All posts from “Democratic Party”

October 21, 2011

D.C. Pastor Derrick Harkins to Lead Democrats' Faith Outreach

As President Obama gears up his re-election campaign, the Democratic National Committee has tapped a well-connected Washington pastor to lead the party's religious outreach.

harkins.jpg

The Rev. Derrick Harkins is senior pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, one of Washington's oldest historically black churches, where Obama and his family worshipped right before his inauguration.

Harkins is also a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals, a nationwide umbrella group, and Faith in Public Life, a liberal strategy center. Earlier this month, Obama hosted NAE leaders at the White House.

"I have every expectation that people of faith will be a key part of a successful election for Democrats in 2012," Harkins said in a statement on Thursday (Oct. 20). The pastor added that he will attempt to engage religious Americans on immigration reform, Obama's new health care law and the role of religion in public life.

Joshua DuBois, who currently directs the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, ran religious outreach for Obama's 2008 campaign and helped him gain a larger percentage of Catholics, Jews, mainline Protestants and evangelicals than Sen. John Kerry's 2004 campaign. As a federally commissioned officer, DuBois now is barred from some campaign activities, including fundraising.

Harkins is stepping into a role the DNC left empty during the 2010 midterm campaign, an absence that some party insiders blamed for large swaths of religious voters turning to the GOP.

Burns Strider, one of those critical voices, praised Harkins' appointment on Thursday.

"We fail in our politics and causes when we fail to dialogue with and build relationships in our faith communities," Strider, who led faith outreach for Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, said in a statement. "Derrick has a deep and profound understanding and respect for these communities."

Patrick Gaspard, Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee, said Harkins' hiring "should be a clear sign to everyone that Democrats will be making our case to voters motivated by their faith and values in 2012."

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.

December 7, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards Dies

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of John Edwards, who coped publicly with breast cancer and marital infidelity, died today.

(This post was updated at 12 p.m. on 12/08):

"Today we remember Elizabeth Edwards who was an outspoken advocate for health-care reform and used her position of influence to speak out for those who could not get the care they needed," Sojourners posted on its politics blog. She wrote a cover story for Sojourners magazine on health care in 2008.

Adele M. Stan (who was there on behalf of the National Women's Editorial Forum) wrote on "The Original Theology of Elizabeth Edwards" at American Prospect in 2007 on her response to a question at a nonpartisan conference called BlogHer.

Asked by Beth Corbin of Americans United for Separation of Church and State to explain how her faith beliefs inform her politics, Elizabeth Edwards gave an extraordinarily radical answer: She doesn't believe in salvation, at least not in the standard Christian understanding of it, and she said as much:

"I have, I think, somewhat of an odd version of God. I do not have an intervening God. I don't think I can pray to him -- or her -- to cure me of cancer."
After the words "or her," Mrs. Edwards gave a little laugh, indicating she knew she had waded into water perhaps a bit deeper than the audience had anticipated. Then she continued:

"I appreciate other people's prayers for that [a cure for her cancer], but I believe that we are given a set of guidelines, and that we are obligated to live our lives with a view to those guidelines. And I don't that believe we should live our lives that way for some promise of eternal life, but because that's what's right. We should do those things because that's what's right."

She posted a farewell message on Facebook.

You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces—my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.

Donald Douglas at American Power looks at her statement where she says she was sustained by "my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope" and suggests that she puts her faith in something other than God.

CNN has rounded up reactions from political leaders:

Barack Obama
"In her life, Elizabeth Edwards knew tragedy and pain. Many others would have turned inward; many others in the face of such adversity would have given up. But through all that she endured, Elizabeth revealed a kind of fortitude and grace that will long remain a source of inspiration. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends."

John Kerry
"America came to know her in a different and even more personal way, as she fought back with enormous grace and dignity. She became an inspiration to so many. "

Mike Huckabee
"I was very sorry about what she's been through. And I think she showed this country and the world, an extraordinary level of courage, and not just on the physical challenges but the others that she's faced with honor and dignity."

Sarah Palin, Twitter
"Very sorry for Elizabeth Edward's family. May God comfort her kids, especially, through this tough time. God bless her family & loved ones."

Here's a profile from the local television station and a New York Times obituary.

November 3, 2010

More Pro-Life Dems Axed

Democrats lose over half of their pro-life members.

For pro-life Democrats, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad election day.

When Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his coalition of pro-life Democrats cast their vote for the final health care bill in the House, they were called turncoats by some, profiles in courage by others. Today, most of them have a new label: unemployed.

All told, three out of five members of the Stupak coalition will not return in January. Stupak and four others opted not to run for reelection. Alan Mollohan (WV-1) was defeated in the primary. Another sixteen lost in the general election yesterday.

The ones that retained their seats did so because they faced little serious opposition. Sanford Bishop (D, GA-2) was one exception. In August and early October, Bishop was viewed as fairly secure. Recent polls, however, had showed him trailing his opponent by five points. Bishop hung on last night, winning his south Georgia district.

Pro-life groups took aim at several of Stupak's coalition. The efforts paid off. Steve Driehaus(D, OH-1) and Kathleen Dahlkemper (D, PA-3) lost, as expected. James Oberstar (D, MN-8) was thought to be a stronger candidate, but he also lost. Jim Oberstar (D, MN-8) was the rare member of the Stupak coalition to win despite active campaigning against him by pro-life and pro-family groups such as CitizenLink.

But the losses of pro-life Democrats was sometimes unrelated to the health care vote. In fact, Democrats with rock solid pro-life voting records who also opposed the health care bill did worse than those in the Stupak coalition.

Such causalities from yesterday include:

-- Bobby Bright (D, AL-2)
-- James Marshall (D, GA-8)
-- Ike Skelton (D, MO-4)
-- Travis Childers (D, MS-1)
-- Gene Taylor (D, MS-4)
-- Lincoln Davis (D, TN-4)

In addition, Charles Melancon (D, LA-3) opted not to run. The pro-life Democrats remaining in the House after the election are

-- Daniel Lipinski (D, IL-3),
-- Douglas McIntyre (D, NC-7)
-- Heath Shuler (D, NC-11)
-- David Boren (D, OK-2)

In the Democratic caucus, there were (at most) 50 pro-life members, members who would be willing to cosponsor and vote for many pro-life bills. Starting in January, that number will be just 20. And of these, only a handful would be considered pro-life by national pro-life organizations.

Editor's note: See more details in the story posted on our website today.
This post has been updated to reflect that Charles Melancon is from Louisiana.

November 3, 2010

Have Democrats Lost Faith in Faith-Based Outreach?

As Democrats conduct a grim postmortem on Tuesday's (Nov. 2) elections, some liberal leaders say one diagnosis is already clear: the party's outreach to religious voters was lifeless from the
start.

Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008 in part because they wrested Catholics and some white Protestants from Republicans' tight grip. Gains among those voters helped elect Democrats in rural and suburban areas that had long been GOP
strongholds.

But in 2010, progressive leaders say, Democrats largely retreated to the same-old wonky language to explain their policies, and same-old political strategies to drum up voters -- with predictable results.

"One of the ironies is that we had huge success with (faith outreach)," said Eric Sapp, a partner at Eleison Group, a consulting firm that worked on religious outreach for dozens of Democratic campaigns in 2006 and 2008 -- but none this year.

"It's part of why we are in power. It's been rough to see us go back to that pre-2004 strategy that had kept us in the minority."

Democrats, at least in the House, will again be in the minority, and their party's hard-won gains among religious voters are largely gone. Sixty percent of weekly churchgoers voted for House GOP candidates on Tuesday, according to exit polls. Nearly seven in 10 white Protestants punched their ballot for the GOP, a six-percent surge from 2008, and up eight points from 2006.

Catholics swung even harder toward the GOP, according to the exit polls, with 54 percent voting for House Republicans, compared to 42 percent in 2008, and 44 percent in 2006. Catholics and Protestants combined to make up nearly 80 percent of the electorate on Tuesday.

Lackluster commitment from party leaders, a failure to connect their policies with moral values, and the dire economy all explain Democrats' lack of success with religious voters, according to politicos and faith leaders.

"The God gap doesn't explain these election results," said Mike McCurry, a White House press secretary under Bill Clinton who has encouraged Democrats' faith-based outreach. "It was driven by real anxiety people feel about the economy and their future -- but there are moral and ethical components to that, too."

In previous elections, the Democratic National Committee hired staffers for Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and evangelical outreach. This year, those jobs are not filled, said the Rev. Regena Thomas, the DNC's director of faith and constituent outreach.

Thomas, a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, said she organized conference calls and events on religion with black women, state party chairs, and college Democrats. In some areas, however, religion was subsumed within other programs -- such as Hispanic and gay outreach, Thomas said.

"Staff responsible for constituencies were responsible for adding faith outreach to that," she said.

But McCurry said religion "is not something you tack on to the end of your game plan. It's fundamentally at the heart of how you connect with voters, who clearly drifted from the Democratic Party last night."

Sapp said party leaders spent little money on religious outreach, signaling to rank-and-file Democrats that they shouldn't either.

"A lot of campaigns we worked on in the past wanted to do this stuff, but they didn't have the funding," he said. "And they worried if they spent a lot of money on this they wouldn't get support from the national committees."

Continue reading Have Democrats Lost Faith in Faith-Based Outreach? ...

November 2, 2010

Pro-Life Democrats Continue to Falter

We’re focusing on Democrats who supported a ban on abortion funding in the health care reform law but voted for the final bill. There were 32 of these Democrats running for re-election. About half of the candidates faced tough fights for reelection.

Where They’re Losing

Ohio and Pennsylvania were not kind to the Democrats we’re tracking.

In Pennsylvania, Christopher Carney (D, PA 10), Kathleen Dahlkemper (D, PA 3), and Paul Kanjorski (D, PA 11) went down in defeat. Dahlkemper had a strong pro-life record, but her vote on health care raised the ire of pro-life groups, targeted by both CitizenLink and the Susan B. Anthony List.

Ohio voters called home similar Democrats where Charles Wilson (D, OH 6) and John Boccieri (D, OH 16) were also defeated. Steve Driehaus (D, OH 1) is likely to be defeated, too. Driehaus made headlines when he filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission over a campaign billboard by the Susan B. Anthony List. The billboard said Driehaus supported federal funding of abortion. Driehaus said the billboard was false. The case was not decided before the election.

