Race for the White House ’08:
Obama Wants to Expand Role of Religious Groups
New York Times – 7/2/08
With an eye toward courting evangelical voters, Senator Barack Obama arrived here on Tuesday to present a plan to expand on President Bush’s program of investing federal money in religious-based initiatives that are intended to fight poverty and perform community aid work. “The fact is, the challenges we face today — from saving our planet to ending poverty — are simply too big for government to solve alone,” Mr. Obama is expected to say, according to a prepared text of his remarks. “We need all hands on deck[…]Now, I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square,” Mr. Obama intends to say. “But the fact is, leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups.” He thus embraced the heart of a program, established early in the Bush administration, that critics say blurs the constitutional separation of church and state. Mr. Obama made clear, however, that he would work to ensure that charitable groups receiving government funds be carefully monitored to prevent them from using the money to proselytize and to prevent any religion-based discrimination against potential recipients or employees. Mr. Obama is also proposing $500 million per year to provide summer learning for 1 million poor children to help close achievement gaps for students. He proposes elevating the program to the “moral center” of his administration, calling it the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He called for rules to make certain the new council wouldn’t violate the separation of church and state. Groups receiving money, aides said, would have to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs.
Obama courts Conservatives With New Faith Program
Associated Press – 7/2/08
Taking a page from President Bush, Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday he wants to expand White House efforts to steer social service dollars to religious groups, risking protests in his own party with his latest aggressive reach for voters who usually vote Republican. Obama contended he is merely stating long-held positions _ surprising to some, he said, after a primary campaign in which he was “tagged as being on the left.” In recent days, with the Democratic nomination in hand and the general election battle with Republican John McCain ahead, Obama has been sounding centrist themes with comments on guns, government surveillance and capital punishment. He’s even quoted Ronald Reagan. On Tuesday, touring Presbyterian Church-based social services facility, the Democratic senator said he would get religious charities more involved in government anti-poverty efforts if elected. “We need an all-hands-on-deck approach,” he said at Eastside Community Ministry. The event was part of a series leading into Friday’s Fourth of July holiday aimed at reassuring skeptical voters and shifting away from being stamped as part of the Democratic Party’s most liberal wing. He said the connection of religion and public service was nothing new in his personal life. Obama showed he was comfortable using the kind of language that is familiar in evangelical churches and Bible studies by calling his faith “a personal commitment to Christ.” He said that his time as a community organizer in decimated Chicago neighborhoods, supported in part by a Catholic group, brought him to a deeper faith and also convinced him that faith is useless without works. “While I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I went out and did the Lord’s work,” he declared.
Obama Sets Off a Debate on Ties Between Religion and Government
New York Times – 7/5/08
On Tuesday, Senator Barack Obama did his best to reclaim for Democrats the idea of partnerships between government and grass-roots religious groups — and except for six little words he did a very smooth job. First, he recalled his own community service in Chicago, noting that it had been church supported. Then he reminded listeners that it was President Bill Clinton who signed landmark legislation widening the role religion-based groups could play in government-financed programs, and Al Gore who in 1999 first proposed a full-scale religion-based initiative. He was two-thirds of the way through his remarks when he inserted the six words with the potential to put his whole effort at risk. Speaking “as someone who used to teach constitutional law,” he spelled out “a few basic principles” to reassure listeners that such partnerships between religious groups and the government would not endanger the separation of church and state. “First,” he said, “if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help, and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion.” That little phrase between the dashes — “or against the people you hire” — ignited a political explosion. “Fraud,” declared Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. “What Obama wants,” Mr. Donohue said, is “to secularize the religious workplace.” In its newsletter, the conservative Family Research Council called Mr. Obama’s position “a body blow to religious groups that apply for federal funds.” No less heated reactions came from the other end of the political spectrum, where the Obama proposal was denounced not for that short phrase but for what liberals saw as an abandonment of their principles and part of a suspicious move toward the center.
