Race for the White House ’08:
The Role Of Religion In This Year’s Election
U.S. News & World Report – 6/24/08
Anybody who thought faith and the values voters wouldn’t play a big role in the next presidential election might be having second thoughts by now. In the primaries alone, we saw a Baptist minister come out of nowhere to make a surprisingly strong showing, while a highly accomplished candidate and presumptive front-runner unexpectedly went down in flames, possibly in part because of his Mormon faith. Assorted “pastor eruptions” nearly derailed a Democratic candidate who had seemed eloquently at ease with his faith. And the Republicans ended up choosing a candidate who appeared to have difficulty even explaining what his religion was. Yet while it’s clearly a force, religion appears to be a more complicated variable than it was when evangelicals and other conservative Christians lined up behind George W. Bush in 2000 and even more solidly in 2004. A new survey of the American religious landscape by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life may help explain why. Undogmatic but serious about their faith, religiously inclined Americans are even more diverse and unpredictable than conventional wisdom suggests—and not only across different religious traditions. “Even within religious groups,” says political scientist John Green, a senior fellow in religion and politics at Pew, “there are differences of opinion on the issues. This complexity creates political opportunities.” And, one might add, pitfalls.
Faithful In Pews Might Not Be Voters In November
Associated Press – 6/26/08
If Christian conservatives stay on the sidelines during the fall campaign, presidential hopeful John McCain probably stays in the Senate. Christian conservatives provided much of the on-the-ground, door-to-door activity for President Bush’s 2004 re-election in Ohio and in other swing states. Without them, the less-organized and lower-profile McCain campaign is likely to struggle to replicate Bush’s success. And so far, there’s been scant sign that the Republican nominee-in-waiting is making inroads among these fervent believers. “I don’t know that McCain’s campaign realizes they cannot win without evangelicals,” said David Domke, a professor of communication at the University of Washington who studies religion and politics. “What you see with McCain is just a real struggle to find his footing with evangelicals.” Family groups in Ohio outlined their doubts about the Arizona senator in a meeting with McCain’s advisers last weekend. They’re concerned about his record on abortion rights and on campaign finance laws that they believe limited their ability to criticize candidates who are pro-choice on abortion. “There’s certainly a little reservation about Mr. McCain. I think the VP choice is going to be important,” said Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance. “If they choose a conservative for the VP, that will help his campaign. It would go a long way of sending a positive message to evangelicals.”
Evangelicals Are Crucial to Winning the 2008 Election
Newsweek – 7/7/08-7/14/08 Issue
The leaders of the religious right don’t have great affection for John McCain. They think he’s too moderate on immigration, embryonic-stem-cell research and campaign-finance reform, and they think he doesn’t do enough to promote his pro-life positions. That’s where they agree. But as the 2008 general election unfolds, it’s clear that their movement is in disarray—in a transitional period that could diminish its influence this cycle. For decades, right-wing kingmakers used their sway with voters to pick candidates and set a national agenda at the polls and in the courts. But McCain’s candidacy has tamped down their enthusiasm, exposing fractures that make a rallying of the troops in the pews unlikely. The right’s issues are mostly generational. The conservative Christian activists who came of age with the Rev. Jerry Falwell—and experienced in 1980 the exhilaration of electing a president who represented their values—are in their 70s. Falwell died last year, and no younger pastor has taken his place as a spokesperson (lightning rod?) for the kinds of social-conservative stances he believed in. “Maybe we’ve done our job,” says Chuck Colson, 76, the former Nixon aide-felon turned born-again Christian. “The Christian public is much more educated about politics than they ever were.”
McCain Gets Praise, Not Backing, From Grahams
New York Times – 6/30/08
Senator John McCain, who has had trouble courting faith-based voters, went to the mountaintop on Sunday — Billy Graham’s Blue Ridge mountaintop retreat in western North Carolina, that is — and met with the evangelist and his son the Rev. Franklin Graham for a private, 45-minute conversation. There were no endorsements after the meeting at the rustic retreat, called Little Piney Cove, and both sides portrayed it as nonpolitical — just a chance to talk over old times and pray for God’s blessing on the presidential election and the candidates. But afterward, there were encomiums all around. Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, had requested the meeting with the Grahams. He called his hosts “great leaders” and said they had had “an excellent conversation.” In response to a reporter’s question, he said, as if slightly surprised: “Oh, I didn’t ask for their vote.”
