All posts from “February 2011”

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February 25, 2011

Evangelicals and Tea Party Overlap in Congress, Public

The tea party movement is a conservative grassroots movement that is more known for its views on taxes than social issues. There is, however, increasing evidence that the tea party movement's message resonates with evangelicals.

In July of 2010, Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced a new tea party caucus in the House of Representatives. Bachmann, who is active among both social conservatives and the tea party movement, lined up about 50 Representatives to join the group.

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This caucus is more evangelical than the rest of the House. About 45 percent of the caucus attend an evangelical church, compared to 13 percent of others in the House. Another 30 percent are mainline Protestants, mostly of a largely Southern variety. Several Mormons are also part of the caucus.

There are no African-Americans or Jewish members. The caucus is less likely to include Catholics, with only 15 percent who are members of the caucus compared to 32 percent of those who are not.

Nearly all members of Congress express some religious affiliation. Most, however, do not advertise their faith. The members of the tea party caucus do, however, with 43 percent discussing their religious beliefs or membership on their House websites. This is over twice as many as non-members. Just 21 percent of other Representatives provide any mention of their religion.

The overlap between religiosity, evangelicalism, and the tea party is not limited to Congress. A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that those who agree with the Tea Party are also socially conservative and religious. Among the religious groups in America, evangelicals are the most supportive of the movement.

Despite its influence in national politics, many Americans remain unaware of the movement. Among evangelicals, nearly half (48 percent) had no opinion or had not heard of the Tea Party. But among those evangelicals that have an opinion on the Tea Party, 84 percent said that they agree with the movement. No other religious tradition comes close to this level of support for the movement. Dan Gilgoff has provided a summary of other traditions at CNN's Belief Blog.

The Pew study suggests that the mix of religion and the tea party movement in Congress is not an accident: nearly all of those who agreed with Christian conservatives also agreed with the tea party.

Continue reading Evangelicals and Tea Party Overlap in Congress, Public...

February 24, 2011

If Obama Won't Fight Gay Marriage, Conservatives Will

If President Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice no longer want to defend the Defense of Marriage Act from challenges by gay rights activists, who will?

Leading conservative law firms say they're eager to defend the 1996 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but that may not be so easy.

Could a conservative firm like Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based group that often opposes the administration, be the stand-in for the U.S. attorney general before a judge hearing DOMA challenges?

"That's what we're pursuing," said Mathew Staver, founder of the firm and dean of Liberty University School of Law. "Somebody has to step in and do the job when the attorney general and the president will abandon theirs."

Liberty Counsel had filed friend-of-the-court briefs in two DOMA court cases and is now strategizing with members of Congress to intervene on their behalf to defend the law that bans federal
recognition of same-sex marriages.

"It's early in the process," said Staver, whose firm has litigated dozens of cases related to marriage -- including DOMA -- and represented Congress, state legislators and private organizations on other issues.

"We're still doing a lot of preliminary discussion."

Staver and other conservative lawyers have harshly criticized the announcement Wednesday (Feb. 23) by Attorney General Eric Holder that Obama had determined that DOMA is unconstitutional when applied to same-sex couples married legally under state law.

Last month, the Alliance Defense Fund submitted a brief on behalf of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in response to a Massachusetts challenge of DOMA being heard in a federal appeals court. Now it could be turning its attention to the cases in Connecticut and New York that prompted the administration's new decision.

"I have no doubt that the Alliance Defense Fund and other organizations will involve themselves in these cases," said Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Arizona-based firm. "The question is what is going to be the nature of the role. If somebody with (legal) standing to intervene in these cases wants ADF to represent them, we will certainly explore that with them."

California's Proposition 8 -- which ended same-sex marriages in the state but was later ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge -- offers some clues to the road ahead.

The ADF is representing the group ProtectMarriage.com to defend the 2008 voter referendum after the state's governor and attorney general opted not to defend it; the California Supreme Court is weighing whether the group has legal standing to step in as the case heads to a federal
appeals court.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a law firm founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, also is mulling its role in the fight over DOMA.

Continue reading If Obama Won't Fight Gay Marriage, Conservatives Will ...

February 23, 2011

Obama: DOMA Unconstitutional; Justice Dept. Reverses Course

President Obama has decided that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and has asked his Justice Department to stop defending it in court. DOMA defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

The Justice Department just released the following statement from Attorney General Eric Holder:

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Update: In December 2010, Congress repealed "don't ask, don't tell," a ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. During his campaign, Obama supported the repeal of DOMA, a bill that President Clinton had signed into law in 1996. In October, Obama said his views on same-sex marriage were evolving.

The New York Times reports on how the development to reverse course took place.

