Race for the White House ’08
For McCain, Little Talk of a Controversial Endorsement
New York Times – 4/8/08
When Senator John McCain won the endorsement of the Rev. John C. Hagee in February, his campaign hoped it would shore up his conservative credentials among evangelicals and build enthusiasm among a voting bloc that would be critical for him in November. But since then, Mr. Hagee has been on the defensive over some of his views about Catholics and Jews, and he and Mr. McCain’s campaign have been silent about his endorsement. The controversial endorsement points to Mr. McCain’s tenuous relationship with conservative evangelicals, a group that President Bush courted with tremendous success and that Republicans have come to view as vital to their prospects in many states. The McCain campaign sought Mr. Hagee’s support, Mr. Hagee said in a recent interview. But after the two announced the endorsement at an event on Feb. 27 in San Antonio, Mr. Hagee’s hometown, the campaign has stopped talking about it. A spokeswoman answers questions by referring to a statement Mr. McCain made the day after the endorsement, when it was greeted with a barrage of criticism: “In no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee’s views, which I obviously do not.
Democrats Wrangle Over Words and Beliefs
New York Times – 4/14/08
A candidate forum devoted to issues of faith and justice became another flash point for Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to spar in their intensifying nominating fight, with the candidates exchanging frosty glances Sunday night as their paths briefly crossed on stage. The Democratic contenders addressed the Compassion Forum at Messiah College here, one after the other. Their cold, quick encounter as they traded places on the stage reflected the hostility between them over the past two days as Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly hammered Mr. Obama for remarks he made at a fund-raiser suggesting that some voters turned to religion and guns as consolation for their bitterness about their economic hardship. Nine days before the fiercely contested Pennsylvania primary, the two candidates sought through their appearance at this small Christian college to reassure voters that they shared their values. They also sought to close the so-called God gap that has benefited Republicans over the past several election cycles. Senator John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican nominee, chose not to participate.
Firing Barbs, but Looking Like a Saint
New York Times – 4/14/08
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton showed no mercy at the “compassion forum.” Both Mrs. Clinton and Senator Barack Obama gave thoughtful, pious answers to questions about faith and moral values at the CNN event held at Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pa. But Mrs. Clinton, who spoke first, didn’t shrink from also going on the attack. In answer to a question, she decried what she called Mr. Obama’s lack of faith in American values, labeling a description he gave of “bitter” voters in small-town Pennsylvania as “elitist, out of touch and, frankly, patronizing.” And with a straight face, Mrs. Clinton simultaneously claimed the high ground, saying twice that she would allow Mr. Obama to speak for himself on the matter, noting “he does an excellent job of that.” Later, Mr. Obama proved just as fluent as Mrs. Clinton on the subject of his faith and the role of religion in American society, and he had no difficulty explaining once again why he has remained faithful to his former pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., despite Mr. Wright’s incendiary sermons. But Mr. Obama had to alternately assure viewers that he is not an alienated, race-obsessed African-American who speaks for the meaner streets and that he is not a Harvard-educated elitist who looks down at Main Street. And that gave Mrs. Clinton the advantage.
Obama’s Religious Rhetoric Puts Faith in Spotlight
NPR – 4/13/08
In 2004, the Democrats had a religion problem. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), a committed Catholic, almost never talked about his faith, while George W. Bush spoke about it all the time. Then, one night during the Democratic National Convention, a young U.S. Senate candidate named Barack Obama broke the zone of silence: “The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states,” he called out to the cheering crowd. “Red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the blue states.” The crowd roared. It was a remarkable moment for Democrats, who were tired of being cast at the Godless party. “I thought ‘how brilliant’ because that’s a trope from a contemporary Christian song,” recalled Shaun Casey, who teaches Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary. “It’s sung in white evangelical churches, it’s sung in African-American churches — Our God is an awesome God. So if you knew the code, it’s like, ‘This guy is not the typical secular Democrat.'”
