Race for the White House ’08:
Citing Scripture on Historic Day, Obama Accepts DNC Nomination
Associated Baptist Press – 8/29/08
Forty-five years to the day after a Baptist preacher shamed America into living up to its own creed, Barack Obama cited the epistle to the Hebrews in becoming the first African-American to accept a major party’s presidential nomination Aug. 28. “America, we cannot turn back; we cannot walk alone,” the Illinois senator said, speaking to an estimated 85,000 revelers in a football stadium on the closing night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. “At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise — that American promise — and, in the words of Scripture, ‘hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.'” Obama’s speech came on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington. Obama’s rhetoric, subtly echoing King’s in calling America to fulfill its promise, culminated one of the most faith-soaked Democratic conventions in recent memory. Convention events included party-sponsored forums featuring many evangelical, Catholic and other religious leaders discussing the proper intersection of religion and politics, regular references to religious voters by convention speakers and plenary sessions that opened and closed with prayers from leaders such as evangelical author Donald Miller and megachurch pastor Joel Hunter. In fact, religion was so prominent in Denver that some advocates for strong church-state separation expressed doubts about the Democrats’ methods. “You and I know that being a public figure doesn’t mean denying your faith or beliefs. But in America, it does mean not imposing them on anyone else, and it means part of your job is preserving the boundaries between religion and government, to protect the integrity of both,” said Interfaith Alliance President Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister, in an Aug. 28 e-mail to supporters.
- Join the discussion with Rev. Gaddy through our new blog at www.StateofBelief.com as we watch the role of faith at this week’s Republican National Convention and examine it’s presence at last week’s DNC.
As GOP Looks to ‘Values Voters,’ Church It Hoped to Court Shuns Politics to Embrace Many views
Associated Press – 9/1/08
The message from the pulpit was “Wine, Water and Worship” – with no mention of the other “W,” George W. Bush. At Eagle Brook Church, Minnesota’s largest evangelical Christian congregation, there was zero talk of politics on the eve of the Republican National Convention. Church pastors politely declined an invitation to a GOP prayer breakfast this week. When prodded, many Eagle Brook members confessed to apathy about the presidential candidates. “I’m just not pleased with our choices,” said Deb Holt, 50, an undecided voter who says her top voting issues are eliminating hunger and abortion. “… Hillary, Obama and the other one.” She meant John McCain. Conservative Christian activists on hand for the GOP convention in nearby St. Paul are suddenly energized about McCain’s campaign, thanks to the addition of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to the ticket, McCain’s recent performance at megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s candidate forum and the party’s new, tougher platform on abortion and gay marriage. The looming challenge for Republicans is building the same enthusiasm in “values voters” that fill evangelical churches each week – people like Holt, who volunteers at Eagle Brook Church answering phones and helping at baptisms. Among those waiting in line Sunday at the church’s Starbucks-knockoff coffee shop, or picking up their children from the game room, there was excitement about John McCain’s surprise choice of Palin, but there also were a lot of undecided voters. Four years ago, Republicans built a formidable get-out-the-vote machine that relied on white evangelicals, a large and loyal voting bloc. But things have changed in the evangelical community: While abortion remains a fundamental issue, a new generation of leaders is giving more attention to such problems as global warming and poverty.
With Palin On the Ticket, Evangelicals Are Energized
Washington Post – 8/31/08
Outside his evangelical church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday, David Chung was mobbed by friends and church members suddenly excited about the Republican ticket. “I had half a dozen people come up to me,” said Chung, a delegate to the Republican National Convention. “It’s a night-and-day change.” Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, reported the same reaction at his church in Atlanta to John McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. “It’s really extraordinary,” Reed said. For Christian conservatives, who watched with dismay as their issues were ignored or trivialized during the long Republican primary, the surprise addition to the GOP ticket of a woman raised in a Pentecostal church, who once described herself as “pro-life as any candidate can be,” has transformed an election many had come to regard with indifference. Now Republicans such as Reed — who describes the Palin selection as a “shot directly into the heart of the evangelical movement” — hope the party will benefit in November from a crucial part of its base that is as energized as the young supporters of Democrat Barack Obama.
Obama Calls on Black Churches to Register Voters
Detroit Free Press – 8/29/08
Sen. Barack Obama has been quietly working with ministers nationwide to mobilize a massive voter registration drive because he believes the black church and its members could determine whether he gains the White House in a tight presidential race, the Free Press has learned. In a move from the Bill Clinton playbook that allowed the former president to so connect with black voters that he was dubbed “the first black president,” Obama has reached out since last September in a series of conference calls to ministers and leaders nationwide to create a network to push the vote. The most recent call came Sunday evening, four days before he was to accept the Democratic presidential nomination. During the 50-minute call, Obama spoke about how close the election will be in November. “He said it’s really going to be an incredibly narrow margin, if you base it on the last two national elections,” said the Rev. Nicholas Hood III, pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Detroit, who participated in the call. “He believes that the black church and the black community may be the difference in putting him over.” The ministers also heard from the Rev. William J. Shaw and the Rev. T. DeWitt Smith Jr. Shaw is president of the National Baptist Convention, the nation’s oldest and largest African-American convention with about 7.5 million members. Smith is president of the black Progressive Baptist Convention, which has more than 2,000 churches and 2.5 million members. In his race against Sen. John McCain, Obama is reaching back to a traditional Democratic campaign tactic closely tied with the black church, which historically has been at the heart of social change in black communities.