The decision to change position grew out of an internal administration policy argument, first reported by The New York Times in January, over how to respond to two lawsuits filed late last year in New York.

Citing an executive-branch duty to defend acts of Congress when plausible arguments exist that they are constitutional, the Obama administration had previously argued that legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act should be dismissed.

February 22, 2011

Glenn Beck Meets with Billy Graham

Conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck met with evangelist Billy Graham last week, Beck said on his show.

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"Just spent 3 amazing hours with Billy Graham at his mountain top home in SC. His son Franklin joined my wife and me for a talk and prayer," Beck tweeted on February 19. "I will share some of my visit with Billy Graham on radio Monday. Side note: I expect tweet hate for me, I cannot understand BG hatred. Sad," he said in a separate update.

A spokesperson for Graham said in an e-mail that it was a private, personal meeting (not an interview) arranged by a family member. Graham lives in North Carolina.

Beck is a Mormon and has received mixed reactions among some evangelicals. James Dobson, Richard Land, Jerry Falwell Jr., and other evangelicals followed Glenn Beck's call for national renewal in August 2010. Some, however, expressed concern about his Mormon faith while others disagreed with his call to "leave your church" if it promotes social justice.

Beck had wanted to meet with Graham before his "Restoring Honor" rally, a round-up on his website states.

According to Glenn, Billy Graham was probably the only other person who had tried to do something on the scale of what Glenn was hoping to accomplish. However, according to Glenn Rev. Graham and his team did not feel that "the time was right."

"Two weeks ago as I have been struggling with some ideas and some things that I am working on for the future and I am trying to get clarity again, I thought of Billy Graham. When the phone range and they said the Reverend feels it's time to meet, I met with him. We had an hour scheduled. It lasted three hours," Glenn said.

"He is a very clear individual. He's slowed down quite a bit," Beck said on the site. "But he is of sound mind and a man of great peace."

Beck gave his impressions saying, "These are not his views but mine."

"My message to you is we must come together. Evil has -- the left has stood -- is standing now with profound and clear evil and they've connected from evil all the way to the average Democrat and everything in between."

"And we are sitting here arguing with each other over, well, how do you mean that exactly? Well, what exactly do you believe in religion, et cetera, et cetera? While none of us can sacrifice what we believe as an individual, we must stand together with those who believe in God and that God endows each individual with the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Graham, who is 92 and has trouble hearing and seeing, makes rare public appearances and does few interviews. A few weeks ago, Christianity Today posted an interview where Graham suggested he wishes he had stayed out of politics.

In other Mormon-evangelical relations, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) announced it will hold its next board meeting in Park City and Salt Lake City on March 10. The NAE leaders will meet with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert at the governor's mansion and will also meet a leader from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

“We hope this time of dialogue with LDS leaders will deepen our understanding of the Mormon faith and contribute to the ongoing work of evangelicals in Utah,” said Leith Anderson, president of NAE. “For the sake of Christ and his kingdom, we seek to represent biblical evangelicalism to those who wouldn’t hear or know. We also look for common ground on issues where we can work together.”

February 21, 2011

Polling Evangelicals: Fix Deficit with Spending Cuts, Tax Increases

On Saturday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution containing deep cuts for education, environment, and health care programs. All told, the resolution cuts $60 billion dollars from this year's budget. The resolution faces an uncertain future, as it must pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, and President Obama vowed to veto the House version of the bill.

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For many evangelical activists, the deficit is a top moral concern. But how important is the deficit to everyday evangelicals in the pews?

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press provided Christianity Today with a religious breakdown of questions from its December and February polls on the deficit and government spending. These polls show that while unemployment is a more pressing economic issue for evangelicals, they agree that the federal government should fix the deficit immediately and are willing to raise taxes (coupled with spending cuts) to do so.

When asked if the federal government should spend more money to create jobs or reduce the budget, nearly two-thirds of evangelicals said that the deficit was a more urgent problem (64 percent). Other Americans were more evenly split, with only 46 percent favoring deficit reduction.

This emphasis on the deficit likely reflects a distrust of government spending as a solution to unemployment. In a December survey, Pew found that 39 percent of evangelicals thought the job situation was the nation's most pressing economic problem. Only 22 percent named the deficit. This is similar to the views of other Americans, 45 percent of whom chose jobs and 19 percent chose the deficit.

In that same poll, however, 80 percent of evangelicals said the deficit was an issue that needs to be addressed now rather than waiting until after the economy improved. Other Americans were more willing to wait. Just over two-thirds of other Americans voiced a need to address the deficit immediately (68 percent).

Continue reading Polling Evangelicals: Fix Deficit with Spending Cuts, Tax Increases...

