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Race for the White House ’08

Obama Says Muslim Issue is ‘No-Win Situation’
Dallas Morning News – 7/28/08

Sen. Barack Obama said Sunday that responding to incorrect assertions that he’s a Muslim has put him in a “no-win situation.” If he allows the Internet rumors and other misleading information to go unchallenged, it’s an affront to his Christianity and could cost him support from voters who don’t want a Muslim in the White House. But if he aggressively confronts the rumors, it could suggest to some that there’s something wrong with being a Muslim. “This is a classic example of a no-win situation,” Mr. Obama told hundreds of journalists gathered in Chicago for the UNITY convention for journalists of color. “I have repeatedly said I’m not a Muslim, but this whole strategy of suggesting that I am is indicative of anti-Muslim strategy that we have to fight against,” he said. Mr. Obama said he also didn’t want his religion to be falsely identified as a matter of respect for his own faith. “If you were a Muslim and somebody consistently said you were a Christian, I suspect that you would want to have that corrected,” he said. Later, Mr. Obama was asked whether he would be a strong contender for president if he were a Muslim. He didn’t directly answer the question, but said the “American people are more tolerant and open minded than a lot of the pundits give them credit for.”

Is the suggestion Barack Obama is Muslim a “no-win situation” or teachable moment? Visit our Facebook discussion board to join the conversation – and become a fan of Interfaith Alliance.

New McCain Ad Stars Obama And Moses
Huffington Post – 8/1/08

John McCain debuted another stinging attack video targeting Barack Obama Friday, this time mocking his White House foe as “The One” — a quasi-religious figure who “anointed” himself to lead the world. “Can you see the light?” the hard-hitting negative ad asks, following up on Republican McCain’s new campaign theme that the Illinois Democrat is arrogant, transfixed by his own celebrity and not yet ready to lead. Barack Obama’s campaign responded sharply to a new McCain webad depicting Obama as a parody of a biblical prophet. “It’s downright sad that on a day when we learned that 51,000 Americans lost their jobs, a candidate for the presidency is spending all of his time and the powerful platform he has on these sorts of juvenile antics,” said spokesman Hari Sevugan. “Senator McCain can keep telling everyone how ‘proud’ he is of these political stunts which even his Republican friends and advisors have called ‘childish’, but Barack Obama will continue talking about his plan to jumpstart our economy by giving working families $1,000 of immediate relief.”

McCain Resists Calls to Remove Embattled Catholic Aide
Arizona Republic – 8/4/08

For weeks, Sen. John McCain’s campaign has quietly resisted calls to dump one of his leading religious representatives who critics say is an inappropriate surrogate because of links to allegations of sexual impropriety. At least three religious groups have asked the McCain campaign to remove Deal W. Hudson from its national Catholic-outreach group. The groups say Hudson, who quit President Bush’s political team in 2004 amid similar calls, lacks the moral authority to represent the campaign on religious issues. Hudson left a tenured professorship at Fordham University in New York after a 1994 incident in which he was accused of having sex with a freshman. He was never charged with a crime. The controversy could hamper McCain’s efforts to win over religious voters, who are wary of his candidacy. The campaign declined to discuss the matter Wednesday and repeated an earlier statement. “He’s a name on a list, a volunteer. When are we going to start talking about gas prices, jobs and the issues facing Americans? The McCain campaign is all done with the ‘gotcha’ games,” said Tucker Bounds, a McCain spokesman. But those who are troubled by Hudson’s background say he is more than a volunteer. Earlier this month, he was identified on a Catholic radio show as a McCain surrogate, and he also hosted a conference call with the deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee discussing the campaign with Catholic media. “He just shouldn’t be representing Catholics for the campaign. It’s offensive,” said a member of McCain’s steering committee who did not want his name used. Catholics “reject him as a moral arbiter.”

