Race for the White House ’08:
Democrats’ Focus On Faith Draws Stern Warnings
New York Jewish Week – 8/21/08
Democrats plan to use their convention in Denver next week to close the so-called “God gap” and shed their reputation as the secular party, but their efforts could thrust them into the church-state crossfire that has already engulfed the Republicans. Political scientists say the unprecedented show of Democratic religiosity is essential for a party that is steadily losing support from the nation’s most religious voters — a category not confined to Evangelicals. But the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, a church-state watchdog group, called the religious focus of next week’s Democratic convention — which he said will be matched when the Republicans meet in Minneapolis a week later — “dangerous” because it is based on political expedience. “You have to set this in context,” said Rev. Gaddy, who accepted an invitation by the Obama campaign to come to Denver and discuss his objections to the candidate’s surprising support for elements of the Bush administration faith-based initiative, another element in the Democrats’ faith push. “This is a political campaign. The object of both parties is to win the presidency,” Rev. Gaddy added. “And anything that happens in Denver or Minneapolis happens because strategists believe it will be helpful in winning the White House, not because of a profound interest in religion.”
Democrats Open faith-filled Convention with Prayer
Associated Press – 8/25/08
DENVER (AP) — At the first official event Sunday of the Democratic National Convention, a choir belted out a gospel song and was followed by a rabbi reciting a Torah reading about forgiveness and the future. Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun who wrote “Dead Man Walking,” assailed the death penalty and the use of torture. Young Muslim women in headscarves sat near older African-American women in their finest Sunday hats. Four years ago, such a scene would have been unthinkable at a Democratic National Convention. In 2004, there was one interfaith lunch at the Democratic gala in Boston. But that same year, “values voters” helped re-elect President Bush, giving Democrats of faith the opening they needed to make party leaders listen to them. The result was on display at Sunday’s interfaith service, staged in a theater inside the Colorado Convention Center, and will be evident throughout the convention agenda and on the sidelines. There will be four “faith caucus” meetings, blessings to open and close each night, and panels and parties run by Democratic-leaning religious advocacy groups that didn’t even exist in 2004 — not to mention protests from religious groups and leaders opposed to the Democratic platform.
Listen to Rev. Gaddy’s State of Belief DNC Challenge to help watch faith’s role at the conventions on this week’s show at www.stateofbelief.com
Young Clergyman Leads Obama’s Drive to Attract ‘Faith Voters’
Wall Street Journal – 8/16/08
Barack Obama and John McCain will appear on stage together for the first time in the general election campaign Saturday at the megachurch of evangelical leader Rev. Rick Warren. The event presents challenges for both men. For Sen. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, it underscores his uneasy relationship with the religious right, which is a pillar of his party’s base. But it perhaps points to a bigger test for Sen. Obama, standard-bearer of a party that has badly frayed ties with religious Americans. More than any Democratic presidential nominee in recent years, Sen. Obama has sought out evangelical Christians and other so-called faith voters. The Obama campaign’s aggressive outreach to faith communities, led by religious-affairs director Joshua DuBois, has created a presidential race in which the presumptive Democratic nominee is talking more openly about his Christian beliefs than the Republican candidate. “[Sen. McCain] was raised in a family that understood the value of the Word and I believe his testimony comes through in his actions and he doesn’t need to wear his spirituality on his sleeve,” says Marlys Popma, Mr. DuBois’s counterpart as head of evangelical outreach for the McCain campaign, and a long-time antiabortion activist in the Republican Party.