Kenneth Copeland Ministries Asks for IRS audit
Associated Press – 4/8/08
A Christian television ministry targeted by a Senate committee investigation into possible financial wrongdoing has asked the Internal Revenue Service to audit its finances. Attorneys for Kenneth Copeland Ministries sent a letter to the IRS’ Office of Examinations on Monday saying the church was willing to cooperate with a tax inquiry by the agency. Dallas television station KTVT first reported the North Texas-based church’s request for an IRS audit. Leaders of the television ministry contend dozens of questions about expenses, executive compensation and amenities asked by Sen. Charles Grassley are similar to those posed in an IRS church tax inquiry. In the letter, attorneys for the ministry say the appropriate procedure would be for Grassley to obtain the information from the IRS after it conducts an audit of the church. “The church is confident that, upon the conclusion of a 90-day church tax inquiry … the IRS will conclude that it is unnecessary to pursue a church tax examination,” the letter sent to the IRS said. Dallas tax attorney Charles Blau said the church’s strategy could fail if the Senate committee subpoenas the Copeland ministry. “The church is saying this is a First Amendment religious issue and a Senate committee does not have a right to this financial information. I think they’re probably going to loose that argument. There are limits on non-reporting of financial information,” Blau said. Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent letters to six ministries as part of an investigation. Grassley said stories of excessive lifestyles and spending by ministry leaders caused him to wonder if the tax breaks given to churches were being abused.
400 Children Removed From Sect’s Texas Ranch
Washington Post 4/8/08
Texas authorities investigating allegations of abuse and the forced marriage of young teenagers to much older men have taken more than 400 children into custody from a remote ranch owned by a polygamist religious sect, authorities said Monday. The children were joined by 133 women, in homemade ankle-length dresses, who departed voluntarily. While investigators questioned them, state police detained the men who live at the Yearning for Zion Ranch, which is affiliated with sect leader Warren Jeffs. He was convicted last year of being an accessory to the rape of a 14-year-old girl. The court-ordered sweep of the 1,700-acre property near Eldorado, Tex., nearly 200 miles northwest of San Antonio, continued into the night Monday, four days into a raid described as the largest single child-welfare operation in state history. “We didn’t know there would be this many [children], and we don’t know how many more there are,” Marleigh Meisner, a Child Protective Services spokeswoman, told the Dallas Morning News. A central goal Monday was finding and identifying the 16-year-old girl who had telephoned authorities late last month to say that she had been abused at the ranch, built by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Tex. Compound Was Considered A ‘Holy Land’
Washington Post – 4/14/08
The secretive and insular community established near this West Texas town by a radical offshoot of the Mormon Church is considered by the sect’s members to be a holy shrine populated by its most fervent adherents and is propped up financially by members of the group living in other states, according to law enforcement officials and former members. nterviews with law enforcement authorities and former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints depict the Yearning for Zion Ranch, which was raided last week by Texas authorities, as an outpost whose adult residents were considered the sect’s elite. They were handpicked by the church’s leader, Warren Jeffs, who was convicted last year in Utah of being an accomplice to rape for arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her cousin. Jeffs dubbed those chosen for the ranch as the “elect” or “heart’s core,” selected to live in the “holy land,” as he called the compound. The adults were his most loyal followers and the young children were the least “contaminated” by the outside world, former church members say. According to court documents, adherents living at the ranch practiced the most extreme tenets of FLDS doctrine, including forcing girls as young as 13 to “spiritually marry” older men for the purpose of bearing their children.
Q&A About the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints
Dallas Morning News – 4/13/08
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has more than a century of history and a system of beliefs and practices that have long set it apart. Here’s a look at its roots and beliefs: Is the FLDS Mormon? Members say they represent the only true Mormon church – a claim otherwise rejected by people who consider themselves Mormon. As Mormon historian Martha Sontag Bradley of the University of Utah puts it: “The FLDS is as foreign to contemporary Mormons as they are to outsiders.” What is the connection between the FLDS and the mainstream Mormon church – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Both churches trace their origins to Joseph Smith. They believe that in 1823, an angel visited Mr. Smith, son of a farmer in upstate New York, and told him to reboot authentic Christianity, which was lost shortly after the deaths of the original apostles. Where did the FLDS come from? The FLDS, formally incorporated in 1991, is one of the largest splinter groups that rejected new Mormon revelations.
