Race for the White House ’08
The Democrats’ Favorite Bible Verse
Religion News Service, 6-19-08
When Sen. Barack Obama turns to talking about faith on the campaign trail, he sometimes invokes the New Testament book of James and its admonition that “faith without works is dead.” As she competed for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton frequently did the same — often more regularly than Obama — though what she called her “personal theology” sometimes took a different tack, saying that “works without faith is too hard.” Sen. John Kerry also called upon James in the 2004 election, saying that “There’s a great passage in the Bible that says, `What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds?'” Even back in 2000, in trying to characterize George Bush’s outreach to African-Americans as shallow, Al Gore invoked James in a speech to the NAACP: “Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” The repeated references to James highlight an often overlooked and sometimes controversial book of the Bible. For centuries, its supposed conflict with St. Paul and the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone relegated it to the sidelines of biblical scholarship. Yet the book is finding new life in American politics, with James emerging as the Democrats’ go-to theologian, and his epistle as their favorite passage of Scripture.
Fuller Picture Emerges of Obama’s Evangelical Meeting
Religion News Service, 6-18-08
When Sen. Barack Obama held a recent closed-door meeting with an A-list assortment of Christian leaders, the majority of the time was spent discussing abortion, homosexuality and the Democrat’s faith. That focus didn’t please some participants who had flown to Chicago hoping to also talk about domestic and foreign policy matters. “They focused on abortion, gay marriage, and then Franklin Graham tried to get Sen. Obama saved,” said the Rev. Eugene Rivers of Boston. Rivers, who was representing the presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, Charles E. Blake, at the June 10 meeting, said Graham asked about the senator’s Christian conversion and his father’s connections to Islam. Rivers, who personally supports Obama, said the senator said of his father: “the least of the things he was was Islamic.” When asked about whether he believed Jesus is the only way to salvation, “Obama said, brilliantly, `Jesus is the only way for me. I’m not in a position to judge other people,'” Rivers recalled. Graham spokesman Mark DeMoss confirmed that the evangelist asked “if (Obama) believed that Jesus Christ was the way to God or merely a way.” DeMoss declined to divulge Obama’s response.
Muslims Barred from picture at Obama Event
P Politico, 6-18-08
Two Muslim women at Barack Obama’s rally in Detroit on Monday were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women’s headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate. The campaign has apologized to the women, both Obama supporters who said they felt betrayed by their treatment at the rally. “This is of course not the policy of the campaign. It is offensive and counter to Obama’s commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. “We sincerely apologize for the behavior of these volunteers.” Building a human backdrop to a political candidate, a set of faces to appear on television and in photographs, is always a delicate exercise in demographics and political correctness. Advance staffers typically pick supporters out of a crowd to reflect the candidate’s message. But for Obama, the old-fashioned image-making contrasts with his promise to transcend identity politics and to embrace all elements of America. The incidents in Michigan, which has one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations in the country, also highlight an aspect of his campaign that sometimes rubs Muslims the wrong way: The candidate has vigorously denied a false, viral rumor that he himself is Muslim.
Obama Speaks on Fatherhood at Church
Two weeks after breaking with his long-time church after pastors there made inflammatory and anti-American sermons, Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama went to a new church on Sunday to discuss fatherhood. Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia, took part in Father’s Day services near their house at the Apostolic Church of God — a large, predominantly black church in the South Side of Chicago. This was Obama’s first time attending a church service since he announced last month that he had quit Trinity United Church of Christ, which he had attended for 16 years, as he sought to calm concerns about comments by pastors there. In his 30-minute speech, Obama spoke about the particular struggles of African Americans and noted that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households. “What I’ve realized is that life doesn’t count for much unless you’re willing to do your small part to leave our children — all of our children — a better world,” he said. “Even if it’s difficult. Even if the work seems great. Even if we don’t get very far in our lifetime. That’s our responsibility as fathers and as parents.”
Bloomberg Defends Obama Before Jewish Audience
Associated Press, 6-20-08
Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged Jewish voters to denounce the whisper campaign that for months has pushed the false rumor that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim. Bloomberg, mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for both parties, warned a Jewish group in Boca Raton, Fla., on Friday that the attempt to portray Obama as a shadowy Muslim with a hidden agenda often targets Jewish voters online and with e-mails. The deceptive campaign against Obama, who is Christian, “threatens to undo the enormous strides that Jews and Muslims have made together in this country,” the New York mayor said. The lies are “cloaked in concern for Israel, but the real concern is about partisan politics,” said Bloomberg, who is Jewish. “This is wedge politics at its worst, and we’ve got to reject it — loudly, clearly and unequivocally.” Obama, asked about Bloomberg’s comments at a news conference later in the day, said he hadn’t heard them but was happy to know the mayor was defending him. “I like Mayor Bloomberg,” Obama said. “I think he’s a terrific mayor.” Bloomberg’s passionate defense of Obama in front of a Jewish audience in Florida could help the Illinois senator in the state, which is home to many Jewish voters. He made the remarks while Obama was on a separate, two-day campaign swing through Florida, with stops in Jacksonville and Miami.
