Race for the White House ’08:
’08 Race Has Got Religion. Is That Good?
Christian Science Monitor – 5/28/08
There was Mitt Romney’s speech to try to dispel concerns about his Mormon faith. There was Barack Obama’s denunciation of certain beliefs of his longtime pastor. Last week it was John McCain’s turn to cut himself off from two controversial preachers whose endorsements he had once sought. And throughout the presidential primary season, there have been candidate forums on religious beliefs, plus eager courting of evangelical Christians, Catholics, and other faith groups. Are religion and faith playing an appropriate role – or an inappropriate one – in the 2008 presidential campaign? So far, it’s some of both, say those who’ve been monitoring the campaign. Critics also cite news media that turn faith into mere entertainment or play it for controversy. Some questions asked during televised debates have been helpful, they say, but others have been inappropriate or irrelevant, bordering on religious vetting. the Interfaith Alliance, a religious liberty watchdog, became so concerned it released a video called “Top Ten Moments in the Race for Pastor-in-Chief.” Among the questions it criticized: “What’s the worst sin you’ve committed?” and “Do you believe every word of the Bible?” “Why ask Senator Clinton about ‘feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit’?” complained TIA president Welton Gaddy after the Compassion Forum aired on CNN in April. “Far more useful would be specific questions about how their faith would impact their policy positions.”
McCain Rejects Pastor’s Support
Wall Street Journal – 5/23/08
John McCain rejected the endorsement of the Rev. John C. Hagee Thursday after an old sermon was unearthed in which the evangelical pastor seemed to suggest that God had created the Holocaust to drive Jews to Israel. Mr. Hagee, who endorsed the Republican candidate in February, delivered a sermon in the late 1990s in which he appeared to explain how something good could come from a tragic event. “A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says…’They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,'” Mr. Hagee preached. “God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.” The sermon was posted on Talk to Action, a blog critical of the Christian right, and later republished on the Huffington Post Web site. “Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them,” Sen. McCain said Thursday. “I feel I must reject his endorsement.” “As anybody that aspires to the office of the presidency ought to know, fairly or unfairly, they’re going to be judged by the words and actions of their friends as well as their enemies,” said Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance. “It’s irresponsible to let someone align themselves with you” without proper background checks.
Read more stories featuring the Interfaith Alliance on this topic in:
Pastors Pose Problems for McCain and Obama
Associated Press – 5/25/08
Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, both seeking to use religion to their advantage in the presidential campaign, have learned painful lessons about the risks of getting too close to religious leaders. Both now realize that sermons given to a narrow audience on Sundays don’t always play as well on the national stage, where context can be a casualty. And McCain’s rejection of endorsements from two evangelical pastors puts into relief the candidate’s problems with that core GOP constituency. McCain, the Republican nominee-in waiting, and Obama, who is closing in on the Democratic nod, both have been slowed by their respective pastor problems. Whether the controversies will play a role in the months ahead remains unclear, but the two candidates face decisions about how clergy fit into their efforts to reach voters informed by faith. Clergy who have seen colleagues go from relative obscurity to infamy in the course of a 24-hour news cycle face similar choices in weighing whether to talk about politics and candidates. “This is the new terrain of religious politics,” said David Domke, a University of Washington communications professor and co-author of “The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America.” “Politicians have been getting a pass on this for some time, using support from a minister or pastor for their political advantage and not having to answer for what that pastor has said.” Both candidates have reason to pay attention to the faith factor in their White House bids.
IRS Clears Obama’s Church
Wall Street Journal – 5/22/08
The Internal Revenue Service has told the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s denomination, that it didn’t violate tax laws when the presidential candidate addressed 10,000 church members in June. In a letter released by the UCC, the IRS said that the denomination hadn’t engaged in prohibited political activity and retains its nonprofit status. The UCC disclosed an IRS inquiry into Sen. Obama’s appearance earlier this year. IRS spokeswoman Nancy Mathis declined to comment. Charitable groups, including churches, are barred from engaging in political speech if they wish to remain untaxed.
