Meet Clinton's “Informal Adviser” on Evangelicals

Don Argue is tight-lipped about the extent of the relationship.

When Don Argue resigned last summer from the presidency of Kirkland's Northwest University, a Christian institution, rumors circulated that the former pastor and Snohomish County resident was going to work for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. "It's blatantly untrue," Argue says. So, he maintains, is the long-standing rumor that he helped Clinton "learn the language of evangelicalism," as one religious leader claimed on Bill Bennett's Morning in America radio show a couple of years ago. However, the man whom The Washington Post once identified as Clinton's "informal adviser" concedes that he has a relationship with the candidate. "My role is pastoral," Argue explains. "I've been a friend of [the Clintons] for 12 years." Argue adds that he got to know them when he was president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in the mid-'90s. Beyond that, he won't divulge details of the relationship, despite calls that he says he gets from reporters at The New York Times and elsewhere. Like most of the presidential candidates, Clinton has tried hard to connect with Christian voters. She talks about faith often, has hired evangelicals on her campaign staff, and in November appeared at Saddleback, a California megachurch. And after mixed results in key early states, it appears as though her campaign may be in need of some divine intervention. It's difficult to know whether Argue's relationship with Clinton has influenced the way evangelicals see her. But certainly it has influenced the way evangelicals see him. "That's what people remember most about him," says Richard Cizik, NAE's vice president for governmental affairs. Cizik says he believes Argue reached out to the Clintons out of a feeling that "if evangelicals are synonymous with politics and one party, it besmirches the integrity of the gospel." In doing so, Cizik says, "It forced a lot of evangelicals to reappraise their relationship with Republicans, and quite possibly open ourselves up to other associations," such as NAE's work with Democrats on issues including human trafficking, aid to Africa, and global warming. "Not everybody agreed at the time that Don was doing the right thing," Cizik adds. One critic was Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council. "Back then, the Clinton White House was absolutely radioactive to evangelicals," Schenck says. However, he says he's changed his mind, as he's watched evangelicals and Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, engage in productive discussion. "Maybe in retrospect, [Argue] was ahead of his time." These days, Argue, now occupying the largely honorific position of chancellor at Northwest University, says he spends much of his time traveling around the world as a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government body. He was sworn in last summer by—no surprise—the junior senator from New York.

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