McCain, Obama Quietly Take Opposing Stands on California’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Measure
Los Angeles Times – 7/2/08
Presidential candidates can command instant national attention when they want it. But John McCain and Barack Obama each took a hushed approach to letting the world know where they stand on the California ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage. The muted announcements — McCain supports the proposed ban, Obama opposes it — will have little if any bearing on the presidential contest in a state that strongly favors Democrats. Beyond California, though, the ramifications are serious — especially for McCain. Advisors hope his support for the November measure will help appease socially conservative evangelicals long wary of the Arizona senator. But like McCain’s other recent gestures to align himself with the Republican Party’s conservative wing, it risks turning off the independent voters whose support is crucial to his White House aspirations. McCain’s support for the measure to put a same-sex marriage ban in the California Constitution is part of his effort to reconcile with conservative evangelicals. The senator who once branded the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance” has pledged to put more conservatives on the federal bench and has reaffirmed his support for letting states outlaw abortion. Already looming large are his support for expanding President Bush’s tax cuts, keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for years and lifting the federal ban on offshore oil drilling. All of those pose potential trouble for McCain in a race against a Democrat who has shown strong appeal among independents.
Conservative Evangelicals Discuss Backing McCain
Associated Press – 7/2/08
Conservative evangelical leaders met privately this week to discuss putting aside their misgivings about John McCain and coalescing around the Republican’s presidential bid while urging him to consider social conservative favorite Mike Huckabee as a running mate. About 90 of the movement’s leading activists gathered Tuesday night in Denver for a meeting convened by Mathew Staver, who heads the Florida-based legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel. Many evangelical leaders backed other GOP candidates early on and remain wary of McCain’s commitment to their causes and his previous criticisms of movement leaders. But with the presidential field now set, many evangelical leaders are taking a more pragmatic view, realizing also that the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, is making a strong play for evangelical voters and talking freely about his faith. “Our shared core values compel us to unite and choose the presidential candidate that best advances those values,” said Staver, who previously backed Huckabee’s bid. “That obvious choice is Sen. John McCain. I think people left the meeting in unity the likes of which have not been evident through the primaries.” The group also agreed to sign a letter urging the McCain campaign to consider Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist minister, as his vice presidential choice, said another participant, Phil Burress. Burress, who heads an Ohio group that helped pass an anti-gay marriage measure in that state in 2004, was among a group of conservative Christian leaders who met with McCain last week.
McCain Steps Up Efforts to Woo Religious Voters
Dallas Morning News – 7/6/08
John McCain has stepped up his appeal to Christian conservatives, meeting recently with religious leaders in Ohio and making a publicized pilgrimage to see Billy Graham. But even as he woos evangelicals, his campaign is pursuing a different strategy – abandoning George W. Bush’s model of galvanizing the GOP base and targeting independents to make up for lost social-conservative votes. “We can’t win the election the way George Bush did by just running up the score with Republicans, running up the score with evangelicals and taking what we can out of the independent mix,” said Sarah Simmons, the campaign’s director of strategy. It’s a risky move, though, as religious conservatives have been instrumental to Republican victories for a generation. Some social conservatives warn that the appeal to moderate swing voters will jeopardize already lukewarm support from evangelicals. “McCain is in grave danger right now of causing a good number of potential supporters to just stay home in resignation,” said East Texas evangelist Rick Scarborough. Phil Burress of the Ohio Christian Alliance, who met privately with Mr. McCain a week ago in Cincinnati, said evangelical leaders urged him to pick a social-conservative running mate and to talk more openly about issues they care about, especially abortion and gay marriage. “We need something from Senator McCain to help rev up our people,” Mr. Burress said. “Our people are flat. They don’t seem interested.”
Washington Post – 7/1/08
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.”‘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.’ “Gaddy is not the first to charge foul. Former White House staffer David Kuo charged that after he left the administration federal funds were funneled to evangelical Christian charities without congressional approval.
