All posts from “Pundits, Academics, and Activists”

May 10, 2012

After Meeting with Black Southern Baptists, Richard Land Apologizes Again over Trayvon Martin Comments

The Southern Baptist leader said he has sent a personal letter to President Obama seeking forgiveness.

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land has issued a lengthy public apology for his racially charged comments about the Trayvon Martin case, and said he has sent a personal letter to President Obama seeking forgiveness.

Land, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, issued the two-page apology Wednesday (May 9), a week after a five-hour meeting with African-American leaders and other Southern Baptist officials.

Because of that meeting, “I have come to understand in sharper relief how damaging my words were,” he wrote in the statement released through his denomination’s news service.

Land had previously apologized for his comments, which charged Democrats and civil rights leaders with exploiting the killing of the unarmed Florida teen. He also has apologized for failing to attribute the material he used when discussing the case on his radio show.

Continue reading After Meeting with Black Southern Baptists, Richard Land Apologizes Again over Trayvon Martin Comments...

May 9, 2012

Some Express Concern over Exclusivity in Politics and Prayer

Who was involved in National Day of Prayer events?

Last week’s National Day of Prayer drew attention to the role of prayer in public life, but for some, it also raised questions about whether the event is too exclusive. In Congress, the only openly atheist Congressman called for a National Day of Reason to replace the National Day of Prayer. And in Michigan, the Catholic Church in Michigan called on state lawmakers to welcome “elected officials of any faith” into the legislature’s new prayer caucus.

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In Michigan, there were concerns about the Day of Prayer from the Catholic Church. Church leaders were concerned about the Michigan Legislative Prayer Caucus, a new legislative group that held its first event on Wednesday. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and around 30 lawmakers met at the state capitol for prayer and a singing of “God Bless America.” The caucus held a similar event on Thursday as part of the National Day of Prayer and the Michigan Day of Prayer.

The caucus describes itself as "a bipartisan body of believers of Scriptural Truth, adhering to established Judeo-Christian principles and Religious Liberties that were widely practiced by the Founders of these United States of America and the state of Michigan."

Dawud Walid, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan (CAIR-MI) said that while elected officials may be guided by their religious beliefs, the new caucus sent a mixed signal.

Continue reading Some Express Concern over Exclusivity in Politics and Prayer...

March 21, 2012

Franklin Graham Meets with NAACP Leaders after Obama Remarks

Clergy from the NAACP had accused Graham of "bearing false witness."

Religious leaders from the NAACP met with evangelist Franklin Graham Tuesday (March 20), less than a month after they accused him of "bearing false witness" when he made statements about President Obama's Christian faith.

"All parties were in agreement that it is essential to our society and our faith that we refrain from demonizing Christians and people of other faiths when they do not agree with us," said the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, a NAACP vice president, in a statement released after the meeting at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C.

"We look forward to continued discussions with Rev. Graham."

On Feb. 28, prominent clergy from the NAACP accused Graham of "bearing false witness" and inciting racial discord when he said he couldn't say whether Obama is a Christian and added that "under Islamic law, the Muslim world sees Barack Obama as a Muslim."

Later the same day, Graham issued an apology, saying, "I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama."

On Tuesday, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham expressed appreciation for the meeting.

"While we may agree to disagree on certain political issues we agreed to work together against injustice both in and outside the United States," he said in the joint statement. "I look forward to continuing the dialogue we began today."

The statement said the leaders discussed "the use of faith as a political weapon" and creating "a new narrative about evangelicalism."

March 8, 2012

Pat Robertson Thinks It's High Time to Legalize Marijuana

The '700 Club' host echoed earlier statements.

Pat Robertson has again made headlines over his stance on drug enforcement, offering his unequivocal support for the decriminalization of marijuana.

“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol,” Robertson told the New York Times. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.” His stance was similar to what he said on “The 700 Club” last week and other comments he made in 2010.

Robertson's position is unlikely to find much support among evangelicals. A March 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 41 percent of Americans think that marijuana should be made legal.

Three-quarters of Americans supported the use of marijuana for medical purposes. But support for decriminalizing marijuana was low among evangelicals. While 64 percent approve of medical marijuana, only 25 percent of white evangelicals said marijuana should be made legal, compared to 42 percent of Catholics and mainline Protestants. Those unaffiliated with any religion were the most supportive of decriminalization, with nearly two-thirds supporting legalization.

