On Friday morning, CNN published an email Hillary Clinton’s pastor, the Rev. Bill Shillady, sent her on November 9, 2016 — the day after she lost the election to Donald Trump. In that email, Shillady compared Clinton’s loss to Jesus’ death on the cross, equating her political defeat to the death of the man Christians consider God incarnate.
“It is Friday, but Sunday is coming,” Shillady began, using a metaphor attributed to Tony Campolo, a pastor and former spiritual adviser to Bill Clinton. The email was written on a Wednesday, but he used the Friday metaphor to connect Clinton’s loss with Jesus’ death. “While Good Friday may be the starkest representation of a Friday that we have, life is filled with a lot of Fridays.”
“For the disciples and Christ’s followers in the first century, Good Friday represented the day that everything fell apart,” Shillady continued. “All was lost. The momentum and hope of a man claiming to be the Son of God, the Messiah who was supposed to change everything, had been executed.”
The disciples scattered. “Even though Jesus had told his followers three days later the temple would be restored, they had no idea of what that Sunday would be,” Clinton’s pastor wrote. “They betrayed, denied, mourned, fled and hid. They did just about everything BUT feel good about Friday and their circumstances.”
Shillady explained, “For us, Friday is the phone call from the doctor that the cancer is back. It’s the news that you have lost your job. It’s the betrayal of a friend, the loss of someone dear. Friday is the day that it all falls apart and all hope is lost. We all have Fridays. But, as the saying goes, ‘Sunday’s coming!'”
Hillary’s religious adviser got explicitly political. “Your Friday is what happened in the last few weeks and last night in the tragic loss,” he wrote. “But Sunday is coming!”
This reference to “Sunday” alluded to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. As Shillady wrote, “While death had seemingly won, Jesus knew better. When he said, ‘It is finished,’ it wasn’t meant to be a statement of concession. It was a declaration that a new day was on the way.”
“Sunday is coming. Death will be shattered. Hope will be restored,” he wrote. “But first, we must live through the darkness and seeming hopelessness of Friday.”
Shillady concluded, “God doesn’t close one door without opening another, but it can be hell in the hallway.” Then he explicitly compared Trump to that hell. “You, our nation, our world is experiencing a black Friday. Our hope is that Sunday is coming. But it might well be hell for a while.”
On the level of basic theology, Clinton’s adviser was correct. Jesus’ suffering on the cross was His ultimate sacrifice, and the best comfort to Christians when they suffer all sorts of pain and anguish is to remember that Jesus went through this suffering first. His pain gives meaning to their pain.
God does not look on from afar — He came to earth, took on human flesh, and died a gruesome and humiliating death (and felt the unimaginable pain of separation from God the Father). At some level, this comfort is perfectly acceptable for Clinton to feel. But other parts of the email are dangerous.
First, the email seems to promise Clinton that a “Sunday is coming,” and this Sunday is a political resurrection. God will open a door, if not for her then for her movement. He will reverse the “hell” that America and the world face under President Donald Trump.
Make no mistake, this is heresy. Shillady is using Jesus’ resurrection to promise a vague political resurrection for Hillary Clinton’s movement. The Bible makes one political promise, and one alone — that Jesus will come again in power to reign over the new heavens and the new earth.
Clinton can hope for various kinds of resurrection in her personal life: another successful book or perhaps a career in the ministry. But the kind of resurrection the Bible promises Christians is spiritual, not political. Trying to achieve a heaven on earth through politics is dangerous (see “Communism”).
Perhaps more importantly, Shillady’s “Friday-Sunday” motif comes from Tony Campolo, a liberal pastor who rejected the evangelical label to push a movement of “Red Letter Christians.” Two of his most famous books are It’s Friday but Sunday’s Comin and Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics.
Theologian and New Testament professor D.A. Carson explained Campolo’s view: “These red letter Christians, he says, hold the same theological commitments as do other evangelicals, but they take the words of Jesus especially seriously (they devote themselves to the ‘red letters’ of some foolishly printed Bibles) and end up being more concerned than are other Christians for the poor, the hungry, and those at war.”
Carson dismissed this view as “merely one more futile exercise in trying to find a ‘canon within the canon’ to bless my preferred brand of theology.”
“To read the words of Jesus and emphasize them apart from the narrative framework of each of the canonical gospels, in which the plot-line takes the reader to Jesus’ redeeming death and resurrection, not only has the result of down-playing Jesus’ death and resurrection, but regularly fails to see how the red-letter words of Jesus point to and unpack the significance of his impending crosswork,” Carson wrote.
In every one of the four gospels (which tell the story of Jesus), “the narrative rushes toward the cross and resurrection; the cross and resurrection are the climax,” the theologian explained. “So to interpret the narrative, including the red-letter words of Jesus, apart from the climax to which they are rushing, is necessarily a distortion of the canonical gospels themselves.”
Many liberal Christians’ emphasis on social justice arguably twists the gospel to make it overtly political. This political slant can bring liberal Christians like Hillary Clinton into full contention with traditional Christianity — as when Clinton compared opposition to the LGBT agenda to honor killings, widow burning, and female genital mutilation.
Shillady’s email was released in a book of Clinton’s devotions, Strong for a Moment Like This: The Daily Devotions of Hillary Clinton, which releases later this month. The book promises to be a revealing look at Clinton’s take on religion and politics, and it might explain how a lifelong United Methodist Christian became an insidious threat to traditional Christianity.
It is quite likely Campolo’s view of social justice Christianity played a role in that transition, and Shillady’s reference to his “Friday-Sunday” motif makes that influence all the more apparent.