In West Virginia, two of the three representatives were pro-life Democrats. One, however, never made it past the Democratic primaries. Alan Mollohan (D, WV 1) was defeated by Mike Oiverio, who is also pro-life. This race is still too close to call.

In the 3rd District, Nick Rahall defeated his Republican opponent Elliott Maynard. Rahall has a long pro-life voting record, but he upset pro-life groups when he backed the final version of the health care bill. As a result, West Virginia Right to Life and National Right to Life endorsed his opponent.

The pro-life Democrats did not do better further south.

Jim Marshall (D, GA 8) is one of two Georgia pro-life Democrats packing up his office. Unlike the other Democrats we're watching tonight, he had a 100 percent vote record on pro-life issues, according to Americans United for Life Action. He lost to Republican Austin Scott. Sanford Biship (D, GA 2) also lost. His pro-life record is weaker than some of the other Democrats we're watching, but he did vote for the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to eliminate federal funding of abortion in the health care bill.

Incumbent Bob Etheridge may lose his seat in North Carolina's 2nd District in an election that proved to be much closer race than expected. However, Heath Shuler (D, NC 11) who had a near-perfect pro-life record, according to Americans United for Life Action (including opposition to the final health care law) won handily.

Where They’re Winning

The election did indicate that Democrats who cast pro-life votes can win. One of the places they were safer were in districts with higher Catholic or urban populations. Democrats kept seats in New England such as Richard Neal (D, MA-2), Michael Michaud (D, ME 2), and James Langevin (D, RI 2). Pro-life voting Democrats held by Silvestre Reyes (D, TX-16), Timothy Ryan (D, OH-17), Michael Doyle (D, PA-14), Marcy Kaptur (D, OH-9), Jim Cooper (D, TN-5), and Jerry Costello (D, IL-12). Democrats are also expected to keep pro-life leaning districts in California.

Where They’re Waiting

With races still close to call, we’re still waiting for final results from a number of races. Most of these, however, appear to be going against the Democrats.

Bob Etheridge (D, NC-2)
Christopher Carney (D, PA-10)
Ciro Rodriguez (D, TX-23)
Dale Kildee (D, MI-5)
Henry Cuellar (D, TX-28)
James Oberstar (D, MN-8)
John Boccieri (D, OH-16)
John Salazar (D, CO-3)
John Spratt (D, SC-5)
Paul Kanjorski (D, PA-11)
Solomon Ortiz (D, TX-27)
Steve Driehaus (D, OH-1)

Hopefully, we’ll know more by daybreak.

November 2, 2010

Pro-life Democrats See Cuts

We're keeping a close eye on races involving pro-life Democrats. If the results go as expected, the number of pro-life votes from Democrats could be cut in half. We're particularly interested in the election outcomes of those who supported the final version of the health care law.

There are 33 House races involving Democrats who voted for the original Stupak-Pitts Amendment (which would have banned abortion funding in the health care bill) and final passage of the health care bill (which did not include the Stupak-Pitts amendment). About half of these are facing tough fights tonight.

Two of the first districts with results may prove to be bellwethers for these pro-life Democrats. Joe Donnelly (D, IN-2) narrowly won his bid for reelection despite being the target of pro-life groups, including CitizenLink. The district, which includes South Bend, was targeted because it was a close district that could go Republican. Further south, Indiana's 9th district proved to be a easier ground for the GOP. Republican Todd Young defeated incumbent Democrat Baron Hill who has represented the district for five terms.

Other results coming in are in districts that were leaning strongly toward the Republicans. In 2008, Tom Perriello (D, VA-5) won the district by less than one thousand votes. In this midterm election, the former human rights lawyer did not pull out another squeaker. Robert Hurt, the Republican, easily won the 5th District back for the GOP.

There are still a dozen close races yet to be called. Votes in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other eastern states should be counted soon.

June 1, 2010

Al and Tipper Gore Separating

Former Vice President Al Gore is separating from his wife, Tipper, just two weeks after celebrating their 40th anniversary.

In an e-mail obtained by the Associated Press and Politico, the Gores said it was "a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration." The Gores met at a high-school graduation dance, were married on May 19, 1970, and have four children. In 2002, Al and Tipper Gore wrote two books on family values: Joined at the Heart and Spirit of Family.

CT profiled Al Gore as a presidential candidate in 2000, before he eventually lost to Republican George W. Bush. CT also covered some of his environmental work, advocacy that eventually led to the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

May 24, 2010

Where's the Democratic Faith Outreach?

The Democrats were all about faith in the 2008 election, sponsoring official faith-based panels at the Democratic National Convention and nominating a candidate who spoke openly about his faith. In contrast, the Republicans held one unadvertised prayer breakfast with muffins and plastic cups of orange juice in a renovated bar-turned-church, and their nominee rarely spoke about his faith.

Leading up to the 2010 elections, however, the Democratic National Committee's faith staff of more than a half-dozen has shifted to one part-time employee, Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post reports.

[Former Virginia Governor Tim] Kaine, who chairs the DNC, and other party leaders say the decrease in paid faith staff reflects a change in how the party does outreach -- not a shift away from religious voters. The party, at the behest of the White House, has reshaped how it reaches out to all constituency groups and has opted to expand its network of grass-roots volunteers and shrink its national staff of organizers who were in the past broken down by race and religion.

Although a party spokesman said its faith outreach staff had been dismantled when Obama took office, Kaine said that a staff member who also does African American outreach has been assigned to oversee faith as well but had been on a medical leave. The party will be hiring more faith staff and crafting a faith outreach plan as the fall election season gets closer, said Kaine, who rejected the idea that the effort was diminishing on his watch.

Boorstein reports that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent more than $82,000 on faith outreach in 2008, but a spokesperson couldn't name expenses for 2009 or 2010. The Eleison Group, which does faith consulting, worked on more than 40 campaigns in 2008, but it has no 2010 national campaign contracts right now.

April 9, 2010

Bart Stupak to Retire

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), who led an amendment to block federal funding for abortion in health care but alienated pro-life groups when he voted for the Senate version of the bill, will retire at the end of his term.

Earlier, Family Research Council Action planned to spend $500,000 and Susan B. Anthony List planned to spend $150,000 on ad campaigns targeting Stupak and other Democrats who voted for the health care bill. Stupak, who served in Congress for 18 years, told the Associated Press that attacks from groups on abortion did not influence his decision and that he wanted to spend more time with his family and start a new career.

In a Wall Street Journal column last month, William McGurn suggested the end of pro-life Democrats.

Update: FRC sent a press release praising Stupak's pro-life stance, blaming the Democratic Party for his legacy.

It is a shame that he will leave Congress remembered more for his vote on the Obama health care bill, the largest abortion promoting piece of legislation in the last 30 years.

Rep. Stupak's fall lies directly at the feet of the Democratic congressional leadership and President Obama, who pushed their support of government funding of abortion over the principles of pro-life Members of their own party. Although Rep. Stupak certainly is responsible for the decision he made to endorse the Obama plan, the severe demands his President and Party placed on him were untoward and unremitting.

March 26, 2010

Dem. Pro-life Group is Dissenting Voice

When the House sent a sweeping health care bill to President Obama Sunday, most of the nation's leading pro-life groups slammed it as a proposal that would liberalize the nation's abortion laws and increase the abortion rate.

But Democrats for Life America and its executive director Kristen Day were casting a dramatically different message, arguing that the bill was not only pro-life but that the nation's abortion rate likely would decrease.

For months, Democrats for Life had been working on the same side of organizations such as National Right to Life, the Family Research Council and the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in trying to ensure that the health care bill maintained the status quo on abortion law and did not federally fund the procedure. Yet when Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan announced a deal Sunday that lent his support if Obama pledged to sign an executive order, Democrats for Life was the only group not disappointed. It sent out a press release hours later saying it was "proud to support this historic health care legislation."

"The goal was always to pass a health care reform bill," Day told Baptist Press. "All these [pro-life] members and Democrats for Life supported health care reform, and the point of contention obviously was the abortion issue.... We're proud that this health care legislation passed and we're proud of the work that Bart did. We appreciate that the president signed this executive order that says the Hyde Amendment is the law of the land."

The Hyde Amendment -- which must be renewed annually -- prevents Medicaid from funding elective abortions. President Obama signed the bill, named the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, into law Tuesday.

Generally, groups that oppose abortion have divided into two camps in theorizing how the bill will impact the nation's abortion rates. National Right to Life and others argue that the nation likely will see an increase in abortions because lower-income women who currently are uninsured will be able to use tax subsidies to purchase insurance plans that cover elective abortion, making the procedure affordable and more accessible. (The new law's allowance of tax dollars to go toward insurance plans that cover elective abortions is a break from longstanding policy.) Democrats for Life, though, says the abortion rate likely will decrease because uninsured women who previously would have had an abortion for financial reasons will be less likely to do so because they and their baby now have insurance coverage.

Continue reading Dem. Pro-life Group is Dissenting Voice ...

March 12, 2010

Democrats Plan to Push Health Care Despite Some Opposition on Abortion

Democratic leaders plan to push through the Senate's version of the health care bill with or without the support of pro-life Democrats, the Associated Press reports.

That strategy would leave in place the Senate language on abortion. It would allow health plans receiving federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace to cover abortion, provided they pay for it only with money collected from policyholders. The House bill would have prohibited health plans receiving subsidies from covering abortions.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., has been pushing for the stricter House provisions, saying that he and a dozen or so abortion opponents would vote against the health care bill if the Senate language is retained. But the leadership appears to be moving to call his bluff.

However, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said he doesn't believe they have enough votes to pass the legislation by President Obama's March 18 deadline.

"I don't see how they're going to get the votes to pass healthcare, no matter what procedure they use, if they want to do it by March 18th," Stupak said last night on Fox News. "I don't see it."

Yesterday, a group of progressive evangelicals sent a letter to the House in support of the Senate's version of the bill, saying that the "longstanding restrictions on federal funding of abortion have been maintained." The group included President of Evangelicals for Social Action Ron Sider, President of Sojourners Jim Wallis, pastor of Northland Church Joel Hunter, and David Gushee, chair of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Tobin Grant writes more at CT about how other advocacy groups are addressing health care.

May 27, 2009

Democratic Club Attempting to Regain Status at Liberty University

Members of Liberty University's Democratic Club met with Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. today to develop a proposal that would let the club regain official status while promoting a pro-life agenda, according to the local newspaper.

liberty.JPG

On Monday, Falwell wrote on the university's website that the club can continue to meet on campus but will no longer be officially recognized.