Listen to our interview with Joshua DuBois on this weekend’s State of Belief at www.stateofbelief.com
Leah Daughtry is On a Mission to Narrow the ‘God Gap’ in Politics
Los Angeles Times – 8/19/08
Leah Daughtry is preparing to pray. Hands clasped, elbows on the table, the Pentecostal minister leans toward the conference phone and speaks. “We’ve confirmed all the readings except the Buddhist person,” she says. Daughtry is planning the interfaith celebration of song and prayer that will kick off the Democratic National Convention. Still needed are a Muslim, a Jew, a Catholic and a white evangelical to close. Then another wrinkle: Staffers say the Buddhist may have to yield to a congresswoman angling for a spot onstage. “More women is never a bad thing,” Daughtry allows, quickly moving on. As a fifth-generation minister and veteran political planner, Daughtry seems perfectly suited for the administrative and ecumenical task posed by the gathering and its Noah’s Ark of speakers. But her work goes far beyond that one event and even her duties as chief executive of the Denver convention, which opens Sunday.
Biden’s Catholic Faith Offers Risks, Rewards
Associated Press – 8/22/08
When Joe Biden underwent brain surgery for a life-threatening aneurysm in 1988, he asked doctors whether he could tuck his rosary beads under his pillow. The six-term Democratic senator from Delaware also has offered to shove his rosary down the throat of the next Republican who tells him he isn’t religious. Barack Obama’s running mate is the son of working-class Irish Catholics, a career politician educated at a Catholic prep school who briefly considered the priesthood. He has turned to his faith to weather personal tragedy _ including the deaths of his wife and young daughter in a 1972 traffic accident _ and shape his political worldview. Biden attends Mass weekly and didn’t miss it on Sunday, either, attending services and taking Communion at St. Joseph on the Brandywine near his home in Greenville, Del. Biden’s selection as Obama’s running mate immediately touched off new scrutiny of his support for abortion rights, a position in conflict with a fundamental teaching of his church. One outspoken prelate, Denver Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput, said in statement to The Associated Press that Biden should refrain from taking Communion because of his stance.
McCain Gets Plaudits For Church Event
US News & World Report – 8/18/08
John McCain generally received better reviews than Barack Obama for his appearance at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. At the event, Obama and then McCain sat for an hour with the Rev. Rick Warren, who posed identical questions to the White House hopefuls. The Wall Street Journal reports there were “several moments when Sen. McCain’s reply was sharp and to the point. Sen. Obama, by contrast, took longer pauses after many of his questions, and his answers often came together slowly.” In his New York Times column, William Kristol says it “was McCain’s night. Obama made no big mistakes. But his tendency to somewhat windy generalities meant he wasn’t particularly compelling. McCain, who went second, was crisp by contrast, and his anecdotes colorful.”
Analysis: Is McCain finding His Way on Faith?
CNN.com – 8/18/08
On a rainy evening last December in the upstate South Carolina town of Greer, as his once-languishing campaign was clawing its way back into contention, John McCain hosted a town hall meeting at a diner called Pete’s Drive-In. He talked about the issues that usually stir his passions — a commitment to service, winning the war in Iraq, fighting pork-barrel spending — before taking questions from a small audience of Republican primary voters. As the event neared its conclusion, a man in the back of the restaurant raised his hand and broached a topic not often heard at the VFW and American Legion halls where McCain preferred to campaign. “I was wondering if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior?” the voter asked. McCain, positioned before a large American flag, paused and lowered his head. “I am a man of faith,” he responded. “I have deep religious beliefs and values. I had experiences in my life where I had to rely on God not to get me through another day or another hour, but another minute.” The questioner, not satisfied, pressed the candidate again on whether he had let Christ into his life. “I also believe that talking too much about one’s faith and religion, in my view, is something between me and God,” McCain said. The crowd clapped.
Pastor Rick’s Test
Washington Post – 8/19/08
At the risk of heresy, let it be said that setting up the two presidential candidates for religious interrogation by an evangelical minister — no matter how beloved — is supremely wrong. It is also un-American. For the past several days, since mega-pastor Rick Warren interviewed Barack Obama and John McCain at his Saddleback Church, most political debate has focused on who won. Was it the nuanced, thoughtful Obama, who may have convinced a few more skeptics that he isn’t a Muslim? Or was it the direct, confident McCain, who breezes through town-hall-style meetings the way Obama sinks three-pointers from the back court? The candidates’ usual supporters felt validated in their choices. McCain convinced and comforted with characteristic certitude those who are most at ease with certitude; Obama convinced and comforted with his characteristic intellectual ambivalence those who are most at ease with ambivalence.
