All posts from “December 2011”

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December 30, 2011

Will Iowa Social Conservatives Unite Behind Santorum?

Libertarians, contrarians, and college students appear to love Ron Paul. Pragmatic-minded Republican voters tend to support so-called establishment candidate Mitt Romney. But social conservatives have yet to rally around a single candidate. In Iowa, however, Rick Santorum is gaining both endorsements and support in the polls just as his rivals' campaigns fade.

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In a campaign season known for the rapid rise and fall of frontrunners, Santorum may prove to be the proverbial tortoise who is rewarded for a slow and steady race. With more time than money, Santorum has spent years crisscrossing the state, meeting with small groups of voters. He has spent little time or money outside the Hawkeye state with the goal to win the ground war in Iowa and use the victory to propel him into the lead nationally.

In a year when other candidates focused on jobs and the economy, the Santorum campaign focused on family values and social issues. He wrote the book on the importance of families in public policy. His campaign touts his personal life as a father of seven home-schooled children. He worked with Iowans to campaign successfully to remove Iowa State Supreme Court justices who overturned the state's marriage law that prohibited same-sex marriage. He put abortion at the front and center of his campaign. On the check-list of issues social conservatives care about, Santorum scores high.

Conservative leaders have given Santorum the thumbs-up. Glenn Beck compared him to George Washington. The Iowa Family Leader, an effective state organization, declined to endorse any candidates in the race, but its president, Bob Vander Plaats, endorsed Santorum, saying that the Pennsylvanian was at home among Iowan social conservatives.

“I believe Rick Santorum comes from us,” Vander Plaats said. “Not to us. He comes from us. He is one of us.”

Until recently, Santorum has faced two (related) challenges. The first was viability. With little money and national name recognition, it was unlikely he could win the nomination, let alone the general election. Second, there were other social conservatives who were seen as having a greater chance of electoral success.

Continue reading Will Iowa Social Conservatives Unite Behind Santorum?...

December 28, 2011

Poll: Evangelicals (and Everyone Else) Want Wealthy to Pay Fair Share of Taxes

Just before Christmas, Congress decided to delay major changes to income taxes. Instead, legislators gave themselves more time to negotiate by extending this year's payroll tax cuts through February. The payroll tax debate will be at the top of the agenda in 2012, but even supporters of an extended payroll tax cut know it is temporary.

Instead, most Americans prefer a more dramatic overhaul of the tax system, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. And unlike many other political issues, the poll shows few differences between religious groups: Most people of all faiths feel taxes are unfair and that the wealthy need to pay more.

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A majority (54 percent) said the federal tax system was either “not too fair” or “not at all fair” in Pew's December survey, a number up from 48 percent in 2003. Also up: the percentage who say the problem with the system is that some of the wealthy do not pay their fair share. The poll found that six out of ten believe Congress needs to completely change the system.

On many political issues, evangelicals tend to poll more conservatively than other religious groups. But on the question of fairness, all religious groups have the same evaluation of the tax system. Of evangelicals, 53 percent said the system is unfair, which was about the same as every other religious groups. A majority of each major religious group said the tax system is unfair.

There were some differences in opinion over what the problem was in the tax system, but much of these differences were due to race and income, not religion. Among all religious groups, most people said the problem with the tax system is that “some wealthy people get away with not paying their fair share.” However, this view is more prominent among Christians in historically African-American churches. 82 percent of black Protestants said this was the problem, compared to around half of white Protestants and Catholics.

About one-third of white Protestants and Catholics said they were bothered by the complexity of the tax system; one fifth of those unaffiliated with a religion said the same thing. Black Protestants, however, were much less likely to say the tax system was the problem (just eight percent).

The Pew survey suggests that there are major divisions among Republicans on the issue of taxes. Among Republicans who agree with the Tea Party, only 22 percent say the wealthy need to pay their fair share while 57 percent said the problem was the complexity of the tax system. Those in the GOP who disagree with the Tea Party, however, held a different view, with most saying the wealthy do not pay their fair share.

Editor's Note: The Pew Research Center for People and the Press (Pew) provided Christianity Today with a religious breakdown of questions from the Dec. 7-11 survey of 1,521 Americans on their views of the federal tax system. However, CT is responsible for all analysis and interpretation of the results. Pew identifies evangelicals as white, non-Hispanic Protestants who described themselves as "born-again or evangelical." Around 18 percent of Americans are evangelicals by this definition. The margin of error for this subsample is around seven percentage points. The results are descriptive; religious differences could be due to partisanship, ideology, income, or other factors.