"Liberty University is pro-life and believes that marriage between one man and one woman provides the best environment for children," he said. "Liberty University will not lend its name or
financial support to any student group that advances causes contrary to its mission."

Ray Reed writes that the club is drafting an apology to the school and a retraction of some statements it made to the news media last week that accused university administrator Mark Hine of saying a person could not be both a Democrat and a Christian.

April 28, 2009

Specter To Switch Parties, Republicans May Lose Filibuster Power

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania caused a surprising turn of events for Washington today when he said he would switch to the Democratic party, possibly taking away enough Republican's Senate filibuster votes.

If Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next senator from Minnesota, and Specter successfully switches parties when he runs again in 2010, the Democrats will be able to advance President Obama's agenda more smoothly.

March 27, 2009

More March Madness

Sen. Robert Casey, Democrat of Pa., has backed out of giving the commencement address at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. The college, where former President George W. Bush gave the address (and stirred a lot of his own controversy) two years ago, is headed by Jim Towey, Bush's former director of the Faith-based Initiative.

What, you thought the headline referred to basketball?

(Originally published at Religion News Service's blog.)

November 6, 2008

No Hope for Sen. Lieberman?

lieberman.jpg

FATEFUL FRIENDS? Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman (right).

President-elect Barack Obama's honeymoon with conservatives may not last until Thanksgiving Day if partisan Democrats serve up the head of Conn. Sen. Joe Lieberman on a platter.

Sen. Lieberman, who's a so-called independent Democrat and serves as a Homeland Security committee chairman in the Senate, may be living on borrowed time not only for sticking his finger in the eyes of fellow Democrats and Obama himself, but also for his support for the war in Iraq, during the election season.

Of course, now that the election is over, Sen. Lieberman is sorta saying, "Never mind..." Here's what he had to say at a post-election press statement:

"Now that the election is over, it is time to put partisan considerations aside and come together as a nation to solve the difficult challenges we face and make our blessed land stronger and safer... I pledge to work with President-elect Obama and his incoming administration in their efforts to reinvigorate our economy and keep our nation secure and free."

Sen. Lieberman met this week with Senate Majority Leader Reid. So far, so good. Reid seems willing to at least publicly take a wait and see stance about Lieberman's position in the Democratic caucus and leadership role.

Why should evangelicals care? The fate of Lieberman provides a political test for the incoming, fist-bumping Team Obama. If Lieberman takes it in the neck, that will mean either Obama lost an early power struggle with fellow Democrats or tacitly approved.

Lieberman's legislative record is very mixed. He's extremely pro-choice, but, of course, a strong supporter of Israel and the war in Iraq.

Watch Lieberman's fate as an early indicator of what will happen in the new Congress and new administration.

If you wish to explore all the ties with conservatives, be sure to see the Wikipedia entry on Lieberman (click here), and you can form your own opinion about "The Bush Kiss."

August 29, 2008

The view from the floor

Ted and Collin made astute observations about Barack Obama's acceptance speech and the benediction tonight.

fullinvesco.jpg

I'm honestly wiped out.

Invesco Field was packed with Obama supporters, stomping their feet and yelling the "Yes we can" slogan.

It felt like a football game, thanks to long lines for drinks and the fallen nachos crunching under my feet.

The fireworks set to cheesy music were pretty grand, but then finding my way out and getting around Denver has been a little nightmarish this entire week.

barackobama.jpg

Here are a few photos to give you a better picture of tonight's event. If you look very, very closely at the second one, that's Barack Obama.

During 'the traditional values' portion of Obama's speech, the crowd seemed to get the most excited about his last part about same-sex marriage.

"We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination."


Photos by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today.

August 28, 2008

Because This Blog Needs More Don Miller

Sarah promised she would not post any more on Don Miller. So I guess it's up to me to point you to Miller's correspondence with Obama, which he has posted on his new blog.

August 28, 2008

The Other Benediction

After Hunter came Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose final words of the Democratic Convention were a kind of benediction of her own:

"Now let us go forward and work hard to elect Democrats at every level of government and to send Barack Obama and Joe Biden to the White House to take our country in a new direction. To make the change America needs. Yes we can. Yes we can. Yes we can. God bless you. God bless America. Amen."

Amen? "God bless America" is a frequent closer for politicians. But can anyone name me someone else who tags it with "Amen"?

August 28, 2008

Joel Hunter's Benediction

Yes, he prayed in Jesus' name. But I don't think I've ever seen that long of a preface to praying in Jesus' name.

Not familiar with Joel Hunter? Francis FitzGerald had a recent profile in The New Yorker that's worth reading.

A transcript of the benediction after the jump, along with a few words from Hunter's blog about why he accepted the invitation to give the benediction even though he's a Republican.

Continue reading Joel Hunter's Benediction...

August 28, 2008

Obama's Code Language

Democratic nominee borrows from New Testament.

I doubt any commentators will accuse Sen. Barack Obama of using religious code language in his acceptance speech. Yet two famous New Testament passages made an appearance. As is typical of civil religion today, God was replaced by the "American promise."

"Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend," Obama said, borrowing from 2 Corinthians 4:18.

Obama then concluded his remarks this way: "Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess."

This statement comes from Hebrews 10:23. But the context of this passage explains something far more beautiful than the American promise. "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb. 10:19-22).

Editor's Update: There's some confusion in the comments below, so some explanation may be helpful. Collin Hansen wrote this, but was having trouble posting it. So Ted Olsen posted it to the blog. The first comment (which begins, "Your observation is a shrewd one") is from John Hubers. The second is from Bethany Pledge Erickson, and so forth. (Oh, I didn't realize you'd gotten married, Bethany! A belated congratulations to you.)

August 28, 2008

Historic Moment ... From Our Sponsors

One CNN commentator (I think it was Campbell Brown) stopped talking when Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter got up to speak after Obama's acceptance speech, encouraging viewers just to hold off one moment for the benediction. Hunter got in about four words before Wolf Blitzer jumped in. "Well, let's not interrupt our discussion of what a historic moment this is. If people want to see what's going on at the podium, they can go to CNN.com. And we'll be continuing our discussion right after this break."

That's why they call it the Almighty Dollar, I guess.

August 28, 2008

The Abortion Line

I'm just watching on TV. Sarah Pulliam is actually at Invesco. But it sure seemed like the abortion line got a lot of applause.

August 28, 2008

Speaker: How the 'Obama Is a Muslim' E-mail Made Me an Obama Voter

An interesting testimony from Monica Early from Cuyahoga Falls, who says the circulating e-mail that says he's a secret Muslim led her eventually to support the candidate.

Early's my.BarackObama.com page says she supports Obama because "he speaks to my spiritual beliefs."

August 28, 2008

The 'Traditional Values' Part of Obama's Speech

Not a lot of God talk in Obama's speech tonight, but there will be talk about abortion, same-sex marriage, and traditional values (as well as a promise to "end our dependence on oil from the Middle East" in ten years). From the prepared remarks:

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can’t just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose - our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

August 28, 2008

Joel Hunter: I Got Graham's Advice on Benediction

Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter told Beliefnet editor Steve Waldman and me that Billy Graham gave him advice in what to pray for tonight's benediction.

"We had this fairly long communication where I was just saying, 'Hey give me some counsel here.' The gist is, he saw this as a magnificent opportunity. He said, 'I'm proud that somebody of your stature gets to do this.' He just gave me some council, 'Just say what God gives you to say.' He's so frail, he can't hear right now, so his assistant was the one who sat down with him. It takes him a while now to communicate. His assistant was the one who was telling me all of this.

"He said he'd be praying for me, and he'll be watching."

August 28, 2008

Why Cameron Strang's inbox is overflowing

Founder of Relevant Magazine Cameron Strang has received more than 3,000 every day since he backed out of giving the benediction at the Democratic National Convention. He’s still standing, though, and gave a brief address at the faith caucus today.

Tell me about the reaction you’ve been getting.
Since your story got out, and I had to respond to your story on my blog, things hit the fan. You did a story and then the AP, CNN, Fox News and other places have inquired. The message that I’ve tried to explain is that there are areas of correctness and incorrectness with both parties.

My potential involvement with the DNC this week was simply as an opportunity to build bridges and emphasizes areas of agreement, build on common ground. I thought my involvement in praying would be perceived on national television as an unequivocal endorsement and it just gave me pause so I backed out.

Since then, the extreme right wing, the fact that I have the audacity of saying that some Democrats might have it right in some areas, or that I’m not sure who I’m going to vote for yet, that automatically means to the extreme right wing that I am going to hell. And they have no hesitation of telling me so, or sending me pictures of aborted babies.

The extreme left wing says I’m everything wrong with Christianity, that I’m a coward. Everybody’s entitled to their opinions. I’m just trying to navigate these waters, unchartered territories the best way I know how and that’s to talk about my convictions.

What about the reaction from the campaign, are they upset?
Their job is to promote that their candidate is the right candidate, so if somebody has hesitation in making the same declaration, … obviously, they’re not thrilled, nor would the RNC be thrilled about a similar declaration. I understand where they’re coming from, and that was not my intention to make them look bad. I’ve talked about the positive and proactive thing that the Obama campaign has done to emphasize agreement with young Christians. I think that that’s admirable.

I think it’s incredible that they gave Donald Miller the benediction in my place. They value our voice and our involvement, that’s huge credit to them. The same thing right now can’t be said about the McCain campaign or the RNC. They have not talked about things, they aren’t talking about the things that matter to us proactively. I’m sure they will. I think that that’s an absolute credit to the Democrats that they’ve seized this opportunity. I’m here today to continue the dialogue and show support for the areas where we agree. It’s not an all or nothing thing for me.

Are you going to the RNC?
It’s funny, the Obama campaign goes to us. Whenever the Obama campaign comes to us, I go to the McCain campaign so as not to be perceived as favoritism. I got the invitation to come to the DNC and I reached out to the RNC to say, ‘Are young Christians at the table?’ Not necessarily me, but are we involved? The only thing I’ve heard is, ‘We’ll get back to you.’

Am I going to be at the RNC? Not as of now. If they wake up to it eventually, better late than never I guess. Definitely, the Democrats are taking the lead in reaching out to the young, Christian vote.

August 28, 2008

A peek into Obama's view of faith

Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine University Law School revealed a portion of the meeting Barack Obama had with religious leaders in Chicago a few months ago in the faith caucus this afternoon.