An Attack That Came Out of the Ether
Washington Post – 6/28/08
The e-mail landed in Danielle Allen’s queue one winter morning as she was studying in her office at the Institute for Advanced Study, the renowned haven for some of the nation’s most brilliant minds. The missive began: “THIS DEFINITELY WARRANTS LOOKING INTO.” Laid out before Allen, a razor-sharp, 36-year-old political theorist, was what purported to be a biographical sketch of Barack Obama that has become one of the most effective — and baseless — Internet attacks of the 2008 presidential season. The anonymous chain e-mail makes the false claim that Obama is concealing a radical Islamic background. By the time it reached Allen on Jan. 11, 2008, it had spread with viral efficiency for more than a year. During that time, polls show the number of voters who mistakenly believe Obama is a Muslim rose — from 8 percent to 13 percent between November 2007 and March 2008. And some cited this religious mis-affiliation when explaining their primary votes against him. Allen set her sights on dissecting the modern version of a whisper campaign, even though experts told her it would be impossible to trace the chain e-mail to its origin. Along the way, even as her hunt grew cold, she gained valuable insight into the way political information circulates, mutates and sometimes devastates in the digital age. Allen discovered that theories about Obama’s religious background had circulated for many years on the Internet. And that the man who takes credit for posting the first article to assert that the Illinois senator was a Muslim is Andy Martin. Martin, a former political opponent of Obama’s, is the publisher of an Internet newspaper who sends e-mails to his mailing list almost daily. He said in an interview that he first began questioning Obama’s religious background after hearing his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In an Aug. 10, 2004, article, which he posted on Web sites and e-mailed to bloggers, he said that Obama had concealed his Muslim heritage.
Basu: Obama’s Inclusion Should Include Muslims
DesMoines Register – 6/27/08
Unless he acts decisively, Barack Obama risks developing a Muslim problem. Or rather, another one. Since even before he entered the race, he’s been the target of a smear claiming he’s a radical Muslim out to destroy America. But this new one could be a problem of his own making. Obama is been chastised for the arms-length relationship between his campaign and the American Muslim community, which numbers 2.35 million.While playing up his Christianity and courting Jewish votes and Evangelical Christian voters who could help give him the edge in some swing states, Obama reportedly has neglected Muslims and Arab-Americans. Some representing organizations say they’ve tried to meet with him but been ignored. The New York Times reported that in December, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Muslim congressman who had volunteered to speak on Obama’s behalf at the mosque in Cedar Rapids, was asked by the campaign to cancel because of possible controversy. In a recent incident for which Obama personally apologized, campaign volunteers moved two Muslim women in headscarves out of camera range at a rally. The president of the Interfaith Alliance and the spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee have called Obama out for this. Their points are well taken. With Obama’s cross-cultural background and global outlook, he shouldn’t, even inadvertently, give legitimacy to the stigmatizing of a minority group widely demonized since Sept. 11, 2001.
Obama Says Dobson ‘Making Stuff Up’
CNN – 6/25/08
Sen. Barack Obama said evangelical leader James Dobson was “making stuff up,” when he accused the Illinois senator of distorting the Bible and taking a “fruitcake interpretation” of the U.S. Constitution. “Any notion that I was distorting the Bible in that speech, I think anyone would be hard pressed to make that argument,” Obama told reporters on board his press plane Tuesday night. In comments aired on his radio show Tuesday, Dobson criticized the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for comments he made in a June 2006 speech to the liberal Christian group Call to Renewal. In the speech, Obama suggested that it would be impractical to govern based solely on the word of the Bible, noting that some passages suggest slavery is permissible and eating shellfish is disgraceful. “Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy?” Obama asked in the speech. “Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount?
Faith or Cronyism in the White House Faith-Based Initiative?
Los Angeles Times – 6/26/08
The White House faith-based initiative is in the news again. The program has been controversial from the start — derided by critics for requiring the needy to accept religion along with acts of charity, and avoided by some religious groups who feared they’d lose their church/state independence from government. Now, amid new allegations that contracts were awarded to the politically connected, the program is getting the presidential spotlight. At a national conference Thursday, Bush plans to say that the program has helped millions. ABC News reported Tuesday that the Justice Department gave a $1.2 million grant jointly to a California evangelical youth charity called Victory Outreach and a consulting firm run by a Lisa Trevino Cummins, who headed Hispanic outreach efforts for the White House faith-based office featured in the photo above. The allegation, first brought by career employees at the Justice Department, is being investigated by the DOJ’s Inspector General. “The incident of cronyism removes all doubts that the real mission of the faith-based initiative is to aid the religious right,” said Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, the president of Interfaith Alliance, an advocacy group with 185,00 members of 75 different faiths. “Congress needs to exercise greater oversight on this program so that we can avoid scandals like this in the future.”