While this is not the first time Robertson has taken this stance, he ran for president as a hard-liner on drug enforcement. After losing his bid to be the Republican presidential candidate in 1988, Robertson said at the Republican National Convention that the U.S. should be "a city set on a hill … where the plague of drugs is no more and those who would destroy and debase our children with illegal drugs are given life sentences in prison with no chance for parole."

Continue reading Pat Robertson Thinks It's High Time to Legalize Marijuana...

February 28, 2012

Franklin Graham Apologizes for Comments about Obama's Faith

Graham says religion has "nothing to do" with his decision not to support Obama's re-election.

Evangelist Franklin Graham apologized Tuesday (Feb. 28) to President Obama for comments made about his Christian faith and said religion has "nothing to do" with Graham's decision not to support Obama's re-election.

Graham's apology came after a group of prominent black religious leaders criticized the evangelist for responding in an interview that he did not know whether Obama is a Christian and suggesting that Islamic law considers him to be a Muslim.

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Graham, president of the relief organization Samaritan's Purse and the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, said he accepts Obama's declarations that he is a Christian.

"I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama," he said in a statement.

"I apologize to him and to any I have offended for not better articulating my reason for not supporting him in this election -- for his faith has nothing to do with my consideration of him as a candidate."

Graham said he objects to Obama's policy stances on abortion and same-sex marriage, which Graham considers to be in "direct conflict" with Scripture.

Continue reading Franklin Graham Apologizes for Comments about Obama's Faith...

February 21, 2012

Franklin Graham, Rick Santorum Bring Up Obama's Faith

Graham: 'He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.'

Franklin Graham has again stirred some backlash over comments about President Obama's faith.

Asked about whether Obama had “accepted Jesus Christ,” Graham said, “I don’t know.”

“You have to ask him. I cannot answer that question for anybody. All I know is I’m a sinner, and God has forgiven me of my sins," said Graham, who is the son of Billy Graham and the CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "You have to ask every person. He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.”

When asked if he believes former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is a Christian, Graham said, "I think so" on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it... I think he's a man of faith." On former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, “Most Christians would not recognize Mormons as part of the Christian faith,” Graham said. Separate from questions about his faith, Graham said, “He would be a good president… He’s a sharp guy.” On former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, he said, "I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is."

Graham spoke with CT last year about his views of Obama's faith. In 2010, he suggested Obama was born a Muslim because of his father's faith.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama has not brought up the questions about his faith.

"I did meet with the president this morning and amazingly he didn't bring this up," Carney said. "He firmly believes that getting an extra $40 in every paycheck is of vastly greater significance to most Americans than someone's opinion expressed on cable television about his personal faith, which again, he has spoken about as explicitly as a few weeks ago," Carney said, referring to Obama's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Santorum said earlier that Obama is guided by "some phony ideal, some phony theology." His choice of words echoed Eric Metaxas's address at the National Prayer Breakfast who decried general "phony religiosity." Santorum said later that he was talking about Obama's connection to environmentalism.

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January 14, 2012

Does a Group of Evangelicals Risk Irrelevance by Backing Santorum?

A group of 150 leaders from Christian conservative organizations met in Texas this weekend. The goal was simple: coalesce around a single candidate who could defeat Mitt Romney (in the primaries) and Barack Obama (in the general election). Going into the meeting, the participants agreed that if they could decide upon a candidate, then they would all support him. After several rounds of voting, Rick Santorum won.

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Backing a single candidate could be a political gamble. Win, and they could become kingmakers. Lose, and they could risk irrelevancy.

For social conservatives, it was a bet worth taking. The Republican primary was turning into a lost opportunity. A majority of primary voters preferred a more conservative candidate to the frontrunner Romney, but social conservatives were splitting their vote among several candidates, allowing Romney to win. The gathering in Texas was a last ditch attempt to bring social conservatives together behind one candidate.

Continue reading Does a Group of Evangelicals Risk Irrelevance by Backing Santorum?...