Ohio Social Conservatives Watch McCain VP Pick
Akron Beacon Journal – 8/20/08
As speculation grows that Republican John McCain may pick a vice presidential nominee outside the traditional party mode, social conservatives are warning him: moderation will lose Ohio. The same conservatives who knocked on doors, planted signs and manned the phone banks in southwest Ohio to give President Bush his second term in 2004 are waiting apprehensively, hoping McCain picks a vice presidential nominee who opposes abortion. Social conservatives still aren’t comfortable with the Arizona senator. There was joy among conservative ranks when McCain said last weekend that life began at conception, but consternation when he said just a few days before that he was open to choosing a vice president in the mold of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge or Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who are both abortion rights supporters. “A pro-abortion running mate will cost him Ohio,” said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, the Cincinnati-based organization that was behind a gay marriage ban that brought Ohio conservatives to the polls in 2004. “I can almost guarantee it.”
More Americans Want Church and Politics Separate: Poll
Reuters – 8/22/08
A slim majority of Americans, including more conservatives and Republicans than previously, want to keep religion out of politics, a survey released on Thursday found. The results come as Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain actively vie for the support of religious voters among others ahead of the November 4 presidential election. The survey by the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of Americans thought that churches and other religious institutions should stay out of politics, an increase of eight percentage points since 2004, when the last U.S. presidential election was held.
Conservatives Grow Wary of Mixing Church, Politics
Associated Press – 8/22/08
Social conservatives are growing more wary of church involvement in politics, joining moderates and liberals in their unease about blurring the lines between pulpit and ballot box, a new study found. Fifty percent of conservatives think churches and other places of worship should stay out of social and political matters, up from 30 percent four years ago, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. That significant shift in conservative thought has brought the country to a tipping point on the question: a slim majority of Americans _ 52 percent _ now think churches should keep out of politics. That’s an eight percentage point increase over 2004 and the first time a majority of Americans has held that opinion since Pew officials started asking the question 12 years ago. On this question, the gap between conservatives and liberals is narrowing: just four years ago, liberals were twice as likely as conservatives to say churches should stay out of politics. Now, 50 percent of conservatives and 57 percent of liberals think that. Four years ago, 62 percent of liberals opposed church involvement in politics. Democrats and Republicans are about even on the question, as well.
Newsweek – 8/18/08
One midwestern college has made a radical commitment to “green.” All the paper towels in the lavatories are from recycled materials. Campus police drive hybrids. Prairie grasses have been planted to cut down on mowing. There’s hormone-free milk and local fruit in the cafeteria. Is this Oberlin College, a small, lefty liberal-arts school? No, it’s Wheaton College, alma mater of the evangelist Billy Graham, a school whose motto is “For Christ and His Kingdom.” Things are getting complicated for the nation’s 300 or so evangelical-Christian colleges. As the evangelical world continues to fracture, schools once known mainly for their conservative politics and their no-sex-before-marriage policies are adapting to a generation of students who see the world in a more subtle way. As conservative as their parents on abortion, and still mostly committed to premarital chastity, these young evangelicals want to talk about formerly touchy subjects: race, divorce, homosexuality, single parenthood. And they want a school that supports their commitment to social-justice causes.
For Coach, God and Archery Are a Package Deal
New York Times – 8/20/08
Two weeks before leaving to compete in the Olympics, the archer Brady Ellison waded into a pool not far from the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and was baptized in the Christian faith. In the water with him was Kisik Lee, the head coach of the United States archery team and a Christian who has become a spiritual guide for Ellison, 19, and the larger group of athletes who train and live full time at the Olympic Training Center. He has also served as a sponsor in the baptism of three other resident archers.