February 18, 2011

House Votes to Block Federal Aid for Planned Parenthood

The House voted 240-185 today to block federal funds for Planned Parenthood, Politico reports.

Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) introduced the bill, arguing that that cutting off federal funds would cut off their ability to perform the abortion (federal funds may not be used for abortions).

“What’s clear to me, if you follow the money, you can actually take the funding supports out of abortion. We then have a much better opportunity to move forward to be a society that says yes to life.”

Planned Parenthood estimates it received a quarter of the $317 million in Title X funds appropriated last year. They use the money for pelvic exams, breast exams, safer-sex counseling and basic infertility counseling, among other things.

The vote comes after Lila Rose's Live Action released several undercover videos filmed at Planned Parenthood.

The amendment is not expected to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

February 18, 2011

Obama Admin. Changes Bush 'Conscience' Provision for Health Workers

The Obama administration has changed a George W. Bush provision that was created to allow health workers to opt out of services they find objectionable on religious grounds, Rob Stein of the Washington Post reports. The change maintains the provision that allows workers to refrain from performing abortions.

The Health and Human Services Department eliminated nearly the entire rule put into effect by the administration of President George W. Bush during his final days in office that was widely interpreted as allowing such workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services, such as providing the emergency contraceptive Plan B, treating gay men and lesbians and prescribing birth control to single women.

Calling the Bush-era rule "unclear and potentially overbroad in scope," the new, much narrower version essentially leaves in place only long-standing federal protections for workers who object to performing abortions or sterilizations. It also retains the Bush rule's formal process for workers to file complaints.

President Bush had announced the provision, supported by the Christian Medical Association (CMA), just before leaving office. Before he took office, Obama had expressed objections to the provision.

The Health and Human Services Department said in a statement:

The administration strongly supports provider conscience laws that protect and support the rights of health care providers, and also recognizes and supports the rights of patients. Strong conscience laws make it clear that health care providers cannot be compelled to perform or assist in an abortion. Many of these strong conscience laws have been in existence for more than 30 years. The rule being issued today builds on these laws by providing a clear enforcement process.

Dr. J. Scott Ries, CMA's vice president, said in a statement that the decision "threatens to make the situation far worse for patients across the country who depend on faith-based health care."

The administration has made changes in a vital civil rights regulation without evidence or justification. The administration presented no evidence of any problems in healthcare access, prescriptions or procedures that have occurred in the two years since the original regulation's enactment that would justify any change in this protective regulation.

The executive order puts the burden back on Congress to enact conscience provisions for health care workers. HR 358, the Protect Life Act, (see Tuesday's post) includes language identical to that found in Bush's executive order.

The House is expected to vote today on whether Planned Parenthood should receive federal funds. CT will be posting a story on evangelicals' attitudes towards the federal budget shortly.

(This post has been updated at 1:30 p.m.)

February 17, 2011

National Debt Becomes Hot Issue for Evangelicals

Many economists warn that the government's huge national debt is a looming threat to long-term prosperity. But is it also immoral?

According to a growing number of conservative Christians, the answer is a resounding "Yes."

As Washington debates President Obama's proposed 2012 budget, the immorality of the deficit has become the hot topic on right-leaning Christian blogs, radio programs and political mailings.

The concern is not only that the estimated $14.13 trillion debt could cripple the economy, some conservative Christian leaders say, but also that borrowing so much money violates important biblical tenets.

And while religious conservatives have long mapped personal piety onto national politics, some of the moral arguments against excessive borrowing are getting a new hearing among Christians already anxious about the economy.

"America's growing debt is a not just a financial issue, it's a spiritual one," said Jerry Newcombe, host of "The Coral Ridge Hour," a television program broadcast by Coral Ridge Ministries. "The Bible is very clear about the moral dangers of debt."

The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based evangelical ministry dedicated a segment of its television show earlier this month to the "monstrous debt burden," and has been sounding the alarm to its estimated 500,000 devotees through its radio programs, print publications and website.

Likewise, the Washington-based Family Research Council has delivered "action alerts" about the debt to its network of 40,000 pastors and myriad state-based advocacy groups. The Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a new group led by GOP strategist Ralph Reed, are also warning members with increasing intensity that the deficit is reaching immoral proportions.

Reed said concern about the debt is not new, but has risen to the top of some Christians' agenda partly because of the rising tally and partly because the Tea Party and Fox commentator Glenn Beck have focused so much attention on the issue.

"You can't give the Tea Party enough credit in terms of raising the consciousness about this issue," Reed said. For his part, Beck often cites on his television and radio programs "The Five Thousand Year Leap," a book that argues that the national debt imperils America's freedom.

John C. Green, an expert on religion and politics from the University of Akron in Ohio, said several factors, in addition to Beck and the Tea Party, have fueled interest in the deficit.