Ohio Teacher Accused of Preaching Christianity is Fired
Associated Press, 6-21-08
The school board of a small central Ohio community voted unanimously Friday to fire a teacher accused of preaching his Christian beliefs and using a device to burn the image of a cross on students’ arms. School board members voted 5 to 0 to fire Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater. Freshwater denies wrongdoing and will request a hearing challenging his dismissal, his attorney told the Mount Vernon News. A family has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Columbus against Freshwater and the school district, saying the teacher burned a cross on a child’s arm that remained for three or four weeks. Freshwater’s friend Dave Daubenmire defended him to the Columbus Dispatch: “With the exception of the cross-burning episode . . . I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district.” Several students interviewed by investigators on behalf of the school board described Freshwater, who has been employed by the district for 21 years, as a great guy and their favorite teacher. But Lynda Weston, the district’s director of teaching and learning, told investigators she had dealt with complaints about Freshwater throughout her 11 years at the district.
Group Files Suit Over ‘I Believe’ Plates in SC
Associated Press, 6-20-08
A group that advocates separation of church and state filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to prevent South Carolina from becoming the first state to create “I Believe” license plates. The group contends that South Carolina’s government is endorsing Christianity by allowing the plates, which would include a cross superimposed on a stained glass window. Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Christian pastors, a humanist pastor and a rabbi in South Carolina, along with the Hindu American Foundation. “I do believe these ‘I Believe’ plates will not see the light of day because the courts, I’m confident, will see through this,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, the group’s executive director. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for South Carolina, asks a judge to stop South Carolina from making the plates and rule that the law allowing them violates the First Amendment. The bill sailed through the Legislature with little discussion earlier this year. Gov. Mark Sanford let it become law without his signature because the state already allows private groups to create license plates for any cause.
New Alliances Prove it’s Easy to go Green
ABC News, 6-19-08
“I’m on the left,” says the Rev. Al Sharpton, the radical face of American liberalism.
Rev. Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson appear in ad for the environment. “I’m on the right,” says the Rev. Pat Robertson, the evangelical voice of Christian conservatism. Sitting cozy on a sofa on the beach against a backdrop of pounding surf, two political opponents find unlikely agreement on one common cause: the environment. “Let’s face it, we’re polar opposites, except on one issue,” says the brash Sharpton. “That would be the planet,” chimes in silver-tongued Robertson. “Taking care of it is extremely important … so get involved. It’s the right thing to do.” “There you go again,” chides Sharpton. This surprising pairing was orchestrated by environmental champion Al Gore in a new television ad that is funded by the Nobel laureate’s Alliance for Climate Change. It was a surprising love fest. “It’s the first time they ever met, and it was kind of cool,” Brian Hardwick, the group’s communications director, tells ABCNEWS.com. “It was sincere, and they had a real connection that was actually inspiring to watch.” Its tone and message reflect an emerging movement of religion and the environment that crosses all denominations and political affiliations. The ad dovetails with a new report by the Sierra Club, “Faith in Action.”
State Assembly Asked to Stop its Prayers
Associated Press, 6-18-08
Addressing his colleagues in the Assembly chamber, Rep. Terry Moulton pleaded to Jesus. “In your name, and by the power of your spirit, I come against the Evil One. And I ask that he be cast from this place, this day,” he said as the Assembly opened a floor session last July. Citing such statements, a watchdog group today asked Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch to stop the long-standing practice of opening sessions with a prayer. The Freedom From Religion Foundation said its review of 16 prayers led by legislators in the past year found all but one of them were explicitly Christian. The group said some of the prayers appeared to denigrate other faiths while promoting Christianity, which it called a violation of the separation of church and state. “Legislators and clergy routinely invoke the Christian deity, Jesus Christ, as well as the Holy Spirit and Christian prophets and saints,” group co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to Huebsch. “Many of these ’prayers’ are nothing less than sermons meant to proselytize and advance the Christian faith to the Wisconsin general public.” The Assembly should end the “unnecessary, coercive and unconstitutional practice,” wrote Barker and Gaylor, whose group counts 12,000 atheists and agnostics as members and advocates for the separation of church and state.
Blessings and Anguish for Pastors in California
New York Times, 6-18-08
Some clergy members in California spent Tuesday officiating at same-sex weddings made legal by a State Supreme Court ruling that took effect on Monday night. Others spent the day speaking out against same-sex marriage. And there were those who spent the day in anguish, torn between the laws of their state and the laws of their church. The Rev. Kimberly A. Willis said she had not decided what to do because she wanted to be able to minister to all of her congregants at Christ Church United Methodist, in Santa Rosa, about 10 percent of whom are gay. But if she officiates at a same-sex wedding, she could be charged with violating the United Methodists’ Book of Discipline, put on trial and defrocked. So Ms. Willis spent Sunday on the sidelines at a religious service in which several same-sex couples were celebrating their imminent marriages. Ms. Willis spied a gay couple in the front row who attend her church, and said she felt outraged that she could not join the other ministers leading the ceremony to bless them. “It was surreal to watch this and think, How can I not bless these people?” Ms. Willis said. “I can bless a car, and I have. I’ve been asked to bless animals, children, homes, bread, grape juice, but I can’t bless a gay and lesbian couple. That’s unreal to me.” The California Supreme Court has spoken on same-sex marriage, but the religious issues are far from settled.