Video: Robertson Named “Worst Person” for Claiming “Islam is Not a Religion”
Media Matters for America – 4/11/08
MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann named Pat Robertson the “winner” of his nightly “Worst Person in the World” segment for stating: “I want to say it again, and again, and again: Islam is not a religion, it’s a political system meant on — bent on world domination, not a religion. It masquerades as a religion, but the religion covers a worldwide attempt to exercise power and to subjugate the world into their way of thinking.” Of Robertson’s comments, Olbermann asserted: “Whatever your views about Islam or religion in general, just think about this for a second. This is from a guy heading up a giant corporation devoted to eliminating science from schools, eliminating freedom of choice for women, who himself ran for president, and who said that 9-11 was the result of people not abiding by his political system — I’m sorry, it was the result of people not abiding by his religious beliefs.”
Florida Submits ‘Evolution Academic Freedom Act’ to Senate
Christian Post – 4/10/08
The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-3 this week to submit the Evolution Academic Freedom Act, which would guarantee the freedom of teachers and students in Florida public schools who challenge theories of Darwinism, for debate in the Senate. Lawmakers felt prompted for the need of an academic freedom bill after the Florida Board of Education voted for the first time in its history to require the teaching of evolution in schools back in February. According to lawmakers, teachers who opposed or were critical of Darwinism felt threatened by administrators and were purposely denied class planning time and other privileges. The new bill, however, would guarantee the freedom of both teachers and students to share their views in the classroom without fears of reprisal. “There are a variety of ways that people in leadership, other class members and teachers and department heads and principals can intimidate teachers from presenting the full range,” said Republican Sen. Ronda Storms, the bill’s sponsor, according to the Palm Beach Post. Opponents of the bill, however, argued that it was unconstitutional and nothing more than a masked agenda for the promotion of religion in schools.
How Would Jesus Choose?
Newsweek – 4/14/08
Adam Hamilton does not call himself “pro-choice.” He prefers “pro-life with a heavy heart.” What that means, as he explains in his new book “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White,” is that he believes abortion should be available and legal, that there are instances in which it might be necessary and that those instances should be very rare. Further, he says, the abortion debate has been too hot for too long, and that, as a Christian minister, his job is to try “to support people no matter what decision they make.” As an evangelical megachurch pastor in Kansas, a man educated at Oral Roberts University, Hamilton speaks carefully, aware that he’s staking out a controversial position. Or maybe not. About a third of white evangelicals say that abortion should sometimes or always be legal, according to the Pew Research Center—a number that hasn’t changed in a decade. In recent election seasons, however, these moderate voices have been drowned out by hard-line shouting on both sides. In the past, an evangelical who might condone abortion in the case of his ailing wife or 14-year-old daughter would never say so in public. Now, the abortion rhetoric has faded somewhat as evangelicals turn their attention to other things: AIDS, the environment, Darfur. In 2004, megapastor Rick Warren announced that abortion was a “nonnegotiable” for evangelical voters. This year, he’s been silent. What’s new, then, is not that a pastor like Hamilton would take a softer approach to abortion, but that he would feel comfortable enough to say so from the pulpit and in print.
Younger Evangelicals Defy the Stereotypes
Philadelphia Inquirer – 4/6/08
They are 21st-century born-agains, unorthodox in their orthodoxy, a new generation of evangelical Christians. Lucid, passionate and unpredictable, 41 students in professor Kathy Lee’s political-science class at Eastern University, a Christian school in St. Davids, filled a rollicking hour last week busting stereotypes while debating God and country. Exhibit A: “Being a good Christian hasn’t made George Bush a good president,” said 21-year-old senior Bob Grant, from Haddon Heights. “I want a good president, not necessarily a Christian.” And Exhibit B: “People don’t see that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton profess their Christianity and act their faith by telling us to love each other,” said Chelsea Holden, 19, a sophomore from York, Pa. It was clear that the students, who describe themselves as evangelicals, fully realize that their influence will be felt in this election and future contests. “We’re young, and we see the other side of things,” said Nate Riedy, 18, a freshman also from York. “Eventually, we’ll be shaping evangelical thinking about politics.” There’s evidently a disconnect when it comes to the nation’s perception of evangelicals and the Christian reality.