First, the national debt is a good mobilizing issue for the Republican coalition, able to unite social conservatives and fiscal hawks, whose alliance has sometimes been strained. Secondly, it allows religious leaders to ride the Tea Party wave of anger against government spending. And lastly, it broadens the conservative Christian agenda beyond such culture war battles as abortion and gay marriage.

In its segment on the debt, Coral Ridge, whose late founder, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, was known for blending conservative Christianity and politics, quoted the Bible to denounce the debt.

"Proverbs 13:22 says a `good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children,"' historian and author William Federer said on the program. "Right now, we're not leaving a very good inheritance."

Other budget-conscious Christians have cited passages from Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in which God tells Israel that "you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none."

Ken Blackwell, who is leading a balanced-budget campaign for the Family Research Council, cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "fierce urgency of now" in a recent column advocating against the debt.

Blackwell acknowledged in an interview that King often spoke in favor of government-funded programs, especially to fight poverty. "But Dr. King did not say we should spend beyond our means, or steal our children's future," Blackwell said.

"It's legitimate to be concerned about leaving our children and grandchildren a mountain of debt," he said. "But it seems that in American politics, every seemingly pure moral claim is mixed with hypocrisy."

Continue reading National Debt Becomes Hot Issue for Evangelicals ...

February 15, 2011

'Protect Life Act' Advances in the House Despite Questions over Terms

On Friday the House of Representatives Health Subcommittee approved the Protect Life Act (HR 358) that would put into law a ban on federal funding of abortion in last year's health care law. The bill is nearly a copy of a similar measure in 2009. However, the small differences from the original measure make the bill a heightened issue.

The Protect Life Act uses the Stupak-Pitts amendment that would have explicitly banned any connection between federal funds and abortion services. The amendment passed the House, but it was not included in the final version of the Affordable Care Act. The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Penn.), would codify the ban that is currently included as an executive order signed after the act was signed into law.

Addressing both abortion and the act, the bill was bound to be a flashpoint, but it became even more controversial because of small changes to the original Stupak-Pitts language that said federal funds could not be used for abortion except to save the life of the mother or "unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest." In the new bill, the language was changed to the mother's life and "if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest."

The replacement of “rape” with “forcible rape” and limiting incest exclusion to minors raised the level of controversy surrounding the bill. Pitts removed the new language. The bill that passed the subcommittee used the language used for the Stupak-Pitts amendment and other federal funding restrictions.

The bill also explicitly includes language from the “Weldon Amendment” and applies it to the act. The amendment prohibits the federal government from discriminating against any doctor, hospital, or other health care provider who does not perform, refer, or provide for abortions.

This, too, is politically contentious, but it was made more so by a final provision that linked it to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). The act requires hospitals to examine and provide stabilizing treatment. The Protect Life Act would extend conscience provisions to the act.

For pro-choice groups, the possibility that a doctor could refuse to provide abortion services necessary to stabilize a woman's condition gave reason to rename the Protect Life Act the “Let Women Die” Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union's Laura Murphy said, “We may not all feel the same way about abortion, but we can agree that hospitals should not abandon a woman whose life may be at risk. Congress has no place telling hospitals that they are free to endanger the life of a woman in need of emergency care.”

Pitts’ spokesman Andrew Wimer told The Hill, “NARAL and other abortion rights groups have vigorously opposed any conscience protection legislation. It is no surprise that they would attack the Protect Life Act with the same old talking points.”

Americans United for Life's Anna Franzonello told CT that the bill's provisions are reactions to recent efforts by the ACLU and other groups to question whether hospitals should provide abortions. She said the AUL believes health care providers have the right to provide care without doing abortions.

"The amendment should not be necessary by the letter of the law, but there are groups that are trying to misuse emergency treatment law to coerce health care providers into providing abortions," Franzonello said.

There are no claims that women may actually need an abortion to have their health stabilized (EMTALA also applies to what the act calls the “unborn child”). The new language may, for both sides of the debate, be more symbolic than anything.

February 12, 2011

CPAC’s Social Conservative Presence: Existent, But Less Prominent

WASHINGTON --Social conservative groups may not be picking a fight with other factions of the conservative movement at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but they will still have to continue to work hard to ensure their issues remain on the forefront of conservatives’ minds in the conservative movement and as the 2012 election nears.

Tom Minnery, vice president of government and public policy at CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family and co-sponsor of CPAC, thinks their presence has made the conference stronger than it would have been in their absence. As a co-sponsor, CitizenLink helped choose the forum topics and speakers—and snagged a prime spot in the exhibit hall.