As Obama Heads to Florida, Many of It’s Jews Have Doubts
New York Times – 5/22/08
At the Aberdeen Golf and Country Club on Sunday, the fountains were burbling, the man-made lakes were shining, and Shirley Weitz and Ruth Grossman were debating why Jews in this gated neighborhood of airy retirement homes feel so much trepidation about Senator Barack Obama. “The people here, liberal people, will not vote for Obama because of his attitude towards Israel,” Ms. Weitz, 83, said, lingering over brunch. “They’re going to vote for McCain,” she said. Ms. Grossman, 80, agreed with her friend’s conclusion, but not her reasoning. “They’ll pick on the minister thing, they’ll pick on the wife, but the major issue is color,” she said, quietly fingering a coffee cup. Ms. Grossman said she was thinking of voting for Mr. Obama, who is leading in the delegate count for the nomination, as was Ms. Weitz. But Ms. Grossman does not tell the neighbors. “I keep my mouth shut,” she said. On Thursday, Mr. Obama will court Jewish voters with an appearance at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Fla. A longtime Democratic constituency with a consistently high turnout rate, Jews are important to his general election hopes, particularly in New York, which he expects to win; in California and New Jersey, which he must keep out of Republican hands; and, most crucially, here in Florida, where Jews make up around 5 percent of voters.
Religious Right Feeling Left Out in Race
Politico – 5/22/08
Christian conservatives who helped elect President Bush are wary of his would-be Republican successor, and now they’re feeling abandoned by Congressional Republicans, too. There are two sources of their unhappiness: Republicans didn’t rise up en masse last week when the California Supreme Court invalidated a ban on same-sex marriage, and the House GOP’s new family agenda focuses on pocketbook issues rather than moral concerns. “In 2004, there was great emphasis on marriage, on value voters,” said Tony Perkins, president of the influential Family Research Council. “And now you see [Republicans] running from those values issues. … By taking a path away from values issues, Republicans will find themselves in the wilderness.” Congressional Republicans insist they haven’t given up the fight against abortion rights and same-sex marriage. At a session with reporters Wednesday, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said: “We have never walked away from who we are, … [but] we don’t control the agenda. “Certainly, the Democrats have done everything imaginable to avoid some of those issues,” Boehner said. “But that doesn’t mean our commitment to those issues is any less.” Still, a comparison of the House GOP’s 2006 American Values Agenda with its 2008 American Family Agenda shows how the party’s emphasis has changed.
Interfaith Alliance criticizes Alabama governor’s Plan to Have Churches Manage Prisoner Re-entry
Birmingham News – 5/24/08
The Interfaith Alliance, a national religious organization supporting the separation of church and state, on Friday criticized Gov. Bob Riley’s plan to have the state’s churches manage prisoner re-entry programs. The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Washington, D.C.-based organization, said prisoners could be forced to accept proselytizing in order to receive assistance, and that religious discrimination in hiring also may result. “It’s not a legal issue so much as it is a moral issue,” he said. “The government is responsible for the public welfare and should be dealing with this.” Riley on Tuesday asked the state’s churches to come to the aid of newly released prisoners, providing everything from job-search assistance and housing to cash. Riley and program administrators said the state can’t afford to provide the needed assistance for the 11,000 men and women released from the state’s prisons each year. Jeff Emerson, a spokesman for Riley, said Gaddy doesn’t understand the Community Partnership for Recovery and Re-entry program. “It’s not about proselytizing. It’s about a partnership between people who want to help and those who need assistance,” he said. Program administrators have said it does not violate the separation of church and state because it receives no state funding and because any person or organization, not just churches, can participate. But Gaddy, a Baptist minister from Monroe, La., said the lack of state funding means that participating churches are free to proselytize and to discriminate on religious grounds when hiring staffers for re-entry programs. “When the state of Alabama is not willing to provide government-run prisoner re-entry services, it leaves prisoners only one option – to accept proselytizing in exchange for needed services,” he said.
