At Hillary Clinton’s concession speech today, her running mate Tim Kaine chose a biblical parable to make a bizarre point about Clinton’s relationship with her campaign staff.
Kaine already has a tenuous relationship with his faith, and his handling of one of Christ’s parables seems only to solidify that. He paraphrased the parable of the workers in the vineyard, a magnificent lesson about the mercy God shows to everyone who believes in him, even to those who may come to know and worship him later than everyone else. But as Kaine told it:
There’s a beautiful, kind of comical parable in the New Testament about a vineyard owner who hires people to work and says ‘I’m gonna pay you this for a full day.’ Then he hires people at noon, ‘I’m gonna pay you the same thing for half a day.’ Then he hires people for one hour’s worth of work, ‘I’m gonna pay you the same.’ And those who started earlier in the day say, ‘Hold on, we don’t like this. You’re treating everyone who came late just as well as you’re treating us.’
I’m going to tell you something, here’s what I’ve come to know so well about Hillary: the team that she has assembled over the years, of people who are so deeply loyal to her, because she’s so deeply loyal to them, is inspiring. But I’ve seen that same degree of loyalty, and compassion, and sensitivity, extended to the most recent folks who have joined the team, the folks who came to the vineyard just one hour ago. The loyalty and compassion of Hillary and Bill, to people…that is just something so remarkable.
This is bizarre, and for several reasons. For starters, contra Kaine’s remark about the reciprocal “loyalty” of Hillary’s “team,” the point of the parable as Christ told it was to illustrate God’s abundant and indiscriminate mercy. It is not a parable about the “loyalty” of the vineyard workers, whose role in the parable’s lesson is almost secondary to the actions of the householder who hires them. The takeaway, as Raymond Brown suggests, is the truth of “God’s sovereignty and a graciousness that is not based on what is earned.”
This brings us to the second, more alarmingly inexplicable aspect of Kaine’s comparison: the implication that Hillary Clinton is somehow analogous to God. There is really no other way to interpret Kaine’s re-purposing of the parable. Since the vineyard owner is a stand-in for God, Kaine likewise making Hillary a stand-in for the vineyard owner leaves us no other option.
Hillary Clinton, of course, is not God; she is one of his beloved children, but she remains a mere human being nonetheless. It is unseemly for her running mate to make such a comparison, even by way of analogy.
It is very welcome, of course, for a prominent politician to reference his faith on international television. We need more of our political leaders to be forthright about their religious beliefs. But we should expect a minimal level of both knowledge and decorum if they’re going to do it.