Race for the White House ’08
Republican Evangelical Support Has Peaked: Analyst
Reuters – 5/5/08
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain will almost certainly garner less of the evangelical vote in November than the almost 80 percent that President George W. Bush took in 2004, a former top Bush aide said on Monday. Michael Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter and adviser who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations, predicted at a conference on religion and politics in Key West, Florida, that Bush’s 2004 totals among this key voting bloc won’t be matched by the Republican Party for a long time. He pointed among other factors to “a candidate like John McCain who doesn’t have a specifically religious appeal.” By contrast he noted that Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were both more comfortable talking about their faith than McCain, who was raised in a mainline Episcopal tradition but who now attends a Baptist Church in Phoenix. Gerson also noted that “evangelicals experience the same kind of economic concerns” as other Americans as the pain from a housing and credit crisis spreads. Bush had the support of 78 percent of the white evangelical Protestants who cast ballots in the 2004 election by some estimates and about one in four U.S. adults count themselves as evangelical.
Obama’s New Gospel
Newsweek – 5/12/08
Tim Roemer is a gifted salesman working a tough territory. For weeks, the former Indiana congressman has been crisscrossing primary states trying to convince Roman Catholic voters that Barack Obama is their man. Just a few months ago, there were plenty of takers. Obama beat Hillary Clinton among Catholics in Louisiana and Virginia and tied her in Wisconsin. But in more recent primaries, Catholics have decisively turned away from him. In Ohio, exit polls showed that 65 percent backed Clinton. In Pennsylvania, Clinton won 70 percent of the Catholic vote. What’s going on here? “The short answer is, I don’t know,” says Roemer, who has spent hours quizzing Catholics at rallies and town-hall meetings. One possibility: Obama’s ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. Roemer says that, like other voters, the Catholics he meets mostly want to talk about what the candidate will do about the economy, gas prices and the mess in Iraq. But Wright comes up often, especially now. Working Indiana voters, Roemer was asked repeatedly about the Chicago preacher. Last Monday, Wright reignited the controversy over his incendiary sermons. He gave two widely televised speeches in which he expanded on some of his more paranoid rants—charging that America brought the September 11 attacks on itself, and saying government scientists may have invented HIV as a weapon to use against minorities. Roemer says voters usually want to know: does Obama believe this stuff?
Catholics Reflect Schism in Democratic Base
Boston Globe – 5/5/08
Taking a break from studying for final exams, three dozen Catholic students gathered for a barbecue on a grassy area of an apartment complex near the University of Notre Dame, their cellphones dialed in to a conference call with Victoria Reggie Kennedy, wife of Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. She urged them to help turn out the vote in the Indiana Democratic presidential primary tomorrow for Senator Barack Obama, saying the candidate embodies the “Catholic social justice tradition” she was raised to believe in. For about two months, pundits and analysts have been culling exit poll data from recent primaries to contend that Obama has a problem winning support from Catholic voters in his bruising struggle with Senator Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination. Last week, a group of former national party chairmen who support Clinton drove home that point in a letter to members of the Democratic National Committee, part of a Clinton effort to stop the steady movement of superdelegates to Obama. They wrote that Catholics are part of a Clinton electoral base that includes women, Hispanics, seniors, middle- and low-income Americans, and rural, suburban, and urban voters. They called it “a formidable coalition tailor-made for victory in a November general election.” But for both campaigns, the issue of Catholic voters reflects the reality of a Democratic electorate that has split along lines of class, race, gender, and age.
McCain Pushes Priorities That Resonate on the Right
New York Times – 5/8/08
Senator John McCain appealed to religious conservatives on Wednesday with pledges to prosecute sex traffickers, fight Internet child pornography and make religious freedom a priority in American diplomacy. In a speech followed by tough questions from the audience about the war in Iraq and his temper, Mr. McCain said that those issues, particularly the fight against sex trafficking, would be important in his White House. “Most of the victims of human trafficking in the United States and in most other places in the world are the most vulnerable among us, destitute women and children who are sold into bondage as sex slaves,” Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, told a crowd at Oakland University here. Later he added, “We must view this evil form of 21st-century slavery every bit as important as drug trafficking.” Human trafficking, the transport of victims under false pretenses from one nation to another for forced labor or prostitution, has become an important issue to the Christian right. The Central Intelligence Agency estimates that as many as 800,000 people around the world, including 200,000 in the United States, are enslaved each year. In part because of the concerns of the right, President Bush has devoted more money and attention to the issue than his predecessors did. Conservatives, who are distrustful of Mr. McCain on a number of fronts, are pushing him to follow Mr. Bush’s lead.
