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Hillary Clinton, opening up about her faith, says American values are “being questioned”

KANSAS CITY Speaking to a Baptist convention in Kansas City on Thursday, Hillary Clinton warned that the faithful’s “values are being questioned in this election.”

“We are facing a candidate with a long history of racial discrimination in his business,” Clinton said. “He trafficks in toxic conspiracy theories like the lie that President Obama is not a true American. He doesn’t even respect all Americans. How can he serve all Americans?”

Clinton called on the audience, hundreds of Baptist churchgoers on their feet in that moment, to “call him out” and reject his “hateful rhetoric.” It was the most direct reference that Clinton made to her opponent, Republican nominee Donald Trump, in 30 minutes of remarks about the role of faith in her life and in public service, the first speech in a series that Clinton will make in the next several weeks about the core values that have shaped her policy agenda. 

“Sometimes people ask me, are you a praying person?” she said. “And I tell them if I wasn’t one before, one week living in the White House or on the campaign trail would have turned me into a praying person.”

Clinton explained that she had “the great blessing” of growing up in the church. For the Democratic nominee, it was her family’s Methodist church where she developed what she called a “deep and abiding Christian faith and practice” and a sense of social responsibility, or a “roll-up-your sleeves-and-get-your-hands dirty faith.”

“I still remember my late father, a gruff, former Navy man, on his knees, praying by his bed every night,” she said. “That made a big impression on me as a young girl -- seeing him humble himself before God.”

That humility, Clinton said, is something that she had to learn.

“It isn’t easy, but I’ve learned to be grateful. Not just for my blessings but also my faults,” she said, “and there are plenty. I’ve made my share of mistakes. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t.”

She recalled visiting congregations across the country, from Cedar Rapids to Montgomery, and learning about their public service, like a church in Philadelphia that built a supermarket “in a neighborhood that hadn’t seen one in more than 10 years.”

“As President I will be your partner in this work of translating love into action,” she said. “Together we’ll make transformative investments in communities that have been left out and left behind for far too long.”

Clinton’s speech to the church convention on Thursday was the first of four that Clinton will make in the coming weeks that highlight a more personal side of Clinton, according to Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director. On Tuesday, during a short swing through California, Clinton will make remarks about “building an inclusive economy” and, in a speech later next week, she will issue a call to national service. 

The speeches complement the release of a policy book, “Stronger Together,” earlier this week, which details what Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine​, would do if elected. Clinton, a self-proclaimed wonk, is comfortable discussing policy but has at times struggled to make voters feel she shares their priorities. By putting the focus on her faith, her interest in service and her lifelong commitment to children and families -- the topic of another one of the forthcoming speeches -- her campaign hopes that Clinton will inspire and “animate the values that are behind the policies,” as Palmieri put it. 

The planned speeches will serve as an attempt to elevate Clinton’s agenda above all of the noise, and to move the conversation away from the day-to-day back and forth between her and Trump. Although Clinton will continue to spell out what she sees as the stark choice facing voters in this election, Palmieri said that her speeches will be “more about her than about him.”

“We believe we have to work extra hard to make sure that the positive notion of what she wants to do breaks through, given the amount of interest that there is in what he says and also what we say about him,” Palmieri said.