January 5, 2012

Social Conservatives to Gather to Decide Which Candidate to Back

Four years ago, conservative leaders worried that an upstart candidate with little financial support would split the conservative base and allow a moderate to win the Republican nomination. This year, you might see Rick Santorum as the new Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney as the new John McCain. And conservative leaders are once again facing the possibility that the nomination will go to someone whose main virtue to social conservatives is that he is not a Democrat. But conservative leaders will soon gather together to see if they can back a single candidate—something else they have tried before but failed.

Politico reports that leaders of conservative organizations will meet in Texas to decide on a single candidate to support. The meeting will include James Dobson (founder of Focus on the Family), Don Wildmon (founder of American Family Association), and Gary Bauer (founder of American Values). The event will bring together members of the Arlington Group, a group that unites leaders of conservative organizations to discuss, interview, vet, and coalesce behind a single presidential candidate. In 2007, the Arlington Group decided against backing Huckabee, leaning instead toward Fred Thompson, who was seen as being able to mount a national campaign. Of course, Huckabee won the Iowa caucus, Thompson quickly dropped out, and the nomination went to McCain.

Continue reading Social Conservatives to Gather to Decide Which Candidate to Back...

December 5, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

November 14, 2011

Tony Perkins: Obama Is Hostile, Disdainful of Christianity

Family Research Council recently elevated the criticism of President Obama, saying the President disrespects Christianity and is creating an environment “hostile” to Christianity.

During last week’s broadcast of Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson, FRC president Tony Perkins joined a discussion over the Air Force Academy’s apology for promoting participation in the Operation Christmas Child program conducted by Samaritan's Purse. Host James Dobson said he suspected that the Obama administration influenced the apology (though he suggested he had no proof of this). Perkins said the President disrespected Christianity:

I have no doubt, as you look back over the last two and a half of years of this administration, that the President has used his bully pulpit—he has done public policy but beyond the public policy that he’s pushed for—that it's created an atmosphere that is hostile toward Christianity. And we’re seeing this played out all across this culture. And the courts have been emboldened by this. And now you see the military doing it as well. There’s no end to this as long as you have someone who is the Commander-in-Chief, who is the president of this country that has a disdain for Christianity.

Alliance Defense Fund president Alan Sears and American Values president Gary Bauer joined Perkins on Dobson's show.

Continue reading Tony Perkins: Obama Is Hostile, Disdainful of Christianity...

October 7, 2011

Sojourners Among Those Occupying Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street began with just a few dozen protesters. Over the past two weeks, the number of protesters has increased, with participants living day and night near Wall Street. On Sunday, 700 protesters were arrested when they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge; another two dozen were arrested Sunday for disorderly conduct. This week, Sojourners joined anti-corporation movement and is looking for God in the midst of the protest.

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Occupy Wall Street may be a momentary political side-show, but it has the potential of becoming the Left’s answer to the tea party. Both are protest movements aimed at changing who holds power in American politics. The tea party took aim at government overreach; Occupy Wall Street points to the power of corporations. The protestors say they are allies of people "wronged by the corporate forces of the world." They are seeking to reduce the power of corporations which, they say, "place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, [and] run our governments."

Tim King, Sojourners communications director, joined the protests. He is sleeping in the park and blogging about his experiences. He said one of his goals is to look for God’s presence amidst the event.

"I believe it’s often easier to find God on the streets than in a sanctuary," King said. "We serve a God who shows up for those in need, and for those who stand with them."

He reported that there are Christians at the event and that many of the protesters are open to religion.

King said, "Many protesters here have had some bad experiences with religion, but it’s clear that they are genuinely open to seeing religion done differently."

Also, like the early tea party protests, Occupy Wall Street is heavy on pointing out the problem (i.e., corporations) rather than articulating a set of policy proposals or goals.

BreakPoint’s John Stonestreet said that the message of the protests is that "things are broken—Wall Street, the environment, society, the list of complaints goes on and on. Their solution? Well, none have been offered." He compared this to BreakPoint’s recent Do the Right Thing movement, which "identifies that the central problem is an ethical collapse."

Columbia University sociology professor Courtney Bender said that media reports have missed the religious dimension of the protests because they are looking for either cooperation from churches and organized religion or focusing on alternative religions.