A New Faith in Politics
Chicago Tribune – 5/6/08
At the east end of the giant Wal-Mart parking lot in this northern Indiana town of about 32,000, there’s a metal-roofed building accommodating as many as 20 horse-drawn buggies. People in plain dress—flat black hats, white bonnets—can be seen around town. Goshen is a population center for Mennonites and their religious “cousins,” the Amish. Both are Protestant Christian faiths built on foundations of pacifism and keeping government, politicians and politics at arm’s length. The Amish remain non-voters who believe in the strict separation of church and state. However, some Mennonites, especially younger members such as those on the campus of church-founded Goshen College, are seeing an opportunity now to integrate politics into their lives in a way that furthers rather than diminishes their religion. Emily Miller, for instance, is a 20-year-old sophomore social-work major from Waco, Texas, and—like 60 percent of the nearly 1,000 Goshen students—a Mennonite. Though her dorm room features the book bag and flip-flops you’d expect with any kid away at school, there’s a sign on her door that stands out, considering where and who she is.It says: “Change We Can Believe In,” and in smaller letters: “BarackObama.com.” When a CNN film crew recently asked if there might be a handful of Mennonite students at Goshen willing to talk about being first-time voters, 50 volunteers stepped forward to say whom they supported and why. When students manned registration tables in the student union, more than 300 new voters signed up.
Pastors May Defy IRS Gag Rule
Wall Street Journal – 5/9/08
A conservative legal-advocacy group is enlisting ministers to use their pulpits to preach about election candidates this September, defying a tax law that bars churches from engaging in politics. Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., nonprofit, is hoping at least one sermon will prompt the Internal Revenue Service to investigate, sparking a court battle that could get the tax provision declared unconstitutional. Alliance lawyers represent churches in disputes with the IRS over alleged partisan activity. The action marks the latest attempt by a conservative organization to help clergy harness their congregations to sway elections. The protest is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 28, a little more than a month before the general election, in a year when religious concerns and preachers have been a regular part of the political debate. It also comes as the IRS has increased its investigations of churches accused of engaging in politics. Sen. Barack Obama’s denomination, the United Church of Christ, has said it was under investigation after it allowed the Democratic presidential candidate to address 10,000 church members last year. Last summer, the tax agency said it was reviewing complaints against 44 churches for activities in the 2006 election cycle. Churches found to be in violation can be fined or lose their tax exemptions.
U.S. Evangelicals Call for Step Back From Politics
Reuters – 5/7/08
A group of U.S. evangelical leaders called on Wednesday for a pullback from party politics so that followers would not become “useful idiots” exploited for partisan gain. One in four U.S. adults count themselves as evangelical Protestants, giving them serious clout in a country where religion and politics often mix. Conservative evangelicals have become a key support base for the Republican Party. But the movement has had growing pains and the statement issued on Wednesday, called an “Evangelical Manifesto,” is the latest sign of emerging fractures as some activists seek to broaden its agenda beyond hot-button social issues such as opposition to abortion and gay rights. “Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have made the mistake of politicizing faith,” the manifesto declares. “That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes ‘the regime at prayer,’ Christians become ‘useful idiots’ for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form,” it said. The manifesto was signed by leading and mostly centrist evangelicals such as Leith Anderson, president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals; Mark Bailey, president of the Dallas Theological Seminary; and evangelical academic and author David Gushee. Many of the more than 70 signatories have been critical in the past of evangelical partisan involvement which was seen as the crucial element behind U.S. President George W. Bush’s re-election victory in 2004. Leading figures on the conservative “Religious Right” such as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, did not sign the document and his office said he had not been asked to sign it.