December 24, 2011

Evangelical Leaders Side with Catholics on Insurance Mandate

Catholics who have pushed back against a White House policy that would require many religious insurers to cover contraception are getting a high-profile assist from dozens of evangelical leaders.

"We write in solidarity, but separately -- to stress that religious organizations and leaders of other faiths are also deeply troubled by and opposed to the mandate and the narrow exemption," the leaders wrote Wednesday (Dec. 21) in a letter to President Obama.

Like Catholic officials, the evangelicals object to a mandate under the health care reform law that would require employers to offer insurance coverage for contraception to employees, including treatments that some equate with abortions.

"It is not only Catholics who object to the narrow exemption that protects only seminaries and a few churches, but not churches with a social outreach and other faith-based organizations that serve the poor and needy," they wrote.

Signatories include National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson; Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land; Focus on the Family Senior Vice President Tom Minnery; and Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.

The letter to Obama was sent the same day that evangelical Colorado Christian University joined Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic school, in suing the Department of Health and Human Services over the rule, which is scheduled to take effect in August.

An HHS official said the department is reviewing public comments on the proposed religious exemption on contraceptives.

The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, voiced his concerns to Obama in a meeting, and said the president promised to "look long and hard" at the issue.

December 20, 2011

Social Conservatives, Sebelius Agree—for now—on Contraception and Adoption

As head of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius oversees many hot button issues important to social conservatives. And for at least a few days this December, Sebelius and social conservatives have found themselves on the same sides.

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Opposition to Sebelius began before she even entered the administration.

“It is a sad day for America and for America’s unborn children that Governor Sebelius, who is no friend to those unborn children, has been confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said back in 2009.

Since then, distrust and criticism of Sebelius has grown. The new health care law expanded the power of the head of HHS.

But this December, social conservatives have been surprised by some small Christmas miracles.

On December 7, Sebelius rejected the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommendation to make the emergency contraception Plan B One-Step available as an over-the-counter drug without an age limit. Sebelius said the drug would still be available behind the counter but would not be available to girls 16 years old or younger.

Harvard University's Daniel Carpenter wrote in the New York Times, "For the first time in American history, a cabinet secretary — and by extension, a president — has overruled a drug-approval decision by the Food and Drug Administration."

Continue reading Social Conservatives, Sebelius Agree—for now—on Contraception and Adoption...

December 16, 2011

Just Before Shut Down, Congress Reauthorizes the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (Edited)

After months of uncertainty, Congress reauthorized the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Friday, just hours before it was set to shut down for good.

The House of Representatives easily passed a two-year reauthorization bill back in September that scaled back USCIRF’s budget from $4.3 million to $3 million and cut the number of unpaid commissioners from nine to five. But the reauthorization stalled in the Senate after Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) placed a secret hold on the bill.

After several temporary reauthorizations, the Senate unanimously passed a modified form of the reauthorization bill on Tuesday. Durbin added a stipulation to the bill that limits USCIRF commissioners to two two-year terms; that means seven of the nine current commissioners will have to leave the panel within 90 days. Durbin’s amendment also reportedly included a proposal to buy an unused maximum security prison in Illinois and make it a federal facility.

The modified bill was sent back to the House, where it passed by a majority voice vote. The bill reauthorizes USCIRF until September 30, 2014.

USCIRF’s effectiveness and necessity have been debated for many years. In 2002, CT featured two essays from contributors which highlighted the division: “USCIRF Is Only Cursing the Darkness” and “USCIRF’s Concern Is to Help All Religious Freedom Victims.” 

December 16, 2011

Evangelicals' Complicated Relationship with Romney and Gingrich

The economy remains the most prominent issue ahead of the primary season as social issues play a less prominent role. The most salient personal split has been between Mitt Romney, an executive-turned-politician who is Mormon, and Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House.

While Romney has his base of support, Gingrich has been taking off in the polls. Christian conservatives appear more comfortable with a thrice-married Lutheran-turned-Baptist-turned-Catholic than a Mormon candidate who has been married for over four decades.