Evangelicals Warn Against Romney on Ticket
Washington Times – 7/29/08

Prominent evangelical leaders are warning Sen. John McCain against picking former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his running mate, saying their troops will abandon the Republican ticket on Election Day if that happens. They say Mr. Romney lacks trust on issues such as outlawing abortion and opposing same-sex marriage and because he is a Mormon. Opposition is particularly powerful among those who supported former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the Republican presidential primaries earlier this year. “McCain and Romney would be like oil and water,” said evangelical novelist Tim LaHaye, who supported Mr. Huckabee. “We aren’t against Mormonism, but Romney is not a thoroughgoing evangelical and his flip-flopping on issues is understandable in a liberal state like Massachusetts, but our people won’t understand that.” The Rev. Rob McCoy, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, Calif., who speaks at evangelical events across the country, told The Washington Times, “I will vote for McCain unless he does one thing. You know what that is? If he puts Romney on the ticket as veep. “It will alienate the entire evangelical community – 62 million self-professing evangelicals in this country, half of them registered to vote, are going to be deeply saddened,” Mr. McCoy added. Mr. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, was the favorite of evangelical voters in the Republican presidential nomination contest earlier this year and won more delegates per dollar spent than any other candidate in either party.

Rick Warren: Pastors Shouldn’t Endorse Politicians
Christian Post – 7/29/08

Popular megachurch pastor Rick Warren said he does not believe pastors should endorse political candidates in a recent interview held weeks ahead of his highly-anticipated leadership and compassion forum, which will feature presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. “I don’t think it’s right for pastors to endorse [a political candidate] in the first place,” Warren said on a recent CNN interview when asked if he thinks McCain was right to disavow controversial pastors John Hagee and Rod Parsley. “I would never endorse a candidate. I would never campaign for a candidate,” he added. “I think as a pastor my role is to pastor all the flock regardless of their political persuasion, so I wouldn’t have wanted endorsements anyways.” Warren has, however, invited political candidates to speak at his church on the topic of HIV/AIDS. Past politicians that have spoken at Saddleback Church during its annual HIV/AIDS conference include Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Sam Brownback. Next month, Obama and McCain will appear together for the first time during the ’08 presidential race to answer questions from Warren about faith and moral issues such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change and human rights. “I believe in the separation of church and state, but I do not believe in the separation of faith and politics,” Warren said, “because faith is simply a worldview and everybody’s got a worldview.” A person who says he can separate his faith and worldview is either an “idiot” or “lying” because it’s impossible, the influential Christian leader contends.

National News:

Tennessee Church Attack Spotlights Scapegoat Mentality
Christian Science Monitor – 7/30/08

Attacks on the innocent – especially those in churches – may seem irrational and horrific to all but the attacker. But beneath the details can be a deep sense of victimization and scapegoating that may be tied to something as specific as hate based on race or sexual orientation or as broad as economic hard times. Such is the case as police officials and experts sort through Sunday’s attack on the Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tenn., by a gunman who apparently believed he himself would be killed. “There’s a whole category of mass killers who are seeking vengeance against a group of people who they feel are taking away their birthright, their opportunities, and making it difficult to succeed,” says Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, author of “Extreme Killing.” “They don’t see themselves as criminals, but … as striking a measure of justice, winning one for the little guy. This case may show that [Jim Adkisson] perceived that society has been bending backward to favor disenfranchised groups so they’re trying to get some justice for their own victimization.” Police say Mr. Adkisson, an unemployed mechanical engineer, left a note listing his own inability to find a job as one reasons for his attack. He also railed against the Unitarian Universalist denomination as being “liberal,” including the church’s advocacy for gay rights. The FBI is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.