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Despite the buzz that CPAC has all pushed social conservative issues aside because of their inclusion of GOProud, a gay rights group, Minnery disagrees: “Not only are there good panels here that represent social conservative values but the speakers—like Rep. Michele Bachmann—do too.”
Of the potential presidential candidates who have spoken thus far, most focused on issues related to China, spending, and criticizing President Obama. Bachmann gave the opening keynote and lambasted Obama for “socialist” tendencies; she did encourage social and fiscal conservatives to work together to elect conservative candidates in the next election. “We cannot shun each other for 2012,” she said.

Though he received cheers to a reference to protecting the unborn in his Friday morning address, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney mostly criticized Obama for his failure to remedy the economic crisis. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, won the straw poll vote with 30 percent of the vote while Romney came in second with 23 percent. Other potential candidates came in around 4 percent, though former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee did not attend.

In an afternoon speech, Minnesota’s former Gov. Tim Pawlenty fired up the crowd discussing everything from the debt ceiling to his compelling personal story to spending. Though he refrained from mentioning marriage or life issues, he encouraged conservatives to “turn towards God, not away from him.”

Minnery also dispels the notion that the strong presence of the Tea Party here—a movement largely concerned with smaller government and lower taxes—conflicts with CitizenLink’s purpose to promote traditional marriage, preserve religious liberty, and promote the sanctity of life. Though he never went so far as to say Focus on the Family and the Tea Party would join forces to elect fiscal and social conservatives in 2012, he finds their strong pro-life stance encouraging. (An April 2010 Gallup poll found 65% of Tea Partiers identify themselves as pro-life).

What about the presence of GOProud at CPAC? Minnery shrugged. “It is an anomaly. The way they’ve treated some of our fellow organizations that aren’t here—like the Family Research Council –is unfortunate and doesn’t build a spirit of unity.” Minnery thinks voters will ultimately determine the fate of gay marriage, not a booth at CPAC.

There are multiple forums per day at CPAC, of them, only two panels on social conservative issues—one Thursday on marriage, one Friday on the pro-life movement—Minnery not only approved of the forums but he corrected me and said the judicial panel this morning, “The Left’s Campaign to Reshape the Judiciary,” belongs under the social conservative tent with marriage and life. During yesterday’s panel “Traditional Marriage and Society,” Minnery argued that one way to fight poverty is to encourage marriages that last.

Continue reading CPAC’s Social Conservative Presence: Existent, But Less Prominent...

February 10, 2011

CPAC: Skip It (FRC) or Sponsor It (CitizenLink)?

Thousands of conservatives are meeting in Washington, D.C. at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), representing the diversity of conservatism, from socially conservative activists to national defense hawks to Rep. Rand Paul libertarians. Many social conservative groups are split over whether to boycott CPAC or buy a seat at the table.

At issue is GOProud, a group representing gay conservatives and their allies. GOProud is cosponsoring the conference, which gives it a say in the conference agenda. Missing from the CPAC program are representatives from Family Research Council, the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, among others. Mike Huckabee, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), House Republican Study Committee chairman Jim Jordon (R-OH) are also skipping CPAC this year.

Not all social conservatives have decided to miss the largest conservative gathering this year. They believe that being a part of CPAC is a better strategy than boycotting it.

Sarah Palin, who has never attended CPAC, told CBN's David Brody that she thought it was better to participate even if you disagree with other participants.

"Should the GOP, should conservatives not reach out to others, not participate in events or forums that perhaps arising within those forums are issues that maybe we don't personally agree with? And I say 'no'.” said Palin. “I look at participation in an event like CPAC or any other event along kind of in that same vein as the more information that people have the better.” Palin did not attend CPAC due to other plans.

CitizenLink is one group that opted for this strategy of engagement. Rather than boycott the conference, CitizenLink is cosponsoring it. The payoff is a seat on the steering committee that helps form the conference agenda on social and domestic policy. CitizenLink's Tim Goeglein and Tom Minnery are also featured on the CPAC program.

“Our team will be engaging with those attendees who may not have previously given pro-life and pro-marriage perspectives much consideration — in order to ensure family issues are not lost amid the other important issues that will also be discussed,” CitizenLink's Sonja Swiatkiewicz said.

Leaders from the American Principles Project, American Values, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage wrote a letter to CPAC chairman David Keene announcing that they would be boycotting CPAC because of GOProud's role.

“An organization committed to the ultimate abandonment of the legal and social meaning of marriage by definition disqualifies itself from recognition as a partner in the conservative cause,” said the letter.

Continue reading CPAC: Skip It (FRC) or Sponsor It (CitizenLink)?...

February 9, 2011

Michelle Obama Marks Campaign Anniv. at Andy Stanley's Megachurch

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at one of the country's largest megachurches to mark the one-year anniversary of Let's Move! campaign to fight childhood obesity.