Coming to Grips With Same-Sex Marriage Ruling
Los Angeles Times – 5/20/08
Pastor Gregory L. Waybright struggled from the pulpit Sunday to reconcile the laws of God with the laws of man. Though he wanted his church “to be a welcoming and loving house,” he told worshipers at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, the California Supreme Court’s decision last week to legalize gay marriage in California “is a contradiction of what God’s word says.” The 4-3 ruling, which held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, has prompted conservative and liberal congregations alike to discuss whether gay and lesbian members will be allowed to wed in their churches, synagogues and temples. “These are the kinds of issues every religion has to grapple with,” said James A. Donahue, president of the Graduate Theological Union, a Berkeley-based consortium of theological schools. “How do you factor in the role of contemporary human rights, civil rights, the data about homosexuality” with “core traditions and beliefs?” In recent years, conflicts over homosexuality and the Bible have unsettled many denominations, especially such mainline Protestant churches as Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelical Lutherans and Episcopalians. Although the specifics vary, the controversies for all of these faith groups and for Conservative Judaism have revolved broadly around whether to provide official recognition to the unions of same-sex couples and whether to allow openly gay and lesbian clergy.
Bush Apologizes Over US Soldier’s Quran Shooting
Associated Press – 5/21/08
President Bush has apologized to Iraq’s prime minister for an American sniper’s shooting of a Quran, and the Iraqi government called on U.S. military commanders to educate their soldiers to respect local religious beliefs. Bush’s spokeswoman said Tuesday that the president apologized during a videoconference Monday with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who told the president that the shooting of Islam’s holy book had disappointed and angered both the Iraqi people and their leaders. “He apologized for that in the sense that he said that we take it very seriously,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “We are concerned about the reaction. We wanted them to know that the president knew that this was wrong.” It was the highest level in a string of statements by U.S. officials trying to soothe anger over the shooting incident, particularly among Sunni Arabs who have become key allies in the fight against insurgents. The U.S. military said Sunday that it had disciplined the sniper and removed him from Iraq after he was found to have used Islam’s holy book for target practice May 9 in a predominantly Sunni area west of Baghdad. The book was found two days later by Iraqis on a firing range in Radwaniyah with 14 bullet holes in it and graffiti written on its pages, tribal leaders said.
Probe Biased, Televangelists Say
Washington Post – 5/24/08
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who is investigating six televangelists for alleged lavish spending, is facing growing criticism from prominent conservatives and evangelicals, some of whom question whether Grassley is biased against the Pentecostal televangelists because of his Baptist faith. Many are also concerned that his probe intrudes on the churches’ constitutional right to practice their religion. Kenneth Copeland, a Texas-based televangelist who is a subject of Grassley’s investigation, recently launched a Web site, http://believersstandunited.com, to fight the probe. Copeland said the investigation is “aimed at publicly questioning the religious beliefs of the targeted churches, their ministers, and their members while ignoring televangelists of other denominations.” Copeland’s stance is supported by almost two dozen leaders of conservative secular and religious organizations, who criticized the inquiry in a letter sent this month to the Senate Finance Committee. The letter suggested that the ministries were targeted for sharing “the same branch of evangelicalism.” The letter’s signers, including Paul Weyrich, Moral Majority co-founder; Ken Blackwell, chairman of the Coalition for a Conservative Majority; and Anthony Verdugo of the Christian Family Coalition, said the probe also infringes on churches’ First Amendment rights.
AP Engages Pastors, Parishoners About Racism in US
Associated Press – 5/24/08
Jesse McGee points to trophies he won in local marathons. He mentions his work with youth and volunteer school programs. He praises his church’s efforts to deliver scripture lessons to inmates. For more than an hour, the 84-year-old church deacon, who is black, chats about his life, largely ignoring the subject at hand: racism. It isn’t until his wife, Warine, sheepishly shares that their son’s wife is white that McGee offers a confession: He had been uncomfortable with the union for nearly 30 years _ until his Bible study class offered enlightenment. His story represents a snapshot of how America’s racial landscape is navigated daily, often with religion as guidance. The issue of race drew sharp focus as Barack Obama’s contentious split with his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, played out in a national glare. In response, the United Church of Christ and National Council of Churches USA called on 10,000 ministers to initiate a “sacred conversation on race.” “The realities of race have not been addressed adequately,” says the Rev. John Thomas, president of the UCC. “Racism continues to demean and diminish human lives in this country.” To listen in on that conversation, Associated Press reporters across the nation engaged pastors and parishioners about their individual experiences with racism.