New York Times – 7/6/08
We all know that politics makes strange bedfellows, but how odd it must have been to have sat in on the recent meeting between Barack Obama and evangelical leaders, including Franklin Graham, the conservative minister who once called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.” Yet there they were, Obama and the evangelicals in Chicago on June 10, searching for — and apparently finding — considerable common ground. In the last few weeks, Obama has announced several outreach projects (including one named after Joshua, who, unlike Moses, was able to lead his people to the promised land). For their part, evangelical leaders, unpersuaded by John McCain’s episodic proclamations of faith, are wise, or perhaps even prophetic, to consider all the options. Maybe the distance between liberals and evangelicals, each eternal optimists in their way, is much smaller than we realized. In our week of national reflection, it’s worth recognizing that religious enthusiasm in America has as often as not had a reformist or even revolutionary cast to it. Consider the Declaration of Independence. It is not normally seen as an evangelical statement, despite the heroic attempts of the Christian right to claim it as such. God is mentioned four times, but obliquely, and never by name. Even so, the argument against kings derived much of its power from the vigor of Christian thought. The historian Pauline Maier was right to label this bit of parchment our American Scripture.
Jefferson Bible Reveals Founding Father’s view of God, Faith
Los Angeles Times – 7/5/08
Making good on a promise to a friend to summarize his views on Christianity, Thomas Jefferson set to work with scissors, snipping out every miracle and inconsistency he could find in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then, relying on a cut-and-paste technique, he reassembled the excerpts into what he believed was a more coherent narrative and pasted them onto blank paper — alongside translations in French, Greek and Latin. In a letter sent from Monticello to John Adams in 1813, Jefferson said his “wee little book” of 46 pages was based on a lifetime of inquiry and reflection and contained “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” He called the book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Friends dubbed it the Jefferson Bible. It remains perhaps the most comprehensive expression of what the nation’s third president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence found ethically interesting about the Gospels and their depiction of Jesus. “I have performed the operation for my own use,” he continued, “by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter, which is evidently his and which is as easily distinguished as diamonds in a dunghill.” The little leather-bound tome, several facsimiles of which are kept at the Huntington Library in San Marino, continues to fascinate scholars exploring the powerful and varied relationships between the Founding Fathers and the most sacred book of the Western World. The big question now, said Lori Anne Ferrell, a professor of early modern history and literature at Claremont Graduate University, is this: “Can you imagine the reaction if word got out that a president of the United States cut out Bible passages with scissors, glued them onto paper and said, ‘I only believe these parts?’ ” “He was a product of his age,” said Ferrell, whose upcoming book, “The Bible and the People,” includes a chapter on the Jefferson Bible. “Yet, he is the least likely person I’d want to pray with. He was more skeptical about religion than the other Founding Fathers.”
Salvaging Hope at Iowa Mosque
Los Angeles Times – 7/1/08
The tiny white mosque in a working-class neighborhood on this city’s west side is a muddy shell with a sewage-stained stack of Korans and prayer beads piled nearly 5 feet high out back. For more than seven decades, Muslim immigrants searching for solace and strength have gathered at the Mother Mosque of America, the oldest surviving mosque in North America. Now, the memories have been washed away. Picking through the debris, the faithful struggle to find something they can salvage — even if it’s only a little hope. “We have lost our homes, our businesses and our places of worship,” said the mosque’s leader, Imam Taha Tawil. “We have a lot to rebuild, but we can do it.” Nearly three weeks after the surging Cedar River crested well above historic levels and swamped 1,300 city blocks, the worship center and the 50 families it serves are among the tens of thousands of flood victims here in the state’s second-largest city. They are far from alone in the struggle to rebuild their lives. Hundreds of communities in six states face vexing questions and mounting fears after the widespread flooding. In Iowa alone, the floods affected 350 of the state’s 949 towns, damaged 45,000 square miles of land and displaced 40,000 people, said Gov. Chet Culver. Cedar Rapids has some of the most daunting hurdles to overcome. More than 5,300 homes and 1,100 commercial and industrial business structures were damaged. So were 486 government buildings, schools and other nonprofit entities. That includes 31 places of worship. Warped pews, stained crucifixes and muck-covered prayer stands littered the parking lots of two Methodist parishes and a Catholic church — all within a mile of Mother Mosque.