Amish Population Nearly Doubles in 16 Years
The Amish are expanding their presence in states far beyond Pennsylvania Dutch country as they search for affordable farmland to accommodate a population that has nearly doubled in the past 16 years, a new study found. States such as Missouri, Kentucky and Minnesota have seen increases in their Amish populations of more than 130 percent. The Amish now number an estimated 227,000 nationwide, up from 123,000 in 1992, according to researchers from Elizabethtown College’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.
Franklin Graham has criticized the new feature film about his famous father, saying Billy: The Early Years includes a few scenes that never happened in real life and others that are “greatly embellished.” The younger Graham, CEO of the Charlotte, N.C.-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, also made it clear that he and the group neither collaborated with the filmmakers nor endorsed their movie — due in theaters Oct. 10.
Biblical Broadcasters Fear Losing Money, Freedom by Giving Time to Opposing Views
Dallas Morning News – 8/16/08
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is making Christian broadcasters nervous. Ms. Pelosi recently said she supports resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine, a 1949 Federal Communications Commission policy that required broadcasters who sent out specific messages to set aside time for opposing views. Such a move would “really make it impossible to preach the whole counsel of God,” said Rich Bott, the owner of Kansas-based Bott Radio Network, which broadcasts Christian programming across 10 states. It also would, he said, probably put him out of business.
California Doctors Can’t Refuse Treatment to Gays on Religious Grounds, Court Rules
Los Angeles Times – 8/19/08
Doctors may not discriminate against gays and lesbians in medical treatment, even if the procedures being sought conflict with physicians’ religious beliefs, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Monday. In its second major decision advancing gay rights this year, the state high court ruled that religious physicians must obey a state law that bars businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.”The 1st Amendment’s right to the free exercise of religion does not exempt defendant physicians here from conforming their conduct to the . . . antidiscrimination requirements,” Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote for the court.
Faith Groups Can Engage in Politics and Respect Laws
Lexington Herald-Leader – 8/22/08
As an old saying has it, there are two subjects not to be discussed in polite company, religion and politics. Yet, religion and politics have been in the news a lot lately, both separately and together, and they promise to be in the news even more between now and November. Like most Americans, people of faith are deeply interested in politics. And why not? Politics affects us all regardless of our religious affiliation. Many people of faith employ the teachings of their religion to evaluate political issues and candidates. Moreover, in some religious traditions, involvement in politics is considered a duty of faith. The Interfaith Alliance Foundation recently published ”A Campaign Season Guide for Houses of Worship.“ This guide offers helpful advice for local religious organizations.
Visit interfaithalliance.org for new videos from Rev. Gaddy on our 5 Questions for Every Candidate, and election year guides.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Washington Post On Faith Column by Rev. Welton Gaddy – 8/21/08
I approached Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum with much anticipation, but without a clear idea of how he would handle the sensitive issues at the intersection of religion and politics. I believe Pastor Warren set an example of civility that I hope others will follow, but at the same time some of his questions crossed a line that makes this election seem as if we are electing a pastor-in-chief rather than a commander-in-chief. Pastor Warren’s opening statement, if not his questions, reflected precisely the thought of the founders of our nation and explicitly conveyed the spirit of their intent in the religious liberty clauses of the Constitution. Preventing institutional entanglements between religion and politics or the institutional subservience of one to the other is a necessity that differs dramatically from personal perspectives on politics and politicians influenced by an individual’s faith or lack of faith. From my point of view, the forum could not have started with a more important statement. However, as the forum continued, primal distinctions between faith and politics became blurred and, in some instances, were erased. A question about a candidate’s commitment to Jesus seems of little relevance to a religiously pluralistic nation made strong by a secular government that appreciates religion but gives no preference to religion over non-religion. For the most part, I found Pastor Warren’s questions creative and helpful and his attitude a refreshing encouragement of all that is civil. However, his inquiry about personal faith and his citations from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures well could have left the wrong impression. Many people in this nation do not turn to those scriptures for wisdom or to faith for guidance. Questions essential in a church are not particularly helpful in a conversation a church sponsors to help educate diverse voters in the nation.