North Point Community Church, a nondenominational evangelical church of more than 20,000 hosted the speech with Ray of Hope Christian Church, an Atlanta-based African American church.

North Point's head pastor Andy Stanley, 52, gave one of the prayers at the prayer service the day after President Obama's inauguration. The White House's press release calls Stanley "a young and rising leader in the evangelical community." His father is Charles Stanley, who served two terms as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention and is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

In late 2010, the campaign against obesity has set off some partisan debate. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin joked about the program while Mike Huckabee defended it.

Michelle Obama has reached out the faith leaders through conference calls and meetings, asking them to educate congregants about healthy eating. Her speech was not particularly religious, like the one President Obama gave last week at the prayer breakfast. Instead, it seemed like a fairly general pitch on promoting healthy lifestyle with a brief mention of faith communities.

"We need to change things not just from the outside, but from the inside as well. We need to ask ourselves, 'What can I do, through my workplace, my place of worship, my organization, to help kids in my community lead healthier lives?'" she said in her speech. "And how about getting your church or place of worship involved? That’s what we’re doing through Let’s Move Faith and Communities, we’re supporting faith leaders who want to build healthier congregations."

February 8, 2011

Consumer Protection Chief Seeks Allies in Faith Leaders

The architect of the Obama administration's new consumer protection bureau met with faith-based groups February 8 in a bid to shape the agency's work as a moral crusade.

"The most recent financial crisis caused many to question the moral underpinnings of our financial dealings with each other," Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard University law professor who was appointed last year to start the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"Our laws reflect who we are and they shape who we become. To pursue regulatory change without reflecting on its moral dimension would be wrong," she said.

Warren met Tuesday with about 20 Christian and Jewish religious leaders to get their input on focusing the bureau's work, and to hear stories of how the financial crisis has affected their communities.

Her meeting included representatives of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Sojourners and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

A former Sunday school teacher and a United Methodist, Warren said moral and religious traditions have long informed rules about fair lending. "The Bible speaks about not cheating people," she said.

She hopes the bureau's fledgling partnership with religious leaders will eventually extend from the pulpits to the pews to educate Americans on how to avoid becoming victims of risky financial schemes.

"They're not merely passers-along of information," she said. "These are people who have thought deeply about a financial crisis that has moral and spiritual dimensions. I want this agency to be informed by the deeper thinking that they've brought to these issues."

February 8, 2011

Obama's Faith-Based Council Includes Leith Anderson, Lynne Hybels

The president's advisory council on faith-based initiatives is supposed to represent a wide spectrum of religious and community leaders. This includes a fair share of evangelicals, albeit evangelicals of a certain kind.

Last week, the White House announced that Willow Creek Community Church co-founder Lynne Hybels and National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Leith Anderson would serve on the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Members serve one-year terms.

The choice of Hybels and Anderson follows in the line of previous evangelical council members. They are bona fides evangelicals who prefer to engage the culture, not war against it. Recently, both Hybels and Anderson spoke publicly in favor of immigration reform, actively lobbying Congress for reforms including a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

In addition to being president of the NAE, Anderson serves as Senior Pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, which is the church home of Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty.

CBN's David Brody interviewed Pawlenty in December about Anderson's connection to Pawlenty's politics. “He’s a wonderful person and a dear leader and minister but neither he nor [the NAE] is some sort of plug and play political operation. That’s not how he views it,” said Pawlenty. “He’s in the business of saving souls and he’s not in the business of running campaigns.” (CT also recently interviewed Pawlenty about evangelicals and political issues).

Hybels has been involved in Willow Creek's ministries and has spoken out on issues including poverty and HIV/AIDS. She also occasionally blogs for Sojourners God's Politics blog.

The advisory council continues Obama's approach to faith-based groups. It is unlikely, however, to end the controversies that have dogged the office since President George W. Bush began his Faith-Based and Community Initiative office in 2001. During the Bush administration, critics charged that the office was politicized and entangled religion with government. The goal of the office was to place religious groups on the same level playing field as secular nonprofits. Bush also allowed religious groups receiving federal funds to use religion as a basis for hiring.

When Obama set up his Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the goal changed from funding projects to making policy. The president charged the office with developing policy recommendations aimed at improving interfaith relationships, strengthening fatherhood, reducing poverty, and lowering the number of abortions. Obama's first advisory council focused much of its efforts on making policy recommendations about the office itself. It did not, however, remedy three of the thorniest issues facing faith and policy.

– Should religious groups form separate nonprofits when they compete for federal funds?

– Should nonprofits remove religious art and messages from facilities that provide social services?

– Should religious nonprofits receiving federal funds be permitted to hire and fire employees based on their religion?