Muslim Chaplain Offers American Brand of Islam
NPR – 5/20/08
There are about 1,300 chaplains in the U.S. Army, and of those, only five are Muslim. One of them, Maj. Khalid Shabazz, serves at Fort Hood in Texas and is getting ready to retire from his post to study ethics. For three years, Shabazz has been the Muslim chaplain for the 1-227 Aviation Attack Battalion at Fort Hood. He’s a big part of the religious life of the Muslim soldiers on base, and he offers them a very American brand of Islam. His office is full of citations and awards thanking him for his service. But it was a different story when he first discovered Islam as an artilleryman 16 years ago. For Shabazz, it hasn’t always been easy to be a Muslim in the U.S. Army. He wasn’t an officer when he joined the Army. He wasn’t even a Muslim, and his name wasn’t Khalid Shabazz. Once upon a time, a 23-year-old named Michael Barnes enlisted and was studying to become a Lutheran minister. When he changed his name after converting to Islam, not long after he enlisted, the howitzer unit he was serving with at the time went nuts. “All [of a] sudden, it was almost like I switched sides to them,” Shabazz says. “They were hurt because I converted. [They] thought maybe I was joining on to the enemy.” There are anywhere between 6,000 and 15,000 Muslim soldiers in the U.S. military, depending on whom you talk to. No one knows the numbers for sure because some Muslims in the military don’t want to advertise their religion. Shabazz says it’s tough trying to be a good Muslim and a good soldier. He was ready to quit. Then a Christian chaplain pointed him toward a different military career — becoming a Muslim chaplain. He says that when the chaplain presented the idea, it was like “a gift from God.”
A Jihad for Love: Torn by the Contradictions of Being Gay and Muslim
New York Times – 5/21/08
Sad to say, “A Jihad for Love” is not a sequel to the pornographic satire “The Raspberry Reich” (2004), in which pseudo-revolutionaries exhort their comely comrades to “join the homosexual intifada!” It is, rather more arduously, a dispatch from the outer limits of marginalization: a documentary on devout Muslims struggling with their homosexuality. Angst is the norm in this heartfelt debut by the filmmaker Parvez Sharma, whose documentary ranges from Johannesburg to Istanbul, from doubt to despair (with a happy detour among the drag queens of India). He does manage to locate a headstrong lesbian in Paris, albeit one whose face, like those of many of the subjects here, has been digitally blurred. “If we are truly Muslims,” runs her contradictory lament, “we have no right to alter his creation.” Mr. Sharma’s film emphasizes testimony over context to such a degree that it feels at first of little use to anyone except gay Muslims who might take comfort in knowing they’re not alone. But the documentary gains depth of feeling as it goes and even develops something of a nail-biting narrative as it follows a clique of Iranian men who flee to central Turkey in hopes of applying for political asylum in Canada.
Lifeline for Mainliners
USA Today Op-Ed by Mark Pinsky
America’s mainline Protestant denominations, which for two centuries dominated the nation’s religious landscape and political discourse, are in a terminal state. Their membership is declining and aging, both precipitously, and they are intractably riven over sexuality. There is little hope for these congregations. Or so the story goes. Some of the problems for mainline invisibility might be self-inflicted. “They best stop complaining and take another look at their methods of communicating and organizing,” says the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, a religious liberty organization dedicated to protecting faith and freedom. “Mainline congregations do not tend to translate their moral convictions into effective political organization and influential social action with the adeptness and passion that characterize evangelicals moving in lockstep with one another,” says Gaddy, who also hosts a show on the liberal Air America radio network. Leaders and activists of mainline denominations might be heeding Gaddy’s advice. Some are raising their profile by reaching out to find common cause with emerging, moderate evangelical churches on issues such as climate change, genocide in Sudan, human trafficking and HIV/AIDS.Date: 5/27/2008 12:00:00 AM