"Franklin Graham asked him, 'Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life?'
"Sen. Obama paused and he thought. And he thought very carefully. He said, Reverend, he is my way.
"(Graham) No, no, is he THE way? Of course, the Reverend was making a point.
"(Kmiec) Our senator, the next president of the United States, a man of great intelligence and great integrity and great honesty, even if he’s not speaking in a place where he’s completely welcome. His message is consistent. No, Reverend, the person in my life who was of great service and most wonderful exemplar was my mother, and she never had the blessing of baptism. It is my understanding of faith that I will see her again in eternity. That she was not lost to salvation. One can dispute the theology, one can dispute the traditions, one can’t dispute the senator’s faith, commitment, his love of family and his authenticity. Barack Obama’s the real deal, and even Republicans can see it."

August 28, 2008

Howard Dean appears at faith caucus

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, made a surprise appearance at the faith caucus this afternoon. His microphone was muffled, so here are the portions I could catch:

"For those of you who are from new England … you know it’s hard to talk about religion. I think we’ve made a lot of progress for the last couple of years.

"We in the Democratic party don’t believe that you have to change your values in order to cater to people of faith. I mean broadly including people who are evangelicals … faith is faith. Faith in God is something that is common to human beings.

"We talk about faith differently than Republicans do. In this party, we have other values that matter to us. We talk about respecting everybody’s faith.

"It is important for us to use an important word - separation of church and state. Everybody is entitled to follow their faith. It was the dream of the founding fathers. We speak differently about our faith, it doesn’t mean it’s less important. It matters how you live, not necessarily what you say every Sunday.

"We are reaching out to voters of faith, let voters of faith decide which party represents their values."

August 28, 2008

Instead of sleeping

News never seems to stop here in Denver.

At least 500 church members expect to serve about 50,000 meals to emergency workers by the end of this week, and tonight I watched them dish the food.

About 23 churches in Denver became involved in the project called "Love Denver," a massive project to reach out to the people in charge of keeping the city safe.

"Someone else who has been around for a long time was saying that this is the largest undertaking of the southern Baptist churches in Denver," said Denise Blythe, a pastor at Riverside Baptist. "I don't know of anything that has come together in this size."

The group I followed left just before 1 a.m. to prepare food during a six-hour shift for several police officers sitting in the lounge in a hotel. The volunteers in bright green t-shirts prepared sandwiches, fajitas, apples, tea, coffee, energy bars, and other food for the officers.

"When all this is done, they'll be licking their wounds," co-coordinator Bill Winter said. "We just want to serve them."

August 28, 2008

What it means to be a pro-life Democrat

Congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois finds it very challenging to be a pro-life in a party that unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade. He is one of 17 Democrats given 100 percent pro-life rating by the National Right to Life Committee, and we spoke at a Democrats for Life reception earlier this evening.

What obstacles do you face as a pro-life Democrat?
It’s always a difficult issue for a pro-life Democrat, because the Democratic Party is not going to have a pro-life platform. It’s not going to happen. It’s very unfortunate, but I think it’s very important for the Democratic Party to have pro-life party. As some of my pro-life Democratic colleagues say, it’s no use preaching to the choir. You have to go out and evangelize. We just have to keep working on fellow Democrats. It’s a tough position to be in. I think the party from the top and leadership has been much more open to pro-life Democrats. Unfortunately, there are still some groups really trying to get rid of pro-life Democrats. I had a tough primary. I people come up to me and ask me, ‘what are you doing in the Democratic Party?’ The pro-choice groups gave funding to my opponent.

Why are you a Democrat?
I believe in so much of what the Democrats stand for, basically standing up for middle class families, for working people. I believe the government does have a role in some important areas of our society, helping to protect the environment, helping to protect workers, seniors. I think there are some places where they should be involved and I think it’s much better with the Democratic Party than with the Republican Party. But it’s not easy being a pro-life Democrat. So t’s not easy in the Democratic party. I have a lot of a pro-life constituents, too.

Why are you pro-life?
Because I believe life begins at conceptions. It comes from my faith as a Catholic. I don’t think it’s the only place that it comes from. Ever individual has to make a decision about when life began. Why draw a line somewhere else? We were all once an embryo. With the proper conditions, the natural conditions, I think an embryo becomes a child. That’s where we all started from, and that is where I think the line should be drawn. I think drawing lines in other places leaves room for where do we draw that line? I believe in the sanctity of life and it’s something I feel very strongly about.

I truly believe that the Democratic Party, especially now, has a better view of the future and where we should be going, but it’s not perfect. I’m willing to, when I think the Democratic Party is wrong, I’m willing to say it. I’m willing to speak up and willing vote for what I think is right.

What about Barack Obama?
I wish Barack Obama were pro-life. He’s not. I don’t have any expectation that in the future the Democrats are going to have a pro-life presidential candidate. Its disappointing to me, but I am a Democrat and will support the party.

August 28, 2008

Any Movement on Abortion?

Reader Fred Tennedy writes:

"how can you not realize that the Democratic plank is more pro-abortion than it has been? Any "pro-lifers" who think they are getting even a crumb are truly deceived!"

I think that for pro-lifers the platform was one step forward, one step back. The step forward was language promoting policies that will help make it easier for women to carry a baby to term. The step back was the strengthened advocacy for Roe v. Wade and (arguably) the loss of the "safe, legal and rare" language.

But I will say this: I've never seen so many pro-life Democrats being given platforms to speak. The opening interfaith service featured a vivid declaration against abortion by the lead speaker, Bishop Blake. The official DNC Faith Caucus panel featured a strong speech from former Rep. Tim Roemer advocating a 95% reduction in abortion. Bob Casey, the son of the man who was blocked from the 1992 convention for his pro-life views, had a prime time speech last night (though not about abortion). There's a Democrats for Life event later today, and Catholics in Alliance just released an interesting study making the case for a Democratic-style abortion reduction agenda.

Now, none of this will mean much if Obama himself doesn't get fully behind this (especially given the controversy over the Born Alive bill). He made some positive comments about it at the Saddleback forum. The next test will be whether the campaign actually issues a plan for reducing abortions and whether he and Biden push the idea more persistently.

This article is cross-posted from Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.

August 27, 2008

Minnery disappointed by religious outreach, not thrilled with McCain

Tom Minnery, a senior vice president with Focus on the Family, is attending many of the religious outreach events at the Democratic National Convention this week. He spoke with me about the Democrat’s religious outreach and the challenges Sen. John McCain has to overcome with evangelical voters.

What do you think so far?
I was entirely disappointed in their supposed outreach to conservative evangelical believers. It was a fraud. There was a panel, a faith forum, how can progressives work with conservative, religious people. Not a single conservative among then nine speakers and it was tired old leftist dogma. There was absolutely no discussion about responsible fatherhood. There was not a single solution proposed that didn’t involve the government.

What did you think about the interfaith service?
It’s interfaith as long as it’s on the left. I didn’t see a prominent conservative leader speak. Rev. [Blake] who spoke about the evil of abortion, I suspect he won’t be part of the interfaith dialogue in the future. It doesn’t exist. What a shame. I was hoping to see if there was real fruit in this dialogue in the supposed reach out to conservatives. They now have a candidate Barack Obama who is comfortable talking about religion, but his is a traditional liberal theological viewpoint and they went with the flow. Jim Wallis is an increasing disappointment. He may be evangelical theologically, but politically he’s liberal. Rick Warren said last week in that interview with the Wall Street Journal that his book is an agenda of the Democratic Party and I agree with that.

What about the Democrats’ efforts to reduce abortion?
There’s only a reason that abortions should be reduced, and that’s for the very same reason it should be eliminated. If it’s not life, what’s the problem with it?

What about John McCain? He’s struggled to talk about his own faith.
He does. I’m not sure of the extent of his saving faith if there is one. We as evangelicals would have hoped to hear a lot more. I hope those who are Christians who are around him are talking to him. He usually talks about that Vietnam soldier’s faith. It loosened his bonds, scratching a cross in the dirt, I’ve heard that about six times. He does seem to have viable Judeo-Christian worldview, which means that things of God are significant, the church needs to be vigorous and independent, he knows the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.

Continue reading Minnery disappointed by religious outreach, not thrilled with McCain...

August 27, 2008

Democrats for Life practice what they preach

A couple of the people involved with Democrats for Life went a couple of blocks over and cut potatoes at the Denver Rescue Mission for a dinner for the homeless.

kristenday.jpg

Earlier this afternoon, the group met to talk about ways to preserve life from conception to natural death.

The Rocky Mountain News has an update on the state's plans for the homeless.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless ditched plans to hand out 500 movie tickets and to visit the Denver Zoo, museums, and other cultural centers.

"But the DNC plan caused a public flap, and a volunteer told the Rocky in July that it 'sounds like another way to get rid of them,'" Denise Malan writes.

Malan writes that the coalition is hosting a lunch and three events this week to register homeless people to vote and to raise awareness about homeless issues.

Photo of Kristen Day, President of Democrats for Life, by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today.

August 27, 2008

Rep. Shuler wants more diversity in the platform

Rep. Heath Shuler spoke with me about the Democratic platform on abortion for about 40 seconds after the Democrats for Life Forum.

shuler.jpg

Shuler is a pro-life Democrat and a new Congressman from North Carolina.

"Obviously reducing the number is very important. There are other issues that I have a lot of difficulty with.

But I think with the panel we have today, and what I feel the influence of the blue dog members – Lincoln Davis and Bob Casey – we can strengthen that.

My hope is to say that within the platform of the Democratic Party, there is diversity and that we do have people who are pro-life."

Photo by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today.

August 27, 2008

Democrats for Life event focuses on pregnant women

The Democrats for the Life event turned into mostly a couple of speeches on taking care of pregnant women.

Sen. Bob Casey from Pennsylvania drew a crowd of media behind him, but his speech did not not really address abortion.

bobcasey.jpg

A few of Casey's remarks: "One area where I think we can bring both sides together, in my judgment, the only way we can bring sides together is to come together on a central priority ... and that priority is pregnant women. What our government and society should do is show solidarity with a woman who is facing a crisis pregnancy. If the law of the land is that a woman has a choice to make, that she has a constitutional right to have an abortion. We ought to also make sure that she has the choice to carry that child to term."

Rep. Heath Shuler, a Baptist from North Carolina said, "The Democrats have it right when it comes from birth to natural death. Whether or not women have access to health care, that's pro-life. We have to make sure all children, unborn or throughout the entire life, that they can count on Congress on this issue."