The answers to these questions remain unanswered as Obama's second council begins its work.

Continue reading Obama's Faith-Based Council Includes Leith Anderson, Lynne Hybels...

February 4, 2011

Senate Pro-Life Democrats: Extinct or Endangered?

The Senate rejected an effort by Republicans to repeal last year's healthcare law on Wednesday, failing on a straight party line vote, 51 to 47 with every Democrat opposing repeal. Whether you consider pro-life Democrats extinct or endangered depends on one's view of the healthcare law passed last year.

For many pro-life groups, the healthcare law is the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade. For instance, pro-life Democrats in the Senate are now “extinct,” according to LifeNews.com. For Democrats who supported the bill, however, the law does not fund abortion and the executive order signed by the President ensures this prohibition.

Of the 53 Senators in the Democratic coalition, three are more pro-life than pro-choice, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC): Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA). Each senator has a long pro-life record. Nelson and Casey voted in favor of the healthcare bill. Manchin, who is new to the Senate, joined Nelson and Casey in voting against a motion this week to repeal the healthcare law. The repeal failed on a party-line vote, 51-47.

For pro-life groups, this was a vote against the movement. LifeNews.com political blogger, Andrew Bair, said, "The U.S. Senate lost its last-standing pro-life Democrat today when Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia betrayed his long-held pro-life convictions to vote against the repeal of the pro-abortion Obama healthcare law."

Manchin said he does not support all parts of the healthcare law, but he would rather work to fix the bill rather than adopt the “repeal and replace” approach of Republicans.

“I don’t think that throwing out the good parts of this bill, like helping seniors afford prescription drugs or ending discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, makes good common sense. That’s why I have repeatedly said that we should make every effort to work together on repairing this bill before we start talking about repealing it,” Manchin said.

Nelson said he voted against the repeal because it was bad for his state.

“I continue to support the health reform law because it is the right thing to do for Nebraska. There are a lot of good parts in the bill and some that I will work to improve,” Nelson said. “The repealers already have health care. But they’re ready, willing and eager to take it away from hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans.”

The healthcare law is now* the litmus test pro-life groups like the National Right to Life Commission uses to differentiate between pro-life and pro-choice legislators. Pro-choice groups, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, do not consider healthcare to be an abortion-related issue.

Nelson cosponsored the Nelson-Hatch amendment to the health-care bill last year, which was the Senate version of the Stupak amendment. The amendment would have expressly banned funding for abortion. The amendment failed, but it was supported by Casey and several other Democrats.

Nelson and Casey supported other pro-life efforts in the Senate, including efforts to allow states to designate an embryo a beneficiary of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, to prohibit funding to United Nations Population Fund, expressly permitting crisis pregnancy centers eligible for funding under the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education, and codifying the right of health-care workers to deny abortion counseling or other family-planning services if doing so would violate their beliefs.

Nelson voted in favor of an effort to return the “Mexico City Policy” (which pro-choice groups call the “global gag order”), which banned funding to groups that promote or endorse abortion. Casey, however, opposed this policy.

In the House of Representatives has a larger coalition of pro-life Democrats than in the Senate. Even with the number of pro-life Democrats in the House cut in half as a result of the November election, around 12 percent of Democrats in the House Democrats vote pro-life. In the Senate, NRLC ratings suggest six percent of Democrats are pro-life.


Editor's note: *The sentence has been corrected.
Due to an editing error, National Right to Life Committee was originally listed incorrectly.

February 3, 2011

Obama, Wallace, Giffords's Husband, Chilean Miner Lead Prayer Breakfast

WASHINGTON -- President Obama used his address at today's National Prayer Breakfast to reiterate his Christian faith, re-telling the story of his nonreligious upbringing and conversion to Christianity.

“My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years, all the more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time,” Obama said. “We are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us, but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God.”

Previous polls have suggested that about 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.

Last year, Obama's speech emphasized civility, finding common ground guided by faith. "Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility," he said in 2010. Obama introduced the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at his first prayer breakfast in 2009. Michael Scherer of Time magazine notes that in 2009, Obama used "I" 15 times, in 2010, he used "I" 10 times, and this year, he said "I" 44 times.

Obama said earlier that he has chosen not to join a church, though a White House spokesman Kevin Lewis recently told The Washington Post, "We will be sure to confirm when they have made a decision on a church home," Lewis said after the Obamas visited Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in January.

The White House has instead focused on the relationships Obama has with several pastors and a daily devotional he receives on his Blackberry. In his speech today, Obama said that Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter and Texas megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes pray with him in the Oval Office, and that he receives "respite and fellowship" in the chapel at Camp David. White House staffer Joshua DuBois also sends Obama a meditation each morning.