Religious Americans: My Faith Isn’t the Only Way
Associated Press – 6/23/08
America remains a deeply religious nation, but a new survey finds most Americans don’t believe their tradition is the only way to eternal life — even if the denomination’s teachings say otherwise. The findings, revealed Monday in a survey of 35,000 adults, can either be taken as a positive sign of growing religious tolerance, or disturbing evidence that Americans dismiss or don’t know fundamental teachings of their own faiths. Among the more startling numbers in the survey, conducted last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: 57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching. Earlier data from the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released in February, highlighted how often Americans switch religious affiliation. The newly released material looks at religious belief and practice as well as the impact of religion on society, including how faith shapes political views. “It shows increased religious security. People are comfortable with other traditions even if they’re different,” said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance. “It indicates a level of humility about religion that would be of great benefit to everyone.”
Religion and Its Role Are in Dispute at the Service Academies
New York Times – 6/25/08
Three years after a scandal at the Air Force Academy over the evangelizing of cadets by Christian staff and faculty members, students and staff at West Point and the Naval Academy are complaining that their schools, too, have pushed religion on cadets and midshipmen. The controversy led the Air Force to adopt guidelines that discourage public prayers at official events or meetings. And while those rules do not apply to other branches of the service, critics say the new complaints raise questions about the military’s commitment to policies against imposing religion on its members. Religion in the military has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, especially because the close confines of military life often put two larger societal trends — the rise of evangelicals and the rise of people of no organized faith — onto a collision course.
Skeptical states are shoving aside millions of federal dollars for abstinence education, walking away from the program the Bush administration touts for slowing teen sexual activity. Barely half the states are still in, and two more say they are leaving. Some $50 million has been budgeted for this year, and financially strapped states might be expected to want their share. But many have doubts that the program does much, if any good, and they’re frustrated by chronic uncertainty that it will even be kept in existence. They also have to chip in state money in order to receive the federal grants. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, made his decision to leave based on the congressionally mandated curriculum, which teaches “the social, psychological and health gains of abstaining from sexual activity.” Instructors must teach that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects. “It was just too strict,” said Emily Hajek, policy adviser to Culver. “We believe local providers have the knowledge to teach what’s going to be best in those situations, what kind of information will help those young people be safe. You cannot be that prescriptive about how it has to be taught.”
Louisiana Gov. Signs Controversial Education Bill
Reuters – 6/27/08
Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed into law a bill that critics say could allow for the teaching of “creationism” alongside evolution in public schools. Jindal, a conservative Christian who has been touted by pundits as a potential vice presidential running mate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, signed the legislation earlier this week. The law will allow schools if they choose to use “supplemental materials” when discussing evolution but does not specify what the materials would be. It states that authorities “shall allow … open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” Jindal’s office declined on Friday to comment. The bill was backed by the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian group, and the Discovery Institute, which promotes the theory of “intelligent design” — a theory that maintains that the complexity of life points to a grand designer. “Intelligent design is currently not in the Louisiana state science standards and so could not be taught. But this allows scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory to be taught,” said John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. Critics say intelligent design is biblical creation theory by another name and that the new legislation is an attempt to water down instruction about evolution. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/30/world/30anglican.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss Anglicans Face Wider Split Over Policy on Gays New York Times – 6/30/08 Anglican conservatives, frustrated by the continuing stalemate over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion, declared Sunday that they would defy historic lines of authority and create a new power bloc within the communion led by a council predominantly of African archbishops. The announcement came at the close of an unprecedented weeklong meeting in Jerusalem of Anglican conservatives who contend that they represent a majority of the 77 million members of the Anglican Communion. They depicted their efforts as the culmination of an anti-colonial struggle against the communion’s seat of power in Britain, from which missionaries first carried Anglican Christianity to the developing world. The conservatives say many of the descendants of those Anglican missionaries in Britain and North America are following a “false gospel” that allows a malleable interpretation of Scripture. They insisted that they were not breaking away from the Anglican Communion or creating a schism. But their plans, if carried out, could create severe upheaval in the communion, the world’s third largest grouping of churches, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches.