Rep. Lincoln Davis, a Southern Baptist from Tennessee, spoke on the reduction of abortion.

"It is a blessing to know that at least for the first time our Democratic platform ? has made abortion reduction as a major part of the platform," Davis said. "We need to start giving assistance to those ladies ? who see no hope other than abortion."

Photo of Casey by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today.

August 27, 2008

Democrats for life and Democrats for choice

I'm about to go into the Democrats for Life event where pro-choice Democrat Bob Tuke & pro-life Democrats Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Lincoln Davis will speak.

demsforchoice.jpg

I ran down to the convention center to look for examples for some of the abortion protesters I've seen holding megaphones and posters of bloody babies.

Instead, volunteers for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice were handing out stickers with the slogan "Pro-Faith, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice!"

I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but their event is almost at the exact same time as the Democrats for Life group.

Photo by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today.

August 27, 2008

Video: Donald Miller's wish list

I promise this is my last post on Donald Miller, who gave the benediction last night at the Democratic National Convention.

He accepted the invitation last week after Relevant founder Cameron Strang backed out, he spoke with me yesterday and then prayed after Michelle Obama's keynote last night.

I overheard a conversation today that pointed out that although Miller used the name of Jesus, he seemed to emphasize the word "I." He said, "I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice." Why do you think he worded it that way?

Here's the video I took of our interview yesterday in a restaurant. I cut down the full interview for those with short attention spans, but he said something later I found noteworthy when I asked him about negative reaction he has received. He said, "It's interesting that you could do something scandalous like deny the trinity and get less flack than support a Democrat for president."

The video focuses on the issues he believes should be important to the Democratic Party.

August 26, 2008

Former faith-based initiatives director praises Obama's plan

I caught up with John DiIulio, the first director of President Bush's office of faith-based and community initiatives after the faith caucuses today. DiIulio quit his job after only seven months on the job because of a struggle with Congress to get financial support for the office.

Is Barack Obama’s plan for the faith-based initiatives better than President Bush's?
I don’t think it’s better, but I think it’s different. It’s got sort of a thicker operational spine at this stage than I will say at this stage in 2000 either the plans Gore or Bush plans had. It’s also got a much broader vision behind it. It’s not just about faith-based and grants, it’s an idea about labor and business representatives. When he talked in July, he had a line when he talks about the faith based office or council being a moral center of his administration, that was intimating or suggesting this notion of having diverse religious leaders involved in thinking out loud about other policy issues, immigration, education, health care, the way labor and business and other sectors have usually been represented. That’s an interesting twist and different I think from before.

I know something that has been an issue has been whether organizations can hire based on religion.
It seems to me that he’s endorsing the status quo, the constitutional, the administrative, and the statutory status quo, versus those on the one side who would want to expand that so you want sort of a cart blanche. I think he’s taking a center left position. I have asked people including many of my friends in the evangelical community to tell me specifically what has been said, because there hasn’t been anything that would change the existing constitutional administrative and statutory status quo. The overall plan is very good because it focuses on getting real resources, human and financial, where hope hits the streets.

August 26, 2008

Shaun Casey's evangelical outreach

Shaun Casey, a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary is coordinating evangelical outreach for Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign. As he walked to a meeting, we spoke about how the religious outreach at this convention is different from 2004.

"It’s completely different in the sense that there were only sort of side groups talking about religion, and here it is the party itself at the heart of what it’s doing. That’s a radical departure.

What did you think about the interfaith service?
You heard a variety of views, clearly no screening of the speakers. You heard a variety of positions taken and embraced. It showed the diversity of the Democratic Party and its openness to evangelicals, there were mainliners. It was an accurate reflection of the diversity of the party.

What do you think about the Democratic platform on abortion?
It’s something that evangelicals ought to take quite seriously that the Democratic Party has made a commitment to reducing the number of abortions without reverting to criminalization. Based on my conversations with evangelicals, I think that resonates, I think a lot of evangelicals find that attractive, they find that helpful and hopeful, and it’s a reflection of who Sen. Obama is.

Barack Obama’s sympathetic, he’s open to evangelical voices, he’s serious about global poverty, domestic poverty, global climate change. I think a lot of young evangelicals will find that very, very attractive."

August 26, 2008

Little mention of abortion from Sen. Bob Casey

Sen. Bob Casey barely mentioned abortion during his speech tonight at on the floor of the Democratic National Convention.

In 1992, former Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey Sr. wanted to discuss his opposition to abortion but was denied a speaking slot. His son barely touched on the subject in his speech tonight.

"Traveling around Pennsylvania, and looking around this room, I have no doubt that is exactly what we're going to do. So now let us work together, with a leader who, as Lincoln said, appeals to the better angels of our nature. Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that I'm speaking here tonight is testament to Barack's ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him."

August 26, 2008

God-o-Meter Talks to Bob Casey Jr. Before Tonight's Convention Speech

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey Jr's landing a prime time speaking slot at the Democratic convention is another step in the party's campaign to burnish its image among pro-lifers. Casey's dad, then-Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, was famously denied a speaking role at the 1992 Democratic convention because of his pro-life views. Casey Jr. called God-o-Meter to talk about his role at the convention and to give a little preview of tonight's speech:

Many pro-life Democrats were pushing for the opportunity for you to speak at the convention because of what it would represent symbolically, since your father was famously denied a speaking role at the 1992 convention over his pro-life views. Were you pushing for a speaking slot for that same reason?

We were invited to speak by Senator Obama's campaign and were grateful for the opportunity. But when you're in your first 18 months in the Senate, you shouldn't expect it. So I didn't ask.

Did your father's experience color your own reaction to learning that you'd been accorded a speaking role during prime time?

Everybody remembers 1992, but I also have memories of the 1988 convention, when [my father] did speak about the economic struggles our state had. So I think about more than one convention. What happened in 1992 is something people are talking about, the subject of a lot of discussion, but it's important to look ahead and not just recollect about the past.

Does your inclusion on tonight's speakers' lineup send a message that the Democratic Party has changed on abortion?

The fact that I'm speaking is really a testament to Senator Obama's willingness to reach out to people who disagree with him even on important issues. It's emblematic of his ability to put coalitions together on an issue and to bring all sides together. He's not just talking about that, but acting.

Do you see signs that pro-life voters are getting that message?

It's hard to tell. A lot of what will come before voters between now and Election Day. Most of the hard work of a campaign like this and most of the weighing that voters do when they decide who to vote for will come after the convention. That's the real decision period and the time for the really hard work.

How did you decide what you're going to speak about in your limited time tonight?

I'm speaking with about ten other governors, about the economy and about what I know about Barack Obama personally and about his ideas and his personality. That'll really be the focus of almost every speech at the convention. And also trying to bring people together. If Democrats are going to make the case that they can bring the country together, it's important to bring our party together.

Will your speech address the life issue, which is what many in the party identify you with?

Yes, it will. But it's mostly a night and an opportunity when we've been invited to focus on the economy and frankly what a lot of folks are struggling with in Pennsylvania. But certainly not only that. There's been a lot of discussion about '92, but there is an obvious disagreement I have with Senator Obama and we want to make sure that people understand that difference of opinion.

One of the things that's missing in this important debate in American politics is candid and honest talk about disagreements and an honest effort to try to find common ground. It's much easier to say you don't agree with someone and to continue fighting and discontinue the dialogue. It's much harder but it's important to be honest and show respect for others that we disagree but to actually work to bring the sides together.

One way to do that, and neither party has done enough on this, is to be very supportive of pregnant women. And the Pregnant Women Support Act is the only vehicle and the best vehicle to do that. It's a challenge to the left and a challenge to the right and helps not only bring the sides together but provides affirmative options for women. When a woman becomes pregnant, for most women that's a time of happiness and joy and they look forward to bearing a child. But to some it's a crisis because they don't have the economic wherewithal and the support they need. And a lot of women feel all alone and we don't do enough to show solidarity with them. As Pope John Paul II said, we should show radically solidarity with the woman facing these challenges. This piece of legislation is the one vehicle in American government for bringing the sides together and for providing women with options.

But is Senator Obama supporting it?

He's spoken about it. I have gotten to know him on the campaign trail and he spoke about the concept when he was at Rick Warren's church. So I believe he will be supportive. We have not talked directly about the bill but it's something I will be discussing with people in both parties. It's going to take a lot of work.

Also check out God-o-Meter's interview with Senator Casey in the run-up to the Pennsylvania primaries in April.

This article is cross-posted from Beliefnet's God-o-Meter.

August 26, 2008

Faith caucus interrupted by abortion protester

Susan Thistlewaite, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, spoke at the first faith caucus and said, "I’ve been a pastor for 30 years, and I’m in favor of choice." One person shouted "Yeah!" and a few people clapped.

She then said she was in favor of a women being able to terminate a pregnancy if the other choice is not having health care or being able to provide adequate education.

A man stood up and yelled, "Are you saying it’s convenient to murder a child? Does that child have a choice?"

He was ushered out before she finished.
"I am proud of our Democratic platform because it is innovative on common ground," Thistlewaite said. "What kind of a choice can you make if you have no pre-natal care? Common ground for common good means you are not alone."

August 26, 2008

First faith caucus focuses on common good

Jim Wallis launched the Democratic National Convention faith caucuses this afternoon by listing the issues he believes is on the agenda of people of faith: poverty, climate change, immigration, the sanctity of life, Darfur, human rights, and Iraq.

"Let's be honest, religion has been used and abused by politics and by politicians. People of faith are those who should speak prophetically more than in a partisan way. It's important that we speak to those issues that are at the heart of God's heart, and try to make politics more of an accountable tool. In November, you won't be able to vote for the kingdom of God. It won't be on the ballot. There is a biblical basis for seeking the common good."

DNC CEO Leah Daughtry made a surprise, brief appearance and said she wants to make the faith caucuses a permanent part of the Democratic Party.

"I was talking with a reporter this morning, who asked about the separation from my faith from my work. I said there is no separation. My faith is part of who I am and it's not something I check at the door. Our faith walks with us through every part of our lives and it informs our decisions."

Rev. Jennifer Kottler, who has served as deputy director of Protestants for the Common Good urged those in the audience to lobby for raising the minimum wage. "A job should raise you out of poverty, not keep you in it," she said. "We have to make a difference in the lives of the least of these."

Rabbi Jack Moline of the Interfaith Alliance spoke on strengthening education and
Bishop Wilfredo DeJesus urged the crowd to support immigration legislation.