Unitarians Keep the Faith After Attack in Church
Washington Post – 8/2/08

Across the country, as well as in the Washington area, hundreds of Unitarian Universalist congregations held services and candlelight vigils this week after a deadly rampage at a Knoxville, Tenn., church to show support for their denomination’s long-standing progressive tradition. Two people were killed and six wounded Sunday in a shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, allegedly by an out-of-work trucker who, according to the Knoxville police chief, “hated the liberal movement.” A seventh person was wounded in the ensuing chaos. At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax in Oakton, about 60 people from five UU congregations in Northern Virginia came together for a service Monday evening. Bill Welch, the congregation’s minister for programs, talked about how isolating it can be to be a liberal in today’s world of right-wing talk radio and conservative Christians “that talk about liberals as if we are bad people.” “In our prayers, we should remember that we’re not alone, that there are people who share our beliefs, that we are part of a larger body,” Welch said. Since the shooting, some Unitarian churches have held education sessions to explain their denomination to the public. “People are determined to speak out” and defend and explain Unitarian values and beliefs, said Janet Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Boston-based national office. “They’re not hiding. They’re actually reaching out and opening up.” As a denomination, Unitarianism is tiny: According to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 0.3 percent of adults identify themselves as Unitarian Universalists. The Unitarian Universalist Association has 1,000 U.S. churches with 220,000 members.

Muslim Women’s Law Firm Breaks Down Stereotypes
Chicago Tribune – 8/1/08

In what may be the nation’s only law firm composed solely of Muslim women, the attorneys represent the ethnic and religious diversity within the Islamic faith: Some cover their hair, some don’t. Some are Sunni; others are Shiite, and at least one is happy to be secular. The six women hope that by founding Amal Law Group, they are helping to dispel common stereotypes held about Muslim women. “People think that somehow we’re weak and not able to express opinions,” said Janaan Hashim, the firm’s 41-year-old founder, who has mixed Iraqi and Scottish-Irish heritage. “Or ,” said Heena Musabji, 29, of Indian heritage, who tucks her headscarf inside a cute chiffon blouse and prefers a well-heeled shoe. Maryam Khan, 28, of Hickory Hills, said some people—even clients at times—are surprised that she is competent. “People think that we are prohibited from getting an education and being engaged in society,” said Khan, who says she always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. The firm, which opened quietly last year but hosted a grand open house this spring, offers the Muslim community legal services on issues from civil rights and employment regulations to criminal, family, real estate and Immigration law.

Church-Paid Trips by Aides Raise Questions on Religion-Politics Mix
The Hill – 7/31/08

A review of White House travel records shows churches and other religious entities paid for close to a quarter of the privately funded trips taken by White House aides since late 2006. Critics, who see this as evidence the administration is mixing faith and public policy, say religious groups may feel pressure to sponsor aides’ travel in order to secure government funding for their own work. “I think there would be very few circumstances where a religious organization or church paying government officials wouldn’t lead to a conflict of interest,” said Terri Schroeder, a senior lobbyist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Groups like the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), which paid for former White House aide Tim Goeglein to travel to its annual convention in 2007 for a speech, counter that the White House has a responsibility to connect with religious organizations. “People of faith make up a crucial American demographic. Frankly, we would think it rather odd if an administration neglected religious groups in its sphere of contacts,” said Craig Parshall, the NRB’s senior vice president and general counsel. The review of government records, undertaken by The Hill, found at least 24 trips for staff members to President Bush were paid for by churches or other religious groups. Faith-based organizations paid for the most travel in the time period, followed by universities and think tanks, which paid for 15 trips each.

Kerry Delivers Speech on Interfaith Dialogue
PolitickerMA.com – 7/29/08

U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Boston) delivered the keynote address at an event held as part of a dialogue on global inter-faith dialogue at Yale Divinity School Monday night, in which he called on people of different religions to “strive for a global ethic that allows each of our religious faiths to express themselves fully.” Kerry’s speech marked the beginning of a four-day conference sponsored by Yale Center for Faith and Culture Reconciliation Program entitled “Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims.” Kerry, who is Catholic, began his remarks by stating that something must be done to increase the dialogue between religions. “We’ve barely broken the seal on the 21st century,” he said, “but already it’s been marked not just by burning buildings and occupying armies and riots and roiling images of bloodshed and humiliation, but also by an even more widespread and dangerous worry-by a question you hear whispered and spoken quietly: What if we can’t live together? What if the gulfs that separate us are unbridgeable? Maybe we just need higher walls and fewer visas. Maybe coexistence is just too difficult.” The senator went on to describe how important this dialogue is now, as the world is becoming increasingly diverse. There are over 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, he said, more than there are Catholics.