Backstage With Six Rabbis, Six Imams and No ‘Kumbaya’
New York Times – 4/13/08
Marc Schneier, 3 years old and not yet a rabbi, had a knack for getting the attention of adults. The story is told that he liked to wander. One night he was nowhere to be found in the synagogue during Yom Kippur services. His frantic mother searched. His stern father, who was officiating, started the service anyway. When the congregation concluded a prayer, the ark holding the sacred Torah scrolls (about the size of a minivan) was opened. And inside, waving at the congregants with both hands, was the toddler. Last week, Rabbi Schneier, 49, worked on his latest attention-getting venture: a television commercial to promote tolerance between Muslims and Jews. It is set to air in September, during Ramadan, the month in which it is said the Koran was revealed to Muhammad. It will also play in early October, during the Jewish High Holy Days.
Mormon Followers Install a New Leader
Associated Press – 4/5/08
Mormons stood by the thousands with upraised hands Saturday, officially installing their first new leader in 13 years. Thomas Monson took over The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February after the death of Gordon Hinckley, but the faith traditionally calls for a sustaining vote by members in a ceremony known as the solemn assembly. Each church organization took its turn standing when called to cast votes in the packed conference center. The ceremony has been practiced since 1880, when John Taylor was named president of the church. Mormons last held an assembly in April 1995, when Hinckley was named president. He was remembered Saturday by church apostle Russell Nelson, who said all Latter-day Saints felt a deep sense of loss with the 97-year-old Hinckley’s Jan. 27 passing. “However, we have felt our mood shift from grief to gratitude,” Nelson said. “We are very grateful for what we have learned from this great prophet of God.” Monson, 80, is the youngest church president since 1973 and the 16th president of the American-born denomination, which claims 13 million members worldwide. Since the early 20th century, the church has followed a system of apostolic succession in selecting its president. The position passes to the most-senior member of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles, one of its leadership circle.
Commentary: Democrats Finally Getting Religion on Religion
CNN – 4/10/08
Sweet Jesus! What has gotten into the Democratic Party when it comes to issues of faith? This is the second time the top Democratic candidates will deal with issues of faith. On June 4, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien moderated a forum with the Rev. Jim Wallis’ Sojourners Social Justice Ministry as host. That one featured Obama, Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards. These forums should not be casually overlooked and blown off, because they represent a significant shift in attitude from previous Democratic presidential campaigns. Democrats, in the words of Sen. Joseph Biden after the Sojourners forum, acted more like agnostics – other would say atheists – when it came to issues of faith. For nearly 30 years, Republicans successfully used wedge issues like abortion and homosexuality to rally their base to those social causes and elect candidates who were willing to go to the mat when they came up. Their outreach efforts were strong, consistent and they delivered time and time again. And as long as Democrats were willing to ignore the ever-increasing concerns of people who tied their faith with public policy, the GOP would continue to clean up at the ballot box.
Ten Commandments Back in Court
Los Angeles Times Op-Ed – 4/8/08
When the Supreme Court ruled 46 years ago that official prayers in public schools violated the 1st Amendment, it infuriated those who claimed that public institutions should reflect the fact that this is “one nation, under God” — the God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, that is. In recent years, however, supporters of religion in the “public square” often have taken a different tack, arguing not that this is a Christian (or Judeo-Christian) nation but that individual believers have a free-speech right to express their religious views on government property. What government may not do, the high court said as long ago as 1947, is “set up a church [or] pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.” Given that precedent, the state of Texas argued a few years ago that a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol didn’t violate the 1st Amendment because it was part of a “museum-like setting” that featured other messages. Besides, the “driving purpose” of the display was to symbolize secular law. By a 5-4 vote, the court upheld the display. Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear another Ten Commandments-related case. A federal appeals court ruled that Pleasant Grove, Utah, which displays a privately donated Ten Commandments monument at a city park (on a patch of land ceded to a private party), must also make room for the Seven Aphorisms of Summum, the principles of a faith that was founded by a former Mormon and is headquartered in Utah. Thanks in part to the late Charlton Heston, the Ten Commandments are familiar to most Americans; not so the Seven Aphorisms (including No. 2: “As above, so below; as below, so above”). That might change if Summum is allowed to display them in the park, but Robertson’s group is urging the high court to rule that Pleasant Grove can say no — because messages in a public park are government speech, not private speech. Therefore, Pleasant Grove can agree to display the Ten Commandments but reject the Seven Aphorisms, just as it could display a model of the Statue of Liberty but reject a “Statue of Tyranny.” Whether or not this argument convinces the court, it seems to cast aside the contention that religious expression on public property is a matter of individual, not government, expression. As Aphorism No. 3 says: “Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”