"When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and our people," Obama said. "And when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord and I ask him to forgive me my sins and to look after my family and to make me an instrument of the Lord."

Obama also plugged Charity: Water and its founder, Scott Harrison, saying, "That's the kind of faith that moves mountains."

He also threw in a few jokes for the audience. "Lord, give me patience as I watch Malia go to her first dance where there will be boys," he said to laughter. "Lord, let that skirt become longer as she travels to that dance."

He joked about telling Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla., who is a Southern Baptist deacon) that God would lead him to vote Obama's way. "It is comforting to know people are praying for you who don't always agree with you," he said. "Tom, It's gonna happen. A ray of light is going to beam down."

At the beginning of his speech, Obama briefly addressed the protests in Egypt, saying, "We pray that the violence in Egypt will end, and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized, and that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world."

Braveheart writer and director of Secretariat Randall Wallace was the breakfast's keynote speaker, telling the audience when he was out of work during the Writers Guild strike. “I prayed that if I go down in this fight that I not do it on my knees to someone else, but standing up with my flag flying,” Wallace said, which inspired a Braveheart scene.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headlined last year's speech, while former British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke in 2009.

One of the rescued Chilean miners, Jose Henriquez, spoke of the spiritual climate while they were trapped underground for 52 days in 2010. "We decided unless we prayed and God did a miracle there would be no way out," he said. "And that became our daily hope and confidence." He said each miner received a small Bible with his name on it while they were underground. He gathered the miners to pray just before they were rescued. “Some wanted to dive in and get in the capsule but I said, 'Hold it. Were going to pray first.' ”

Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's husband, Mark Kelly, offered some closing words. While his wife was in the hospital in Tucson, Kelly said he visited a makeshift memorial with religious symbols, saying that "it was like stepping into a church, a place with heaven itself as its ceiling."

Kelly closed the breakfast with a prayer a rabbi had given over Giffords's hospital bed just after the shooting asking that angels would surround her. Giffords was among 19 people shot on January 8.

The text of the speech will be posted below when it becomes available from the White House.

February 1, 2011

Pence Out, Hunstman In (Possibly): Whom Do Evangelicals Like?

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Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) announced last week that he will not run in next year's Republican presidential primaries, leaving an opening for other candidates to court social conservatives. Pence may not be a household name, but he is well-regarded among conservative activists.

Pence had the potential to be the Dennis Kucinich of the GOP—a black-horse candidate who could poll well among the ideological base of the party. Pence edged out Mike Huckabee and handily beat Mitt Romney (13 percent) and Sarah Palin (7 percent) in the 2010 Values Voter Summit straw poll.

In a recent Rasmussen poll, likely Republican primary voters gave more support to Romney (24 percent) than to either Huckabee (17 percent) or Palin (19 percent). Among evangelicals, however, Romney came in third. Other polls show likely voters are split between Romney and Huckabee, with each polling around 20 percent of likely voters. About 15 percent say they will support Palin.

In an open memo to “conservative and evangelical leaders,” Mark DeMoss, of the Christian public relations firm The DeMoss Group, said that all of the potential candidates for the Republican nomination pass the traditional litmus tests on abortion and marriage. DeMoss offered a new litmust test: “A candidate for president of the United States should be capable of becoming president, and then competent to be the president.” For DeMoss, the candidate that passes that test is Mitt Romney.

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“Those who would suggest I am placing values on the back burner will be misreading me and wrong. I am only saying that a candidate’s values alone are not enough to get my vote. For example, my pastor shares my values, but I don’t want him to be my president,” wrote DeMoss.
DeMoss's memo highlights the challenges facing Romney. His base is the business sector, not values voters. He can raise millions of dollars, but he does not have the support of the activists on the ground.

Groups such as Focus on the Family have been critical of Romney in the past. In 2008, they lobbied Romney, who sat on the board of Marriott International, to have the hotel chain stop providing adult pay-per-view movies in their hotels.

Last week, Marriott announced it would stop providing adult movie services. Romney did not vote on the Marriott decision, however, because he recently stepped down from the board. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told the Washington Post that Romney recused himself from discussions over the adult movie policy.

Some are suspicious of Romney's Mormon faith. A survey in 2008 found that 25 percent of Americans would be upset if a Mormon was elected president. In contrast, 15 percent said they would be upset with a Baptist being president.

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There may be another prominent Mormon to consider in the 2012 presidential race. Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. Ambassador to China, resigned in order to consider a presidential campaign.

Huntsman is former Governor of Utah and son of billionaire Jon Huntsman, Sr., who founded the Huntsman Corporation. Huntsman, like Romney, holds traditional views on social issues, but his base would likely be among business leaders.