WASHINGTON – In a rare public discussion of her husband's infidelity, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that she probably could not have gotten through her marital troubles without relying on her faith in God.
Clinton stood by her actions in the aftermath of former President Clinton's admission that he had an affair, including presumably her decision to stay in the marriage.
"I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right, regardless of what the world thought," Clinton said during a forum where the three leading Democratic presidential candidates talked about faith and values.
"I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith," she said in response to a question about how she dealt with the infidelity.
The forum, sponsored by the liberal Sojourners/Call to Renewal evangelical organization, provided an uncommon glimpse into the most personal beliefs of Clinton and rivals John Edwards and Barack Obama. The three candidates were invited by Sojourners founder Jim Wallis; most of the other Democratic candidates appeared on CNN later Monday to discuss their faith.
The most intimate question came about the Clintons' relationship, one of the world's most debated marriages but one that the husband and wife rarely speak openly about.
Clinton said she's "been tested in ways that are both publicly known and those that are not so well known or not known at all." She said it's those times when her personal faith and the prayers of others sustain her.
"At those moments in time when you are tested, it is absolutely essential that you be grounded in your faith," she said.
Edwards revealed that he prays — and sins — every day. The crowd gasped loudly when moderator Soledad O'Brien asked Edwards to name the biggest sin he ever committed, and he won their applause when he said he would have a hard time naming one thing.
"I sin every single day," said Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee. "We are all sinners and we all fall short."
Edwards, wearing a purple tie to match Sojourners' signature color, promoted himself as the candidate most committed to the group's mission of fighting poverty. He said he doesn't feel his belief in evolution is inconsistent with his belief in Christ and he doesn't personally feel gays should be married, although as president he wouldn't impose his belief system on the rest of the country.
"I have a deep and abiding love for my Lord, Jesus Christ," Edwards said, but he said the United States shouldn't be called a Christian nation.
He said he has been going to church since he was a child and was baptized as a teen. He said he strayed from his faith as an adult and it came "roaring back" when his teenage son died in 1996.
"It was the Lord that got me through that," Edwards said, along with both of his wife's cancer diagnoses.
Clinton acknowledged that talking about her religious beliefs doesn't come naturally to her.
"I take my faith very seriously and very personally," she said. "And I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who wear their faith on their sleeves."
Each candidate was given 15 minutes to appear before the packed auditorium at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium and a live audience on CNN. They were questioned by O'Brien and by church leaders across the country.
Obama's appearance focused more on policy than the personal. Asked whether he agreed with President Bush's portrayal of the current global struggles in terms of good verses evil, Obama said there is a risk in viewing the world in such terms.
"The danger of using good verses evil in the context of war is that it may lead us to be not as critical as we should about our own actions," Obama said to applause.