pretend to even believe that I know the answers to a lot of these questions. I don’t.
But I do believe that you have to be willing to expose yourself to many different points of view and then you have to make that decision. I think that for a lot of us, decisions are ones that you don’t just make and put on a shelf. To be fair to be constantly struggling and challenging yourself, you have to keep opening up that decision and asking.
And very often, as you know, some decisions look like they’re 100-to-nothing until you actually examine them. And some decisions truly are right down the middle, and you’re not sure which
side of the line you will decide upon.
You mentioned some of the very difficult decisions that we are going to face, and there are countless more. How do we get out of Iraq the right way? Everyone knows there is no easy, comfortable decision. I believe we’ve got to begin taking our troops out of Iraq based on
my analysis of what I think is the best path forward for us and for the Iraqis. But I am deeply aware that there will be predictable and unpredictable consequences. And part of making a decision is having to live with the consequences.
And I have been very fortunate in my life to have people whom I feel very comfortable talking to openly, with total frankness, seeking their guidance. They don’t all agree with me; they don’t all share my view, when I start the conversation, perhaps.
But I don’t think you can surround yourself only with people with whom you think you will agree. And, for me, being amongst people who challenge me, who make me uncomfortable, to be very blunt, is an important part of my decisionmaking process.
I want to push back; I want to argue; I want to raise other hypotheticals and throw them back to see what the outcome is.
But at the end of the day, since we are running to be the president of the United States, you have to be comfortable making a decision, because you cannot say, “Well, let’s put it on the back burner and then get back to it some time when it’s clearer,” for many of these decisions.
And then you have to live with the consequences. But I hope I will never, ever find myself being defensive or abrupt and dismissive of people who disagree with me. I regret that that often
happens in politics, and maybe it’s because oftentimes the decisionmaking process is so exhausting.
You know, if you’re a person of faith, after you’ve prayed, if you’re a person willing to subject yourself to criticism, after you’ve done it, you’re just so relieved to make the decision you don’t want to revisit it. But I don’t think that a president can afford to do that.