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Gingrich's political director in Iowa resigned after less than a week on the job. Craig Bergman's resignation came after the website The Iowa Republican reported that Bergman called Mormonism a cult, just one day before he joined Gingrich's campaign. 

Speaking as part of a focus group, Bergman said, “A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon…There’s a thousand pastors ready to do that.”

A century ago, the Senate debated whether to allow Reed Smoot to represent Utah. Smoot was not a polygamist, but there were still questions raised about the issue. Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania took to the floor of the Senate, glared at his colleagues with less-than-chaste reputations, and delivered one of the best retorts in Senate history.

"As for me,” Penrose said, “I would rather have seated beside me in this chamber a 'polygamist' who doesn't 'polyg-' than a 'monogamist' who doesn't 'monag-'."

Continue reading Evangelicals' Complicated Relationship with Romney and Gingrich...

December 12, 2011

Candidates Tout Faith as Romney Recalls Missionary Life, Obama Attends Church

Some of the presidential candidates are bringing faith into the campaign as the primaries draw closer. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney brought up his missionary work at Saturday night's debate, one of the only times he has referred to his Mormon faith in a public setting during this year's campaign.

“I was able to serve my church overseas, and to, to meet people there that had very difficult circumstances in their life,” he said, in response to a question about how he could understand financial difficulties. “I also spent time in this country, serving as a pastor in my, in my church, and again, having the occasion to work with people that were really struggling. I saw marriages under great stress.”

Since the debate, Romney garnered attention for offering a $10,000 bet to Texas Governor Rick Perry over health care, a gesture that some suggest makes him appear out of touch with American's financial difficulties as well as the teachings of his church on gambling. Some suggest his references to his life as a missionary is a way to humanize the GOP candidate.

“I don’t know about a conscious effort, but I do think more people should know about the more private side of Mitt Romney, including his family,” Romney senior adviser and evangelical public relations agency leader Mark DeMoss told Politico. “I appreciate the fact that he hasn’t talked about his personal life as much, perhaps, as candidates typically do, but also want more people to see him as I have come to know him, so I’d support any effort to reveal more of it in the coming weeks and months.”

Meanwhile, President Obama, who usually visits church on holidays like Christmas and Easter, took his family to St. John's Church across the street from the White House yesterday.

The pastor's sermon on John the Baptist drew a connection to the expectations Americans might have of Obama. Many unfairly expected a messiah that could cure the U.S. of all of its problems, but we're seeing that it's not that easy, Luis Leon told the congregation, according to the pool report.

Obama has also brought up his faith publicly at some recent public events, such as the White House's annual Christmas tree lighting. On Sunday night, he shared a similar message when he referred to Jesus's birth during the annual "Christmas in Washington" concert.

This is the season to celebrate the story of how, more than two thousand years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among cattle and sheep. He was no ordinary child. He was the manifestation of God’s love. And every year we celebrate His birth because the story of Jesus Christ changed the world. For me, and for millions of Americans, His story has filled our hearts and inspired our lives. It moves us to love one another; to help and serve those less fortunate; to forgive; to draw close to our families; to be grateful for all that has been given to us; to keep faith; and to hold on to an enduring hope in humanity.

Service to others. Compassion to all. Treating others as we wish ourselves to be treated. Those values aren’t just at the center of Christianity; those are values that are shared by all faiths. So tonight let us all rededicate ourselves to each other. And, in that spirit, from my family to yours, happy holidays. Merry Christmas.

Obama's messages that touch on faith often point to the common ground and values between different faiths.

As Newt Gingrich leads in the polls, some media reports are examining the role of faith in his life and in his previous work in the House. As speaker, Gingrich led Congress to enact a major welfare reform law, including a provision allowing faith-based groups to win government contracts to run social service programs, the Huffington Post reports. Such provisions also helped lay the groundwork for the White House's faith-based office, which still exists under Obama's administration.

CNN's Dan Gilgoff reports on an e-mail skirmish between some evangelical leaders, such as the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., and Atlanta pastor Richard Lee related to his marital past. Gingrich spoke with Christianity Today in 2009 after he converted to Catholicism.

December 9, 2011

Obama, Clinton Elevate LGBT Issues in U.S. Foreign Policy

United States foreign policy will begin to include the protection and promotion of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons as part of its human rights efforts.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama directed all foreign assistance and diplomatic agencies to advance LGBT rights abroad. In a speech in Geneva later that day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

Together, Obama and Clinton made it clear that the U.S. government views the treatment of LGBT people as important as the treatment of women, children, ethnic minorities, and other peoples.