"We have failed to pass a law that respects family values, and Barack Obama respects family values, DeJesus said. "Let us support a system of bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows and into the mainstream."

Tim Roemer, former congressman from Indiana who sits Sen. Barack Obama's Catholic advisory council praised the Democratic platform on abortion and John Hunter spoke on prisoner re-entry into the population.

August 26, 2008

Who's on Tonight: Not Just Clinton

All of the buzz today is on Hillary Clinton's big speech tonight (and, to a lesser extent, Bill Clinton's speech tomorrow night).

But this is also a fascinating night at the Democratic podium for a several other reasons. First, this is the night of Bob Casey Jr.'s address. It's an important symbolic moment because of the decision in 1992 to deny then-Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey Sr. a speaking spot at the convention. Casey had wanted to talk about his opposition to abortion. Some suggest that the invitation to Casey Jr. demonstrates a Democratic Party that's more open to prolifers. Others say he's not as prolife as his father was.

It's unclear whether Casey will talk about abortion, but a few hours before his speech you'll almost certainly hear the subject come up as Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards addresses the convention. A big difference: Casey is speaking in prime time. Richards is on around 4 p.m. (Casey also has a much better slot than Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Casey's opponent in the tumultuous 2002 primary race for governor. Reckon that has more to do with Casey's strong support for Obama over Rendell's major backing of Clinton than it does with either's views on abortion.)

Another speech tonight that could be more conservative or more religious than usual: that of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. The United Methodist minister did very well among evangelicals in 2006.

Mara Vanderslice and Eric Sapp won't be speaking tonight, but their presence will be felt. Their old organization, Common Good Strategies, is credited with helping Strickland, Casey, Kansas Gov.Kathleen Sebelius, and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm -- all of whom are speaking tonight -- win election in 2006 by emphasizing their religious backgrounds. All the podium is missing is Sen. Sherrod Brown (Oh.) and Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), but if they did that they'd probably have to make one of those video tributes to Vanderslice. (Vanderslice is now with the Matthew 25 Network. Sapp is at the Eleison Group.)

August 26, 2008

Will an interfaith service attract religious votes?

If you want a good summary of the interfaith gathering, Mollie over at GetReligion has raked through the mainstream press with excellent analysis.

She notes that several of the reporters wrote that the interfaith event was an effort to reach out to "values voters."

"Now if the reporters actually think that the interfaith service would woo evangelicals in the GOP, they are probably high or know nothing about culturally conservative evangelicals," she writes.

Mollie also wrote a piece for National Review with a nice summary and background. She has been to several interfaith services and said that this one followed suit with a few exceptions.

Looking back, it barely felt like a worship service to me. There were readings (from everything but the New Testament), there was beautiful choir singing, and there were read prayers. But because of the heavy politics in the speeches, it felt a little more like a pep rally than a worship service.

As Mollie writes, "Will the interfaith gathering help more religious voters feel comfortable with the Democratic party? Only time will tell. It’s somewhat difficult to imagine which religious voters would be swayed by a worship service with such liberal political advocacy."

In an earlier post, columnist Cal Thomas pointed out how many other evangelicals might feel about interfaith services.

"What do Christians have in common with Islam and with any of those other so called faiths that were there? Jesus said, 'I’m the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.' Why waste time on other things?"

August 26, 2008

Archbishop of Denver not pleased with Democrats' new abortion language

Evangelicals like Jim Wallis and Joel Hunter quickly praised the new Democratic platform on abortion a month ago, but Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput is not impressed. This is what he told me tonight at the vigil in front of Planned Parenthood.

chaput.jpg

"I think [the Democrats] committed themselves without any doubt to choice on the matter of abortion, and I don't think that's a start.

I think caring for women who want to have their children is essential. That's a given. That isn't a step in the right direction, that's where we should all be standing from the beginning.

I stand with that with great enthusiasm, but it doesn't distract me from the fact that platform still allows for abortion and the destruction of unborn human life.

"Bishop Charles Blake did a marvelous service for all of us, and especially to the Democratic Party. He reminded us in the midst in social justice, one of the most important social issues is the protection of human life."

August 26, 2008

Thousands march around Denver Planned Parenthood

More than 2,000 people marched around a new Planned Parenthood Clinic in Denver tonight instead of following the Democratic National Convention.

Alveda King, a niece of the late Martin Luther King Jr., and Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput spoke to the crowd before they lit candles and circled the gated clinic.

Alveda King's mother conceived her daughter when she was a freshman in college. She had wanted to get an abortion, but Martin Luther King Sr. told her mother she could not abort her baby.

king.jpg

"This little baby human girl was allowed to live," she said to the cheering crowd.

King later aborted two of her children.

"People say, ?Aren't you embarrassed and ashamed to stand up and say you had abortions?" King said. "I'd be more embarrassed if I didn't tell you, because it is wrong, and without the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, I would not have been forgiven. Jesus Christ said, ?Go and sin no more.'"

She then praised Bishop Charles Blake's pro-life message at the interfaith gathering yesterday.

"He delivered some very startling and surprising words. They expected the rhetoric that always proceeds. But he began to tell the audience, ?I am a pro-life Democrat.' We want to commend those men and women and say that life is a civil right, life is precious, and that it transcends politics."

King wrote a guest column last week for the Denver Post, calling abortion an "industry of racism. She does not plan to vote for Sen. Barack Obama unless he changes his stance on abortion.

"People in every party should say, ?We're for life,'" she told Christianity Today. "They should not be held captive by politics in the battle and the struggle."

August 25, 2008

Cameron Strang on Fox

Flipping channels, I saw Relevant publisher Cameron Strang signing off an interview on Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes. Strang, as you probably know, was due to give tonight's benediction but bowed out. Anyone catch the interview? Did he say anything interesting that he didn't say in our earlier interview? (The sentence or two I saw suggested he was getting a bit of rough treatment.)

Update: Thanks to Jeremy Moore for the link to the video. Strang says being on stage and giving a benediction wouldn't let him talk about the issues his generation wants to talk about. He'd rather talk at the forums during the week, he says.

August 25, 2008

Don Miller's Benediction

Updated post: Here's the video of Miller's benediction:

Did anyone else wonder whether his introductory comment about the appropriateness of praying for good weather was a reference to the (pulled) Focus on the Family video on praying for rain?

Earlier Monday, Miller posted the text on his website. (They're posted after the jump.)

Continue reading Don Miller's Benediction...

August 25, 2008

Want a taste of the interfaith gathering?

Here's an excellent slideshow from the National Journal on yesterday's interfaith gathering.

Update: If you want the whole thing, C-Span has the video.

August 25, 2008

Words of wisdom from Cal Thomas

Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas offered a few words of wisdom about the Democratic National Convention, but don't expect anything too political. His column runs in 550 newspapers and he is heard on over 300 radio stations.

"It’s whole matters little in eternity. It’s all a diversion from things that matter most. You look around and you see all the promises of politicians pledged to make our lives better, but no politician can make our lives better. That’s up to each individual. Plus, of course, the one glaring omission from all of this in Denver and in St. Paul is an accurate diagnosis of the human condition, which is, that we are sinners and do not need to be reformed as much as we need to be redeemed, which is something no politician has the power to do."

"That sounds rather blanket, but my first convention was when I was a copy boy for NBC in 1964. I’ve been to many of them since them, and I’ve not noticed that any politician has made any significant difference when it comes to poverty, race, war and peace issues, AIDS, education and the long list that Republicans and Democrats continue to address. That’s because they address it from the outside instead of from the inside where the problems lie.

"I notice the Democrats think they’re making inroads among the religious. The Democrats are trying to do some of the same thing at the Republican Party, that is to cynically manipulate Christians into believe that there’s more power in this world than there is in the kingdom not of this world."

(On the interfaith gathering)
"What do Christians have in common with Islam and with any of those other so called faiths that were there? Jesus said, 'I’m the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.' Why waste time on other things?"

(On the Democratic Party’s religious outreach)
"This is an attempt by man to bring God down to his level. The only time that God has stooped to our level is Jesus Christ so that we might be brought up to his level."

August 25, 2008

A sneak peek at Donald Miller's planned prayer

I just met with Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller who accepted an invitation last week to give the benediction at the DNC tonight.

I will post a longer interview later, but he gave me a few hints about his prayer tonight.

"I wrote a version of it and it was awful. It just sounded like something that was like every other political speech of idealistic language. I knew it when I wrote it and sent it to some friends and they said, ?huh.' I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it, got off the plane in Denver yesterday, stopped at a Mexican restaurant, on my way to the rehearsal where we had to enter the text into a teleprompter, I said ok, ?If there were no cameras on me, and there was no microphone on me, what would I pray, what would I request of God for the people who are in the room?' And I wrote that prayer.

"It's not very shocking, but it's, ?Be with people of power, and give them wisdom to come up with policies that will help the least of these, with opportunity to success, help to support people not causes, help us get our hands dirty, and then a sort of affirmation that we need God. All of our best efforts have not worked so far. We need him to show up and help us. And that's it.

"This is a prayer where I use the name of Jesus, and there was no push back at all. In fact I think I had something that they considered it to be a little tense against Republicans when I talk about our standing in the world and restore favor. They actually backed down some of the language.

"I'm telling you, if Christians were to show up here they'd be very, very surprised. You can find what you want to find if you believe these people are evil and hate you. You can find that much easier when you can find the evangelicals who are protesting, the things that they're doing and the language that they're hearing. They use blow horns, so they're easier to hear."

August 25, 2008

More interfaith gatherings, but over lunch

Several politicians spoke at the Faith & Politics Institute lunch today, but they tended to talk more broadly about faith without being too specific.

Here are some of Sen. Bob Casey's remarks:

"As a public official, one of the best ways to confront this issue of faith and how you talk about it in a campaign and the public square, is not only talk about your own reflection. One thing that’s been missing is a respect of people of other faiths. I think politicians think it’s best to talk about what you believe. Listening to others and their friends is as important as what we have to say.

"All of us need to do more to bring faith into the public square, to bring faith into our politics, because unless we do that, those we seek to help … cannot be helped in the way they need to be helped unless we bring this discussion into more and more campaigns."

Here are a few remarks from Katheleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor from Maryland, author of Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way.

"I really believe that children are not born good and they are not born bad. You have to teach them. That’s what I learned from my Catholic faith. I think it’s important to teach the values I learned as a child. Kids need to learn to serve, to care about others, to think about others. It came from my faith. In politics, what your faith gives you is to do things that aren’t popular but is the right thing to do.