Evangelical Democrats Hope to Turn Mustard Seed of Outreach Into Great Tree of Votes
Congressional Quarterly – 8/27/08
After a week of partisan thunder, a conservative Republican will bring a quiet close to the Democratic National Convention. Evangelical pastor Joel C. Hunter is scheduled to give the benediction on the gathering’s final night, a sign of the party’s determination not to cede an important voting bloc to the GOP this fall. Hunter, who has not endorsed a presidential candidate, is an anti-abortion Republican with a congregation of 12,000 and author of “A New Kind of Conservative,” which makes the case for more involvement by those on the right in issues such as poverty and preserving the environment. He was named to head the Christian Coalition in 2006 but declined to take over when the group did not embrace his call to extend its focus to include those issues. Hunter says he would also accept a convention invitation from Republicans. But Barack Obama supporters hope Hunter’s role in Denver will send a signal that evangelicals should take a close look at their candidate.
Southern Baptists Lead Get-Out-the-Vote Prayer
Associated Press – 8/26/08
Southern Baptists are organizing a nationwide prayer campaign to accompany their values-voter registration drive, seeking spiritual renewal for families and churches, and God’s favor for public officials who are guided by the Bible. The 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Spiritual Revival and National Renewal will run from Sept. 24 through Nov. 2, two days before the general election. The daily prayers include requests for God’s guidance in voting, for the election of more “godly Christians,” for God to “help churches find ways to help Christians get to the polls” and for public officials to be protected “from the attacks of Satan.” The effort is a companion program to the iVoteValues registration campaign, which began in 2004 and is jointly led this year by Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant group in the country, and the Family Research Council, a conservative Washington-based advocacy group.
Muslims Work Around Prejudice in Politics
San Fransisco Chronicle – 8/23/08
Shahed Amanullah registered the domain name for MuslimsForObama.com more than a year ago. But he has waited to develop it as he saw Muslim identity being smeared, his belief system used for political attack. Some prominent preachers, pundits and others involved in the election, particularly Republican supporters of Sen. John McCain, have declared Islam “an anti-Christ religion” and claimed that “Muslims want to kill us.” Now, the UC Berkeley grad has decided that the site cannot indicate that Barack Obama supports issues important to Muslims specifically because it might boomerang. Instead, the site will be devoted to encouraging voter registration and turnout at the polls. “Yes, it’s insulting, and yes, it hurts, but at this point, we have to look at the bigger picture,” said Amanullah, who ran MuslimsForKerry.com in 2004 and is on the board of the nonpartisan Muslim Public Service Network, which has put hundreds of young American Muslims in internships in Washington to encourage civic participation. “Let’s work around the bigots on the Web to get our work done.”
Background on Ramadan
Dallas Morning News – 9/1/08
Today marks the beginning of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month, during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. The faithful believe Ramadan recalls the time when Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad in Mecca, giving him the teachings of the Quran. Islam follows a lunar calendar, so Ramadan shifts each year on Western calendars.
Former New York Times Reporter Looks at Growth of Interfaith Movements
Los Angeles Times – 8/30/08
Conflicts between religions continue to rock the world, but when Gustav Niebuhr looks out on the religious landscape, he sees what he calls the “possibility of community.” Niebuhr, an associate professor of religion at Syracuse University, detects an encouraging (he calls it unprecedented) trend: people of faith reaching out to those of other faiths. This is not to suggest conflicts between religions will end soon, if ever. Just this week, Hindu mobs destroyed more than a dozen churches and attacked Christians in India. But in Niebuhr’s work as a professor and, before that, a reporter on religion for the New York Times, he began noticing that, bit by bit, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims were making efforts to learn about other faiths. Niebuhr explores the trend in his new book, “Beyond Tolerance” (Viking), and came to Southern California this month as part of a book tour. He argues there is urgent need for interfaith work, given the way religion now sometimes splits, and endangers, the world in the way the Cold War once did. “Religion is to the 21st century what ideology was to the 20th,” Niebuhr said.