The New Evangelical Politics
Washington Post Op-Ed by E.J. Dionne Jr. – 8/18/08
Anyone who still doubts that the evangelical Christian world is going through a political revolution was not watching Pastor Rick Warren’s presidential forum this weekend. The era of reducing Christianity to a narrow set of ideological commitments is over. Just a few years ago, who would have imagined that Barack Obama and John McCain would hold a discussion of this sort in a church? Who would have thought that the session would be moderated by an evangelical pastor who was emphatic in counting both the Democrat and the Republican as his “friends”? Who would have predicted that in such a setting, the issues of abortion and gay marriage would not dominate the pastor’s queries. Oh, yes, and who would have anticipated that the passions of the pastor in question would be engaged not in the divisions created by the culture wars but in the imperative of civility in politics and the plight of the world’s 148 million orphans? Here’s betting that the next president will help some of those orphans find homes. The notion that Christianity in general and evangelicalism in particular are by nature right-wing creeds has always been wrong. How can a faith built around a commitment to the poor and the vulnerable be seen as leading ineluctably to conservative political conclusions?
What About Democrats Who are Not “People of Faith?”
Denver Post Editorial – 8/18/08
When first avowing his religious credentials for president, Barack Obama said – and then repeated many times since – that “secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square.” The party that will soon nominate Obama is to be praised for its acceptance of and respect for its religious members. However, it is the nonbelievers who are now being ignored. Hearing of the plans for the prayer/unity/values event leading off the convention on August 24, Ron Millar, Associate Director of the Secular Coalition for America, wrote a letter on July 2 to Leah Daughtry, CEO of the Democratic National Committee and planner of the “big tent” event. He asked Daughtry if nontheistic Americans were welcome and, if so, how this would be manifested. While not replying directly to the Coalition, Daughtry did discuss the request with the Associated Press. “Atheists speaking at an interfaith service…does that work?” a “befuddled” Daughtry was quoted as asking in a July 19 story by the AP’s Eric Gorski. “I don’t quite know. But they’re part of the party, you treat them with respect.” The first sign that treating them with respect was not a priority for Daughtry was her lumping all notheists who include not only agnostics but also humanists, skeptics, and believers in spirit but not a personal god into atheists. And the second came with the announcement of the lineup for what had once been thought of as a “values” and a “unity” event: no one represents the millions of secularists. Daughtry: “Democrats have been, are and will continue to be people of faith – and this interfaith gathering is proof of that.” But what about those Democrats who are not “people of faith?” Are they not invited? Or invited just to watch others pray? Should their own outlook not even be acknowledged?
Listen to our interview with Ronald Aronson on this weekend’s State of Belief at www.stateofbelief.com
Los How should Catholics vote?
LA Times Editorial – 8/21/08
Pope Benedict XVI has bestowed a key position on an American prelate who was the leader of a faction in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that believes Catholic voters should judge political candidates primarily by their views on abortion. With a presidential election looming, supporters of the separation of church and state can hope that the appointment of Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis as the head of the Vatican’s supreme judicial body will defuse the controversy in the church about single-issue voting.
Going to Church
Philadelphia Inquirer editorial – 8/21/08
It’s understandable that proponents of a clear separation of religion and government were upset that John McCain and Barack Obama dared to participate in a pre-election event held in a California church. But some of the critics’ objections blindly ignore the immense value that could be provided to all voters from the type of discussion the two presidential candidates had. “I don’t see what good it will do for the American people to again hear the candidates spout pious platitudes about their favorite Bible verses or how devout they are,” complained the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Perhaps the reverend should follow his own Good Book’s advice (Matthew 7:5) to “remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly.” Americans who watched the telecast Saturday night from pastor and author Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., got to hear each candidate discuss the internal compass that guides him on matters, big and small.