"Faith gives you a way to deal with the toughest things in your life. We’ve dealt with a lot of tough things in our life. You have two choices. You can grow scared and angry and hit or you can say that that teaches you. We share these moments of difficulty with others, and if we open our hearts to others, our lives will be open to others. That’s really what I’ve learned from my faith."

By the way, the event ended with a prayer, er, a moment of silence.

August 25, 2008

Are evangelical votes up for grabs?

Faith in Public Life is holding a panel this morning to discuss the roles of evangelical and Catholic voters this fall and the energy around a common good agenda.

The panelists are Steve Waldman from Beliefnet, Ron Stief from Faith in Public Life, Alexia Kelley from Catholics In Alliance for the Common Good, Zack Exley from the blog revolutioninjesusland.com and moderator Amy Sullivan from Time.

Here are a few snippets that give you an idea of what they're saying.

Steif: People of faith are embracing a broader agenda. We’re seeking common ground, and we’re seeking new dialogue. The religious right no longer controls the values debate in this country.

Waldman: In 2004, I think there was one faith caucus meeting. It was a sad little affair. The key line from the last convention speech was John Kerry’s speech. He welcomed people of faith. It sounded like it was some other group that he was welcoming. In this case, they’re saying ‘we are people of faith.’ It’s a big open question, which way this goes. There’s a de-alignment of evangelicals, but they have not yet gone over and signed with the Democrats. They’re right in the middle.

Exley: A few years ago, I stumbled in from the secular left into this white, evangelical, most of these suburban, working class culture. I sort of married into this. I became an accidental anthropologist in this culture. I was just shocked the first time I went into these megachurches. The young people are becoming pacifists. I know there are a lot of people who voted for Bush in 2004 and will vote for Obama.

August 24, 2008

Video: Burns Strider's reaction to the interfaith opener

Burns Strider ran the religious outreach for the Hillary Clinton campaign and now runs the Eleison Group with Eric Sapp. Here are a few of his comments following the interfaith gathering.

August 24, 2008

Faith in Public Life's reaction to the interfaith gathering

Rev. Ron Stief, director of organizing strategy for Faith in Public Life, gave me his initial response to the interfaith gathering.

"In Boston back in 2004, I had 15 faith leaders come to a lunch, and that was it. A lot of faith leaders were saying, 'What was that? What did you just invite me to?' because it was so new. People weren't used to being invited to bring our issues into the conversation. Here, it's a major interfaith event, it launched the entire convention. What I like about the faith community is and probably why we haven't been invited before you can't control us, we work based on our own moral convictions.

"The fact that the party could put something together and let the faith community speak from their heart what needs to be done, if that doesn't indicate openness by this party to a range of issues, I don't know what does. The forum itself was just amazing, about letting the faith leaders come and speak. This will probably be one of the most open discussions that happens in this convention. This was to bring what is the mood in the country. There's a tremendous mood for change in the faith community. That's why these folks are here.

"This was a chance really for the black evangelical and Pentecostal community to say, 'Hey we're part of the evangelical community, too.' I think it's good for people to understand the diversity of the evangelical community.

"I don't know if I would've changed anything [about today]. I actually think they got it right, which is not easy to do. I've done enough interfaith events. It was very broadly represented of what this country looks like demographically with faith. We put out capital punishment, torture, abortion reduction, poverty, the environment. Maybe the Democratic Party can just vote on our agenda and go home, save themselves three days of the convention. I was pretty impressed with the platform that was laid out here."

August 24, 2008

Politicians at the interfaith gathering

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter invoked a passage of Micah as an example of how faith intersects with politics.

"Politics is about us as spiritual beings understand that there is a God, that this is a created world," he said. "In Micah, it says love justice, be merciful and walk humbly with our God."

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) sat in the front row.

The theater seating 5,000 inside the convention center was not packed, but an impressive number attended the first official event.

"This is just the beginning for us as people of faith," DNC CEO Leah Daughtry said. There will be caucuses for people of faith later in the week.

August 24, 2008

Catholic activist speaks out against death penalty and torture

Sister Helen Prejean spoke against the death penalty and torture during her address at the interfaith gathering.

"It reveals the deepest wounds of our nation ? a readiness to use violence to solve social problems. We've killed over a thousand people in our killing chambers. It's the death of white people that causes outrage in our country.

"90 percent plus on death row are poor. Our DNA instinct of this country is to kill people. If needed, torture the enemy since he's not human like we are anyway. We are not worthy of the death penalty as a people. I invite dialogue with both political parties.

"There's a deep religious underpinning. When you start talking about the death penalty, the image of God comes forward. Many people still have an image that God demands an eye for an eye, it's God who's pleased with a sacrifice.

"There's a deep religious underpinning. When you start talking about the death penalty, the image of God comes forward. Many people still have an image that God demands an eye for an eye, it's God who's pleased with a sacrifice.

"There are those in the Christian community that say ... when we kill criminals for their crimes, God accepts their death as payment. What kind of father would demand the death of a son? Is it a God or an ogre? We project a God of vengeance. Jesus forgave his executioners and showed us the way of compassions. Jesus showed such a way of loving that no one can be called enemy, at least for long. He said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Not a life for a life." Jesus said, "Pray for those who persecute you."

"Our faith goes hand in hand with our understanding of human rights. Every human being has the right to life and no human being should be tortured. All religions teach humans have sacred life."

August 24, 2008

Interfaith keynote addresses abortion

The keynote for the interfaith gathering is a pro-life pastor who did not shy away from the abortion issue in his address. Maybe it was just me, but I felt the room tense up as soon as he called himself a pro-life Democrat.

Here are some of the remarks from Bishop Charles E. Blake, presiding prelate of the Church of God In Christ, Inc. and pastor of West Angeles Church of God In Christ.

"Surely we cannot be pleased with the routine administration of millions of surgically terminated pregnancies. Something in us must be calling for a better way. We know that our party will acknowledge the moral and spiritual pain because of this disregard for the unborn. Those of us who support the Democratic Party support it because the Democratic Party supports more of the positions that are relevant to the lives of our people, the people of America in general, and the people in the world. Others loudly proclaim their advocacy for the unborn, but they refuse to recognize their responsibility and the responsibility of our nation, to those who are born. (standing ovation) Senator Obama and all of us should follow up and elaborate on his stated intention to reduce the number of abortions (interrupted by clapping) … We should support him in this endeavor."

August 24, 2008

No New Testament reading?

The religious leaders and the interfaith gathering read from a diverse list of religious texts, but there's nothing from the New Testament.

The leaders read from the Torah (Gen. 45 and 48), Metta Sutra, the Qur'an, and the New American Bible (Isaiah 58).

August 24, 2008

Yes, there are people of faith who are Democrats

DNC's CEO Leah Daughtry gave the first speech at the interfaith gathering. Here is part of the speech where she emphasizes how there are people of faith in the Democratic Party.

"Over the past few years, many have had much to say about our efforts to ‘bring faith’ to the Democratic Party. With all due respect to the commentators and my friends in the media, we didn’t need to bring faith to the Democratic Party, faith was already here. (clapping). Those of us know that Democrats, are, have been, and continue to be people of faith.

"We believe we are created equal and each one of us deserves the opportunity to live full and prosperous lives. Our responsibility to our neighbor is at least as important as our responsibility to God. These values of fairness, opportunity, inclusion, and respect are central to my faith. While our party may not be perfect, it is perfect for me. We stand at crossroads today. Our jobs are disappearing. We are working harder and earning less.

"Today is a celebration of our faith and our values. The best tradition of the Democratic Party. Today we respect our differences while striving to find our commonalities. It remains true that there’s more that unites us than divides us."

August 24, 2008

Interfaith gathering interrupted by anti-abortionists

The start of the DNC's interfaith gathering was less than peaceful.

One man stood up and said, "Obama supports the murder of children by abortion." He was quickly booed and ushered out.

After the choir sang, another man stood up after a choir song and said, "Abortion is murder."

Between songs, a third man said, "Obama is a baby killer." The crowd began chanting "Obama. Obama. Obama."

August 24, 2008

DNC launches interfaith gathering

The Democratic National Convention is about to launch its interfaith gathering, but I don't see any evangelical pastors from Denver on the list:

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Jr.
Bishop Charles E. Blake, Presiding Prelate of the Church of God In Christ, Inc. and Pastor, West Angeles Church of God In Christ
Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America
Social Activist Sister Helen Prejean
Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
Governor Howard Dean, DNC Chairman
Leah D. Daughtry, DNCC CEO

Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali of the Northeast Denver Islamic Center
Rabbi Steven Foster from Congregation Emmanuel
Dr. Polly Baca, Center for Spirituality at Work
Reverend Lucia Guzman, Director, Human Rights/Community Relations
Richard Smallwood & Vision
The Spirituals Project
Trinity United Methodist Church Choir
The Denver Indian Singers

August 23, 2008

Biden's Abortion Record -- Pro-Choice Centrist

Below is a collection of the ratings of Joe Biden by various abortion-related groups.

Here's the bottom line: Biden is a pro-choice centrist on abortion. What does that mean? He votes consistently with the pro-choice forces on most matters, and is a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade -- but he departed from pro-choice orthodoxy on two of the biggest abortion issues:

--Unlike Obama, he opposes federal funding for abortion, arguing that has pro-choice views should not be imposed on others. "I still am opposed to public funding for abortion," he said on Meet the Press in 2007. "It goes to the question of whether or not you're going to impose a view to support something that is not a guaranteed right but an affirmative action to promote."

--Unlike Obama, he voted for the ban on late term abortions.

On most other issues - stem cell research, banning abortions on military bases, etc - Biden supported the pro-choice position.

Now for the ratings:

Biden got a 60% rating from the National Abortion Right Action League in 2007 and a 36 in 2003. (NARAL's ratings for Biden are very confusing. One part of the website lists him as having a 60% rating, another part says he has a 75% rating but was absent for five of the six votes. ) In 2006 he apparently got a 100% .

The National Right to Life Committee gives him a consistent zero.

Democrats for Life gives him a 33%

In earlier years, he got lower ratings from the pro-choice groups and higher ratings from the pro life groups, for instance , he got 34% in 1997 from NARAL and a 41% from the National Right to Life Committee.

This article is cross-posted from Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.

August 23, 2008

Biden's Rosary

For those who don't have time to read the full Christian Science Monitor piece on Joe Biden's faith, here are the most salient parts.