Bush Leaves Faith-Based Legacy
Indianapolis Star-Tribune – 8/30/08
After two years in the White House, Jay Hein is back in Indianapolis to write a book. But he’s unlikely to attract the headlines that other authors have provoked by accusing President Bush of stupidity and deceit. Hein thinks well of the president, especially of the faith-based initiative he has led. As director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Hein has been a loyal team player, not ambitious to promote himself or land the most lucrative book contract. He also has steered the faith initiative away from the lightning-rod status it attracted in the early years of the Bush presidency. Both parties are now on board what had been a Republican monopoly. Both Barack Obama and John McCain want some version of government coordination with community-based non-profits that tackle hard social problems. Obama even made a high-profile visit to an Ohio ministry last month to highlight his promise to do even better than Bush in connecting with church-affiliated groups. Governors throughout the country are similarly engaged, with 35 of them launching their own faith-based offices — 19 Democrats and 16 Republicans.
Opinion of ‘Bible Bill’ is Up for Interpretation
Houston Chronicle – 8/28/08
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was supposed to settle a dispute over whether public schools must offer a course in Biblical study, but his opinion Thursday created more confusion. Yes, schools are required to offer a course in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the New Testament Bible, said Free Market Foundation officials after reading Abbott’s opinion. No, they aren’t required, responded the Texas Freedom Network. And the Texas Education Agency, which requested the attorney general’s opinion, isn’t quite sure what it means. “We’re having our lawyers review the ruling and will dutifully follow what it says. We’re still trying to figure out what it says,” agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said. Education Commissioner Robert Scott asked Abbott in March for a ruling on whether schools were required to offer the so-called “Bible bill” course if at least 15 students signed up for it. Some legislative leaders insisted that schools “may” offer the Bible course if enough students requested it, but others contended that schools were obligated to offer the class if at least 15 students wanted it. Lawmakers approved the “Bible bill” last year.
Faiths’ Beliefs on Homosexuality Vary
Houston Chronicle – 8/29/08
Religion plays an important role in Americans’ attitudes about homosexuality, but views are shifting. In Gallup’s 2008 Values and Beliefs poll, Americans were evenly split on the morality of homosexual activity. In 2000, the majority said homosexuality was immoral. The issue of gay clergy is hotly debated in many faith communities today. “Clearly we are on a journey,” said the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA, a national network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Episcopalians that supports gay ordination. Integrity is one of a number of groups sponsoring Many Stories, One Voice, the first North American convocation of pro-LGBT Christians, meeting in New Orleans Sept. 4-7. Information: www.welcomingresources.org. Here is where some faiths stand on the issue: [Click through for more information on specific denominations.]
Pastor Takes on His Accusers, IRS
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune – 8/26/08
The Rev. Mac Hammond, founder of Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, told his congregation in a letter that an IRS investigation is “politically motivated,” and part of “a very clear effort, on a national scale, to discredit, defame and intimidate ministries and preachers of what has been called the ‘prosperity gospel.'” In his first public comments about the IRS inquiry, Hammond, who heads one of the state’s larger churches with nearly 10,000 members and reaches a greater audience through Sunday TV broadcasts, said that those “behind these attacks [are] enemies of the gospel.” “They are fearful not only of the moral imperative communicated by these ministries, but the growing wealth and influence of those constituencies,” he wrote. The IRS has filed a petition in U.S. District Court to force the church to answer a demand for detailed financial information. The church declined to comply with an IRS summons in March, arguing that the law states the request must come from a “high-ranking official” of the IRS.
The Year of the Religious Moderate
Washington Post On Faith Column by Samuel Rodriguez – 8/28/08
From Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum, to Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee and Rod Parsley, 2008 represents for faith in the American political narrative a quintessential Dickensian moment, the best and the worst of times. This Presidential election may very well serve as the healthy convergence of faith and politics. Historically, the unhealthy monopoly of faith and God by the Republican Party created a religious junta where people of good will married religious convictions with one party in essence contextualizing the Democratic Party as the party of secular humanism and the Republican Party as the party of God. Consequently, Evangelicals became tools of political expediency and the Democratic Party became the anti-evangelical oracles of a post modern moral relativist ideology. Suddenly, in some sort of parallel universe juxtaposition, the Democrats nominate a born- again candidate committed to abortion reduction, living out the teachings of Christ and unashamed of his Christian faith, while the Republicans nominate an ex-Episcopalian who in 2000 identified Evangelicals as religious zealots.
American Evangelicals Fragmenting
South Bend Tribune Op-Ed by Christine Wicker – 8/28/08
That loud crack heard throughout the evangelical world when national research showed that more than half of American evangelicals believe people of other religions can go to heaven wasn’t thunder from an angry God. This crack came from the rock upon which the modern American evangelical movement sits. It was splitting right down the middle. There is both rejoicing and lamentation. I am among those rejoicing. The universalist/evangelical finding, which came from the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, was one more sign that American Christianity is entering the most exciting era in our lifetime. Some people believe a new awakening is at hand. Others believe a reformation is in the making. No one knows how long it will take or how far it will go.