Religion, Clinton said, is not an acceptable justification for violence against LGBT persons. “Our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people,” Clinton said. “It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the Christian Post, "I certainly don't believe homosexuals or anyone else should be flogged or put to death for their sexual sins. However, I don't believe homosexuals should receive special treatment over and above anyone else either. Secretary Clinton's remarks were more than likely a painless way for the Obama administration to placate the homosexual community in the U.S."

Continue reading Obama, Clinton Elevate LGBT Issues in U.S. Foreign Policy...

December 8, 2011

FRC, PETA Call for Continuing an Explicit Military Ban on Bestiality

In an unlikely alliance, the Family Research Council (FRC) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have found a common cause: the criminalization of bestiality in the military. Both groups are calling for keeping an explicit ban on sex with animals in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that may be eliminated by the Defense Authorization Act.

One of the many changes in the act included the removal of the sodomy section of the code after the removal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ban. Few realized that the UCMJ defines sodomy either as homosexual relations or as sex with an animal. By striking out the entire sodomy provision, Congress may have decriminalized bestiality.

When the Senate passed the bill last week (93 yeas, 7 nays), FRC said the new rule put the ban on bestiality in doubt. According to the FRC, removing the entire sodomy section from the UCMJ “may have inadvertently opened the door to even more perversion.” FRC told CT that its legal experts said that “by eliminating Article 125, the Senate would be creating a legal argument for bestiality.” FRC president Tony Perkins said the bestiality change was likely unintentional. However, he also suggested that the provision may be part of what the FRC sees as President Obama's attempt to shape the culture through the military. 

Continue reading FRC, PETA Call for Continuing an Explicit Military Ban on Bestiality ...

December 5, 2011

The Political Landscape Sees Three Decades of Growth for Evangelical Interest Groups

In 1976, a Time cover story on evangelicals focused on the rise of a “New Empire of Faith,” And despite the name, the evangelical “empire” was apolitical. There were few organized political efforts led by evangelicals. This is no longer the case. According to a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number of evangelical interest groups has grown steadily from just a few three decades ago to over 40 today. Pew found over 200 faith-based interest groups representing both large and small religious groups. Of these, almost one in five are groups that represent evangelicals and their churches.

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Before the 1980s, the few evangelical interest groups that existed were those who represented institutions. The National Association of Evangelicals, the Baptist World Alliance, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, and others represented churches, colleges, and other religious organizations in the nation's capital. The National Religious Broadcasters Association, American Association of Christian Schools, and others have since formed to advocate for religious institutions. Beginning in the late 1970s, however, evangelicals formed grassroots organizations to represent voters.  Today, most evangelical interest groups represent individuals, not institutions.

The first wave of grassroots organizing began in the late 1970s when the Christian Right came onto the political scene. Groups like the Moral Majority, Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women for American, and the Family Research Council focused on social issues like abortion, pornography, and sexuality. There were also other groups such as Focus on the Family and the American Family Association that provided the media presence needed for these early Christian Right groups to organize.

Continue reading The Political Landscape Sees Three Decades of Growth for Evangelical Interest Groups...

December 2, 2011

Obama at Christmas Tree Lighting: Christ 'A Manifestation of God's Love'

President Obama highlighted his faith in his brief speech at the White House Christmas tree lighting Thursday night.

"More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep," Obama said. "But this was not just any child. Christ’s birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar. He was a manifestation of God’s love for us."

As he has in the past, Obama widened his address to focus on what religions have in common. (His remarks begin at minute 2:38 in the embedded video).

"And He grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. That teaching has come to encircle the globe," Obama said. "No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it’s a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season."

Obama's address comes after some criticism that he did not mention God in his Thanksgiving address. On his show, comedian Jon Stewart showed clips of Fox News contributors criticizing the president. The network also noted that President Clinton mentioned God in half of his Thanksgiving addresses and that President George W. Bush left God out of one of his addresses.

Earlier this month, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said that Obama is hostile and disdainful toward Christianity. He also said that Christians who voted for Obama should repent.

Continue reading Obama at Christmas Tree Lighting: Christ 'A Manifestation of God's Love'...