Presbyterians to Tackle Gay Clergy Debate — Again
Religion News Service, 6-17-08
The nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination will tackle the question of gay and lesbian clergy at its biennial General Assembly next week (June 20-28) in San Jose, Calif. After more than 30 years of back-and-forth debate, the Presbyterian Church (USA) will try once again to settle a perennial fight over whether non-celibate gays and lesbians should be ordained to church pulpits. Most recently, the fight has centered on rules adopted in 1996 that mandate “fidelity within the covenant of marriage” or “chastity in singleness” for all clergy. Two years ago, after spending four years studying the issue, the church approved a delicate compromise that kept that language on the books but essentially said gays and lesbians could be ordained after they registered a conscientious objection to the policy. That compromise fell apart in February when the church’s highest court said the compromise was unconstitutional. Jack Haberer, the editor of the independent Presbyterian Outlook magazine, summed up the court’s decision this way: “You can disagree in principle, but you can’t disobey in practice.” When the 2.3 million-member church convenes in San Jose, delegates, called commissioners, will face 22 overtures, or resolutions, on gay clergy — 11 them supporting the current law, and 11 attempting to override the court’s February decision.
Disney Sued Over Worker Dress Code
Orlando Business Journal, 6-13-08
A Broward County resident has sued Walt Disney World, claiming he was discriminated against because his religion prevents him from conforming to the Disney dress code. Miami Attorney Matt Sarelson filed the suit in Hillsborough County Circuit Court on behalf of Sukhbir Channa. Channa, 24, is a practicing Sikh who wears a turban, a beard and keeps his hair long in accordance with his religious beliefs. In his suit, Channa says he was hired in October 2005 as a seasonal college musician, which requires parade and atmospheric performances. At the time, he was a student University of South Florida. In his parade performances, Channa says he wore a toy soldier hat to cover his head. In the atmospheric performances, he was initially allowed to wear a red turban in place of the red beret the other musicians wore. However, even after rehearsing for both jobs, the lawsuit claims Channa was removed from the atmospheric position because he lacked the “Disney look.” According to the suit, Channa complained to human resources and was told he was never hired for the atmospheric position and no corrective action was ever taken. The suit also claims he was singled out to perform menial tasks for his supervisor. Channa was terminated in early 2006 for not having the “Disney look,” the suit says, and when he applied to be rehired October 2006, he was denied for the same reason. According to the suit, all of Channa’s former co-workers who wanted to be rehired were.
The Right to Love
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, 6-17-08
Across California today, in mass public weddings and in small, private services, gay and lesbian couples will exchange official vows of undying love and wedlock. With the sanction of the state Supreme Court, these couples stand together as full citizens at last. Their long odyssey to reach this day serves to remind us why people marry at all, especially in an era of casual relationships. As any married person can attest, marriage is significant precisely because it is difficult. True, it confers certain public protections, but even more, it requires personal sacrifices. If mutual affection and appreciation were enough to sustain relationships across the years, there would be no need for solemn vows of fidelity. Those vows protect many a marriage through many a rough patch; when two people agree to enter into such a union, it by rights should carry the name and honor of marriage, whether it’s between people of opposite sex or between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. Those bonds can only be good for society — children gain from being raised by married parents, and communities are stronger when residents are legally committed to one another. As more and more Californians marry, society will grow stronger, not weaker.
Why the Christian Right Fears Obama
By Daniel Gilgoff, USA Today, 6-16-08
On paper, the Democrats’ nomination of Barack Obama is a gift to the Christian right. Obama’s liberal record on gay rights and abortion — he opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal “partial-birth abortion” ban and, as a state senator in Illinois, opposed the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which attempted to protect unsuccessfully aborted fetuses — should make him easy enough for “values voters” to oppose. And Obama has struggled among religious voters in this year’s Democratic primaries. In Ohio, his 2-to-1 loss among white Catholics and a 20-point loss among white evangelicals gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign a second wind that kept her in the race these last three months. That same faith-based divide undergirded Obama’s losses in Pennsylvania — where Clinton took nearly 60% of weekly churchgoers — and Indiana. Heavily religious West Virginia and Kentucky, meanwhile, handed Obama his biggest defeats of this campaign, even though he appeared to have the nomination sealed up by the time voters in those states cast their ballots. Yet for months, the Christian right had been more worried about the prospect of Obama’s nomination than Clinton’s. The evangelical Family Research Council’s frequent e-mail alerts to supporters laid into Obama while largely laying off of Clinton. One of Focus on the Family Action’s recent “Action Update” explained why the Illinois senator is as “extreme as they come on family issues” — using 26 footnotes to make its case — but barely mentions his Democratic opponent.