He went to high school at a Catholic boys school called Archmere, and goes to mass almost weekly. "I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to mass every Sunday. It's my time alone," he says.

He carries a rosary. When he had brain surgery for an aneurism he asked the doctors if he could keep the rosary under his pillow.

In Junior high he briefly considered entering seminary to be a priest but his mother urged him to wait until after he'd had some experience dating girls. "I told him: 'Wait until you start dating girls, then go,' " said Mrs. Biden

When he faced unspeakable tragedy - his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident - he turned heavily to faith. The Monitor reports:

His spiritual crisis was not so readily resolved. "I never doubted that there was a God, but I was angry with God," he says. "I was very self-centered: How could God do this to me?"

Friends close to Biden during this time credit his faith for helping pull him through the despair. "In times of crisis, he goes to church a lot," says Ted Kaufman, a former chief of staff who was with Biden for 22 years.

What also helped break his rift with God was a cartoon his father, Joe Biden Sr., gave him. It showed "Hagar the Horrible" blasted by lightning. The bubble read, "Why me, God" - and the answer: "Why not." Biden says: "I realized, who am I to think that I'm so special?"

He was as Vatican II Catholic, meaning he was encouraged to question and discuss Church doctrine. "Questioning was not criticized; it was encouraged," Biden says. He recalled a question in ninth-grade theology class at Archmere:


"How many of you questioned the doctrine of transubstantiation?" the teacher asked, referring to the teaching that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist. No hands were raised. Finally, Biden raised his. "Well, we have one bright man, at least," the teacher said.

The teacher didn't say criticizing the church was good. "He led me to see that if you cannot defend your faith to reason, then you have a problem," Biden says.


More thoughts soon on how Biden's Catholicism has affected his views on public policy.

This article is cross-posted from Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.

August 23, 2008

Obama chooses Biden

The guessing games are finally over, and Sen. Barack Obama's campaign sent the official text message at 3 a.m. declaring Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has a nice site set up giving a brief bio and links to articles on Biden's Catholic background.

August 22, 2008

Donald Miller to Give DNC Benediction

The author will replace Relevant founder Cameron Strang, who pulled out of the prayer earlier.

Best-selling author Donald Miller will give a benediction Monday night at the Democratic National Convention. He replaces Relevant Magazine founder and CEO Cameron Strang, who decided not to give the benediction at the Democratic National Convention as previously planned.

Christianity Today featured Miller on its cover in June 2007, and his spirituality book Blue Like Jazz has sold more than one million copies.

"Don is one of the top names among young evangelicals," said Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for the Barack Obama campaign. "We didn't think he would do it. We're just ecstatic. I love Blue Like Jazz myself. I think it sends a huge signal that someone who's is helping to lead off the conventions is an evangelical of his calibre."

I spoke to Miller this morning.

Why did you choose to accept the invitation?
Somebody calls you and asks you to pray, you do.

You get three minutes to pray? Have you thought about what you're going to pray?
I've not written the prayer yet, but I really wanted to hone in on the theme of unity, even unity between Republicans and Democrats. In the convention, as we highlight our differences that we wouldn't forget that we're unified, we have more in common than we don't. That's the focus of the prayer.

Cameron Strang was in that slot before and said that people perceived the prayer as showing favoritism. Are you worried you'll receive the same reactions?
I'm not. I'm a registered Democrat. While that's perceived as black or white, or hostile toward the Republican Party, I grew up in the Republican Party. I even attended as a kid the Republican National Convention when it was in Houston when Bush Sr. was running against Clinton. I changed parties about five years ago. I really felt like the Republican Party was taking advantage of the evangelical community by throwing us abortion and gay marriage, really not giving the heart of Christ more thought. I felt like it was the party of the extremely wealthy and they needed this conservative base in order to get a majority and so they pandered to us.

(The rest of the Q & A is posted after the jump.)

Continue reading Donald Miller to Give DNC Benediction...

August 20, 2008

Cameron Strang pulls out of DNC benediction

Magazine founder recommended author Donald Miller.

Relevant Magazine founder and CEO Cameron Strang decided not to give the benediction at the Democratic National Convention as previously planned.

Strang said his planned prayer was perceived as showing favoritism, so he pulled out and recommended Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller instead.

Strang sent the following statement to me in an e-mail.

"As a pro-life voter, I never intended my participation to imply unequivocal endorsement, and the DNC knew that and were fine with that. I viewed it simply as an opportunity to continue positive dialogue, show support for a continuing emphasis on faith issues, and pray in a forum where faith isn't typically thought to be emphasized. I wanted to show that this generation of values voters doesn't necessarily need to draw battle lines politically the way previous generations have, that we can work through areas of disagreement to further the common good.

"However, the reality is, through RELEVANT I reach a demographic that has strong faith, morals and passions, but disagreements politically. It wouldn't be wise for me to pick a political side, when I've consistently said both sides are right in some areas and both sides are wrong in some areas. My desire is to keep an open dialogue with both campaigns and talk about the issues that matter to my generation of Christians. If my praying at the DNC was perceived as showing favoritism and incorrectly labeling me as endorsing one candidate over the other, then I needed to have pause. And that's what was happening.

"So I brought that concern up to the DNC, and they understood. I recommended bestselling author Don Miller as a much better representative of our audience than I am, and they were glad to invite him to give the invocation in my place. I think this will ultimately be much better for the DNC. The campaign and I still have positive dialogue, and I'm thankful for that.

"Like I mentioned, they've invited me to participate in a "Faith in the '08 Election" panel on Thursday, which seems to be a perfect fit. It allows me to continue a positive conversation with the DNC and be involved a bit more behind the scenes. I want to make sure our generation of Christians has a place at the table, so to speak, and this will afford us that chance -- even moreso than if I was to give a prayer onstage.

"As an aside, in a "put your money where your mouth is" move this week, I changed my party affiliation from Republican to Independent. I want to vote because of values and convictions, not party affiliations. To me, that's an important part of being a thinking, values-minded Christian."

August 16, 2008

Joel Hunter and Cameron Strang to pray at Democratic National Convention

Jim Wallis will moderate the faith caucus.

Relevant Magazine founder and CEO Cameron Strang and Florida mega-church pastor Joel Hunter will pray at the Democratic National Convention later this month, according to a DNC press release.

Strang will give the benediction on Monday, August 25 and Hunter will give the benediction on Thursday, August 28. Sojourners head Jim Wallis will moderate the faith caucus on "Common Ground on Common Good" and "Faith in 2009: How an Obama Administration will Engage People of Faith" on Tuesday, August 26.

David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, will be a panelist on the caucus on "Moral Values Issues Abroad" on Thursday, August 28. The full list of religious speakers is below.

Continue reading Joel Hunter and Cameron Strang to pray at Democratic National Convention...

August 12, 2008

Focus on the Family Action Pulls Video

Focus on the Family Action pulled a video off its site Monday that asks people to pray for rain during Sen. Barack Obama's anticipated acceptance speech in Denver later this month.

Stuart Shepard, director of digital media at Focus Action told Colorado Springs Gazette reporter Mark Barna that the video, posted July 30, was meant to be "mildly humorous."

Tom Minnery, Focus Action vice president of public policy, told the Gazette that the video was taken down Monday because several Focus members complained that prayer shouldn't be used to bring harm on someone else.

"We are not about confusing people about prayer," Minnery said.

August 12, 2008

Obama's Squandered Opportunity on Abortion -- and How He Could Turn It Around

Earlier today I listened in on a phone press conference with leading pro-life religious liberals called by Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners. (Click here to listen to the call.) They were praising the new draft Democratic Party abortion plank which advocates government policies to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. (Click here to read the new plank and the 2004 platform). Wallis called it a "real step forward," while Rev. Joel Hunter called it "a historic and courageous step."

What am I missing? It seems to me that, on balance, if you're pro-life this platform is about the same as the 2004 platform -- slightly better in some ways and, actually, slightly worse in other ways.

Continue reading Obama's Squandered Opportunity on Abortion -- and How He Could Turn It Around...

August 12, 2008

Not pro-abortion

In their proposed new platform language, the Democrats toss a bone to the pro-life community by spelling out ways to make abortion rarer:

We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

Brody, who's got the old and new text side by side, is somewhat impressed--but claims that the proof of the pudding will be whether the Democrats in general and candidate Obama in particular say they're prepared to sign on to concrete anti-abortion measures such as parental notification. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one. Douglas Kmiec, who as Obama's most prominent conservative Catholic supporter had a hand in the new language, contends that it represents a significant (if not, by his lights, sufficient) move. Naturally, his erstwhile friends on the right don't think so, and are contemptuous of him for making the case. They recognize that the language will enable Obama and party to make the case that they are not, as the pro-life community always puts it, "pro-abortion."

Continue reading Not pro-abortion...

August 11, 2008

A Balancing Act

Abortion has created a semantics battle for the Democrats' platform drafting committee as the writers try to perfect the language before the convention later this month.

Eric Zimmermann over at The New Republic writes that the party does not want to anger feminists, many of whom were upset at Hillary Clinton's defeat. But "... ongoing outreach efforts to religious voters and swelling ranks of pro-lifers in Congress mean that the abortion-reduction message will likely persist," he writes.

David Brody at CBN posted the new platform:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

This is compared to the Democrats' current platform on abortion:

Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman's right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

Evangelicals Tony Campolo, Joel Hunter, and Jim Wallis will respond to the Democratic Party's platform on abortion tomorrow.

July 24, 2008

Religious Left is Growing Up Faster than Religious Right Did

The Matthew 25 Network, a new faith-based political action committee started by John Kerry's 2004 faith outreach director, is preparing to launch its second pro-Barack Obama radio ad this week, the group's founder and director said on a conference call with reporters today. Matthew 25 will be spending $500,000 to broadcast the ad on Christian radio in Ohio, Colorado, and Michigan, with hopes of airing it in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Missouri down the road. Technical difficulties prevented the ad from being broadcast on the call, but Matthew 25 chief Mara Vanderslice (pictured) said she expected the ad to be ready later today.

God-o-Meter realizes that Barack Obama might face an uphill climb among religious voters because of the false rumors that he's Muslim and over his liberal stances on social issues like abortion and gay rights. In the primaries, Hillary Clinton trounced him among white evangelicals and Catholics in many places.

But God-o-Meter noticed two things on today's Matthew 25 call that could make it more successful than some other faithy progressive outfits:

Continue reading Religious Left is Growing Up Faster than Religious Right Did...