A Battle for Love and Religion
Houston Chronicle – 6/24/08
Parvez Sharma believes the gay and lesbian Muslims in A Jihad for Love, his new documentary, are an unlikely but compelling group of storytellers. While discussing the challenges of being gay Muslims, they also are giving audiences a glimpse into the world of Islam. “I think the greatest stories of empowerment about a religion can be told through their most vulnerable minorities,” Sharma said. “And I realize that deeply with gay and lesbian Muslims. … These are people who are deeply religious and who, in spite of all the condemnations and sometimes interference by the state and by governments, have held on to their faith. And they talk about Islam in such a profound and beautiful way.” Their stories gave Sharma, who came out as a gay man when he was 19 and living in his native India, more strength in his own Muslim identity, he said. A Jihad for Love is the story of gay and lesbian Muslims in 12 countries. Sharma, 34, spent nearly six years filming the documentary that is showing at the Angelika Film Center at least through July 3.
A Tactical Leap of Faith
Washington Post Op-Ed by Michael Gerson – 6/27/08
The latest findings of the Pew Forum’s massive and indispensable U.S. Religious Landscape Survey reveal some intriguing confusion among Americans on cosmic issues. About 13 percent of evangelicals, it turns out, don’t believe in a personal God, leading to a shameful waste of golf time on Sunday mornings. And 9 percent of atheists report that they are skeptical of evolution. Are there atheist creationists? On the relation of faith to politics, two points stand out in the survey: First, there is a clear connection between piety — praying often and attending worship services frequently — and political conservatism across nearly every religious tradition. Seventy-three percent of evangelicals who attend services at least once a week believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases; among more loosely affiliated evangelicals, the figure is 45 percent. Jews who pray daily are twice as likely to call themselves political conservatives. Second, religiously conservative people have more in common with the general public on political issues than some liberals and conservatives assume. Fifty-seven percent of evangelicals agree that “government should do more to help needy Americans, even if it means going deeper into debt.” More than half of evangelicals believe that stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost. And though 50 percent of evangelicals still identify themselves as Republicans, that number has declined amid the broader trend of political alienation and restlessness.
Why Obama Should Visit a Mosque
New York Times Op-Ed by Roger Cohen – 6/26/08
I’ll admit it: I’m thin-skinned about the kinds of slurs and innuendo about Muslims that have accompanied Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Years of being subjected to them while I covered the Bosnian war did that. I’ll admit something else: my own feelings about Islam have veered back and forth in recent years. Most of us were ignorant when the planes-turned-missiles struck. We’ve been searching for bearings: even the word “jihad” is variously described as a holy war against the infidel and an inner struggle for higher spiritual attainment. At Obama’s old school in Jakarta earlier this year, an establishment scurrilously described as a madrassa” in all the innuendo, a gentle principal showed me the large mosque and small Christian prayer room. He then invoked the words emblazoned on the coat of arms of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country: “Unity in diversity.” That’s what I saw among the kids at the school, 85 percent of whom are Muslim, and the rest Christian. That’s also what America’s supposed to be about, not religious slurring and stereotyping. Yet, because he’s named Barack Hussein Obama, and because his Kenyan grandfather was a Muslim, and because his commitment to Israel has been questioned, and because the U.S. Rorschach test is Muslim-menace mired, he’s had to tread carefully. Obama should visit a mosque. He has repeatedly shown his courage during this campaign; Americans have responded to his intellectual honesty. One of the important things about him is the knowledge his Kenyan and Indonesian experiences have given him of Islam as lived, rather than Islam as turned into monstrous specter.
Obama Must Confront Muslim Issue
Miami Herald Op-Ed – 6/29/08
It is not difficult to understand why Barack Obama has a fear of scarves. In the 17 months he’s been pursuing the presidency, the senator has faced a crude and shameless campaign from conservative pundits, GOP functionaries and assorted ignoramuses in the peanut gallery to prove him a secret Muslim — a ”Manchurian candidate,” as one put it — trained from birth to subvert America from within and, I don’t know, make us all eat falafels or something. On about a half-second of intelligent reflection, the flaw in that theory is apparent: If unfriendly forces had indeed inserted a secret Muslim among us, said Muslim would have blonde hair, blue eyes, flag pins out the wazoo and a name like Joe Smith. Too bad intelligent reflection is a stranger to the people in question. With a grim fanaticism, they seize upon every perceived crumb of Obama’s ”Muslim-ness” to press their case, using everything from his middle name to his disdain for the cheap patriotism of the American flag lapel pin to a photo of him wearing native dress on a trip to Somalia. So it’s easy to see why workers for his campaign barred two women wearing hijabs, Muslim head scarves, from sitting behind him, within range of TV cameras, at a June 16 rally in Detroit. When someone is throwing at you, you don’t hand him rocks. But that doesn’t make what the workers did right. His campaign, more than most, is an implicit promise to never put that which is politic above that which is right. This standoffishness toward American Muslims is a denial of all those things.