Christian Leaders Question D.C. Probe of ‘Prosperity’ Televangelists
Associated Press – 5/7/08
Nearly two-dozen conservative Christian leaders have signed a letter to the Senate Finance Committee questioning an investigation into six large ministries that preach a gospel of prosperity. The letter argues that the 6-month-old inquiry sets a dangerous precedent. It also suggests that the ministries were targeted for sharing “the same branch of evangelicalism” and promoting “socially conservative public policy positions such as support for the traditional definition of marriage.” Although the ministries under scrutiny are conservative theologically, they are not at the forefront of the culture wars issues championed by the leaders who are now rallying to their side. The most prominent figures who signed the letter are Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich, American Family Association chairman Don Wildmon and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. “The ministries have been asked to produce financial records and internal documents in what appears to be an exercise in disproving their alleged guilt,” the letter states. The group repeats an argument by some of the targeted ministries – that the investigation falls short of the high bar the Internal Revenue Service has for justifying a church investigation.
Ousted Cal State Fullerton Teacher Revises Oath of Loyalty
Los Angeles Times – 5/9/08
A Quaker who lost her appointment as a Cal State Fullerton lecturer after she objected to a state loyalty oath submitted a revised statement of her beliefs Thursday in a bid to win the job back. People For the American Way, a Washington-based civil rights group now representing lecturer Wendy Gonaver, called on the university to reinstate her and adopt a policy protecting the religious freedom of all California State University system employees. “She is willing to sign the oath as long as she can exercise her free-speech rights and note that her views as a Quaker would prevent her from taking up arms,” said Kathryn Kolbert, president of the organization and a constitutional lawyer. “We would like to avoid filing a lawsuit, but we are certainly prepared to do so if we need to.” The loyalty oath was added to the California Constitution in 1952 to drive communists out of public jobs but in recent years it has forced out religious believers such as Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Gonaver was hired to teach classes in American and women’s studies at Fullerton this academic year. But in August, just before classes were to start, she was told of the state requirement that she sign the oath promising to defend the U.S. and California constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” A pacifist, she feared that signing the oath could commit her to bear arms. She said she would sign the pledge if she could submit a statement of her beliefs, a practice allowed at the University of California. But Cal State officials rejected her request, saying the addendum she proposed was illegal.
The Resilient Religious Right
Op-Ed, USA Todday – 5/5/08
With the deaths of prominent evangelical pastors Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy last year, funeral bells began tolling for the Religious Right. Political columnist E.J. Dionne wrote Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right, and theologian Jim Wallis offered The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. Even religious and civil liberties attorney John Whitehead, who assisted Paula Jones in her sexual harassment suit against President Clinton, joined the chorus with an article titled, “The Passing of the Christian Right.” These reports are at the very least premature, and in all likelihood dead wrong. High-profile leaders will come and go, but the strength and commitment of conservative Christians on the front lines of parish life are as strong as ever. In the case of Dionne’s epitaph for the Religious Right, I think he is too quick to conclude that evangelical Christianity has become disentangled from politicians who trumpet opposition to gay marriage and abortion. For instance, John McCain has moved from not supporting a repeal of Roe v. Wade in 1999 to saying today it should be overturned. Why the shift? A clear desire to secure the Republicanbase’s pro-life vote. Wallis writes that “the monologue of the Religious Right is indeed over.” Perhaps it’s no longer a monologue — especially with the emergence of the Religious Left — but it’s still a powerful voting bloc directed more by its moral compass than any political one.
McCain’s Christian Problem
Op-Ed, Washington Post – 5/12/08
John McCain, who as the Republican candidate for president has spent the past two months trying to consolidate right-wing support, has a problem of disputed dimensions with a vital component of the conservative coalition: evangelicals. The biggest question is whether Mike Huckabee is part of the problem or the solution for McCain. Some U.S. Christians are not reconciled to McCain’s candidacy but instead regard the prospective presidency of Barack Obama in the nature of a biblical plague visited upon a sinful people. These militants look at former Baptist preacher Huckabee as “God’s candidate” for president in 2012. Whether they can be written off as merely a troublesome fringe group depends on Huckabee’s course. Huckabee’s announced support of McCain is unequivocal, and he is regarded in the McCain camp as a friend and ally. Nevertheless, the word is that some evangelicals dispute Huckabee’s support. One experienced, credible activist in Christian politics who would not let his name be used told me that Huckabee, in personal conversation with him, had embraced the concept that an Obama presidency might be what the American people deserve. That fits what has largely been a fringe position among evangelicals: that the pain of an Obama presidency is in keeping with the Bible’s prophecy.