Workers’ Religious Freedom vs. Patients’ Rights
Washington Post – 7/31/08

A Bush administration proposal aimed at protecting health-care workers who object to abortion, and to birth-control methods they consider tantamount to abortion, has escalated a bitter debate over the balance between religious freedom and patients’ rights. The Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing a draft regulation that would deny federal funding to any hospital, clinic, health plan or other entity that does not accommodate employees who want to opt out of participating in care that runs counter to their personal convictions, including providing birth-control pills, IUDs and the Plan B emergency contraceptive. Conservative groups, abortion opponents and some members of Congress are welcoming the initiative as necessary to safeguard doctors, nurses and other health workers who, they say, are increasingly facing discrimination because of their beliefs or are being coerced into delivering services they find repugnant. But the draft proposal has sparked intense criticism by family planning advocates, women’s health activists, and members of Congress who say the regulation would create overwhelming obstacles for women seeking abortions and birth control. There is also deep concern that the rule could have far-reaching, but less obvious, implications. Because of its wide scope and because it would — apparently for the first time — define abortion in a federal regulation as anything that affects a fertilized egg, the regulation could raise questions about a broad spectrum of scientific research and care, critics say.


How Long, O Lord, How Long?
Progressive Revival blogpost by Rev. Welton Gaddy – 7/31/08

O God, here we go again, I thought as news wires began to sketch the tragedy played out in Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church last week. My reaction would have been the same had the needless loss of lives occurred in a university, a business office, a government building or elsewhere. The basic ingredients are the same in whatever place the shootings take place–hatred, a gun, grief, and countless questions of why. As a religious leader, I hear most often the question “Why?”–Why did God allow this to happen? Why can we not stop such senseless tragedies? Well, I am not an ombudsman for God dedicated to defending the Almighty’s ways. However, I would hope that both religious and non-religious people understand that what happened in that church sanctuary in Tennessee was not about God but about the destructive power of human hatred, the danger of a readily available gun, and irrational actions of prejudice and intolerance spinning out of control. Is there anything we can do to help? Yes, by all means. First, we can grieve with those who are grieving. I do, and my guess is that you do as well. Second, if we pray, we can embrace with our compassionate thoughts and prayers members of that congregation, members of the families of the victims of the shooting, and the family and friends of the man who repeatedly pulled the trigger. Third, we can respond to yet another shooting of innocent people by building public support for legislation that thoughtfully regulates guns and seeks to stop hate crimes. The problem involved in this tragedy as in so many others we have seen lately is not the absence of God but the silence of advocates for laws that can accomplish what will never be the result of good intentions and fond hopes alone.

Theology and Morality, the Remix
Kansas City Star op-ed by Bill Tammeus

As I feared, religion has become a center of attention in this presidential election in ways that it shouldn’t have. And we don’t even have formal nominees yet. Among the silly questions asked of and about the candidates: •Is John McCain an Episcopalian or a Baptist? •Is Barack Obama a Muslim or a Christian? (Yes, there still are people who believe he’s a Muslim. Maybe they’re the same folks who believe the Earth is flat.) •Does McCain share the theology of televangelist John Hagee? •Does Obama share the theology of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright? As I’ve said before, the only appropriate question about religion for presidential candidates is how their beliefs might affect their public policy decisions and their approach to governance. Still all of this attention to the candidates’ religious commitments has raised a fascinating question for people of faith. And without either praising or criticizing anything either McCain or Obama has said about faith, I want to point it out: Do we Americans often confuse theology with morality, mixing up those two areas in strange but understandable ways? Yes. The evidence is quite clear that we do. What do I mean? Well, here’s a bit of traditional Christian theology: Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. It’s a specific claim that only Christianity postulates. Here, by contrast, is a bit of traditional morality: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Known as the Golden Rule, it’s advice proffered by many religions. Over time a condition that religious scholar Stephen Prothero calls our “religious illiteracy” has caused many Americans to downplay theological doctrine in favor of such moral guidance.