Muslim Leaders Say Faith Gaining Ground In U.S.
Houston Chronicle – 7/5/08
Despite the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, acceptance of Islam politically and socially is on the increase in the U.S., National Muslim leaders gathered in Houston said Saturday. “American Muslims have become an important global force,” said Sayyid M. Syeed, director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances in Washington, D.C. The 45-year-old organization, the largest Islamic group in the country, holds regional conferences to promote Islam and engage larger communities. They also hold an annual national conference for Muslims and non-Muslims. Syeed told Muslims attending the South Central Conference at the Westin Galleria that Islam has made great political strides in the U.S. since the terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers in New York. Keith Ellison, a House Democrat from Minnesota, was elected in 2006, and Andre Carson, a House Democrat from Indiana, was elected in 2008. Both are Muslim. “And all of this happened after 9/11,” Syeed said. The attacks made two changes in America, he said. “Suddenly America became aware of the presence of Muslims in America.” American institutions, particularly religious organizations, invited Muslims to groups and committees. “Wherever there are Protestants, Catholics and Jews around the table, there is an urge to get Muslims nominated and invited,” Syeed said.
Some Clergy Want Out of Wedding Duty
Sacramento Bee – 7/1/08
Some clergy think churches should divorce themselves from the wedding business. The controversy over same-sex marriage – along with a growing sense that many couples who marry in churches never return – has prompted faith leaders to say it’s time to reconsider how California couples tie the knot. After the California Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California began encouraging all couples to marry outside the church. “I urge you to encourage all couples, regardless of orientation, to follow the pattern of first being married in a secular service, and then being blessed in the Episcopal Church,” Bishop Marc Handley Andrus wrote his clergy June 9. This model is used by many European countries, according to John Witte, director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. He said that approach has been practiced in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Scandinavia and other countries for many years.
Put Them Out to Pastor
Washington Post Op-Ed by Richard Cohen – 7/1/08
The pilgrim is making little progress. In a futile effort to convince faith-voters that he is one of them, John McCain paid a visit to the Grahams of North Carolina — father Billy and son Franklin. After the meeting, not a word was said about the Grahams’ past indiscretions concerning Muslims or Jews, and neither, for that matter, was an endorsement proffered. The next guest was country singer Ricky Skaggs. He did better. He got lunch. McCain plods a cruel treadmill. He has thus far sought the endorsement of the extremely purple Rev. John Hagee and the equally purple Rev. Rod Parsley. Both of them were later asked to unendorse on account of offensive things they’ve said. But to paraphrase Hyman Roth in “The Godfather,” this is the business they’re in. Billy Graham’s observations about Jews were made a long time ago and were imparted in confidence to Richard Nixon and his secret White House tape recorder. The two ruminated about the power and influence of Jews, with Graham adding a bit of original investigative reporting: “They’re the ones putting out the pornographic stuff.” Had he peeked? Graham apologized for such remarks and said he no longer held such views, and everyone, including me, takes him at his word. His lasting damage, I offer as an aside, was to persuade the young George W. Bush to abandon his wastrel ways, at which he excelled, and instead seek the path that has led him to where he is now, a calamity for the nation and the world. Graham’s burden is heavy indeed. But the transgressions of Franklin Graham are much more recent and more to the point. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Franklin Graham called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion.” As preachers are wont to do, he amplified his remarks to include “mainstream” Islam, alleging that the Koran preaches violence. He is known throughout the Muslim world for these remarks and therefore is hardly a figure a presidential candidate should visit.