"This pair of reportorial strategies provides familiar but unhelpful ways to consider the religious dimensions of the occupation. In fact it makes it possible to overlook the varieties of spiritual symbols, performance, actions and discourse—not to mention religious and spiritual networks and communication webs—that energize events in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere," Bender said.

Sojourners president Jim Wallis said the purpose of Occupy Wall Street is still developing, but he is interested in what he has seen so far.

"People’s frustrations, hurts, and feelings of being betrayed by our nation’s politicians and economic leaders are clear. They want to be heard," Wallis said. "There is a lot of speculation as to who the ‘Occupiers’ are and what they might accomplish. There is much I still don’t know about the movement, but undeniably it has caught the imagination of a generation—and that matters."

Wallis encouraged people to help the protesters in New York and in other cities by ordering a pizza or bringing a meal.

He is planning on visiting the New York protests today. "They are carrying on the most interesting conversation going on in that city—or any other—right now. Besides, I love a good potluck or pizza party where people imagine a better world," Wallis said.

October 3, 2011

As CBN Turns 50, Pat Robertson Mostly Bows Out of Politics

Marking the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of his Christian Broadcasting Network, Pat Robertson said he will no longer make political endorsements.

"When I was in charge of the Christian Coalition I was available to mobilize grassroots support for somebody," Robertson told The Associated Press in an interview. "I don't have any army right now. It's just an opinion, and that isn't quite as good as it used to be."

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Fifty years to the day after his first broadcast on Oct. 1, 1961, Robertson on Saturday recalled his network's humble beginnings in an address to a crowd gathered outside CBN's headquarters in Virginia Beach, Va.

"I came down here to buy a television station and I didn't even own a television set," he said.

Robertson said his first deposit in the network's corporate account was $3.

"You take what God has and you praise him for it," he said. "Now at the end of 50 years, I can look back, and I said it's all God."

Robertson's network now produces programming in dozens of languages across about 200 countries. Robertson ran as a Republican for president in 1988, and later channeled his supporters into the Christian Coalition. His last endorsement was of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the 2008 Republican primaries.

Over the years, Robertson has been criticized for various comments, most recently for suggesting that a man whose wife has Alzheimer's could get divorced to marry another woman. He later said he was "misunderstood" and thinks spouses should support each other during illnesses.

September 22, 2011

After Troy Davis: The Religious Belief Breakdown on the Death Penalty

The execution of Troy Davis last night in Georgia has reinvigorated public debate over the death penalty. Davis was convicted in the 1989 murder of Georgia police officer Mark MacPhail. The execution made headlines because there were questions raised about the evidence in the case, including recantations by seven of the nine witnesses against Davis.

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The execution was condemned by Pope Benedict XVI, former president Jimmy Carter, and governments around the globe. In the U.S., most Christians support the use of the death penalty to punish murders. Unlike Catholics and mainline Protestants, evangelicals support for capital punishment remains high even among those who say their views are shaped most by their religious beliefs.


Public opinion on the death penalty has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. According to polls by Gallup, support for the death penalty was highest in the late 1980's and early 1990's. At that time, 80 percent of Americans said they favored executing murderers. Since then, support has dropped to 64 percent.


A 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found support for the death penalty was very high among white evangelicals. Much of these differences were due to race or ethnicity. Three-quarters of evangelicals favor the use of capital punishment. White Mainline Protestants had a similar level of support. Only 60 percent of Catholics approve of the death penalty, but this lower level of support is due to Hispanic Catholics. (only 43 percent support). Black Protestants are the most opposed to the death penalty, with only a third approving of the death penalty.

Continue reading After Troy Davis: The Religious Belief Breakdown on the Death Penalty ...

September 20, 2011

Baylor Study: The Politics of God's Plan for Your Life

Those who agree strongly that “God has a plan for all of us” are least supportive of government programs that help those out of work.

A new study by Baylor University finds that belief that God has a plan for your life leads to less support for government programs. The Baylor Religion Survey found that nearly three-quarters of Americans agree that “God has a plan for all of us.” Those who agreed more strongly were more likely to see financial success as the result of hard work and ability. As a result, they were also least supportive of government programs that help those out of work.

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The Baylor survey found that 41 percent of Americans strongly agreed that God has a plan for everyone; another 32 percent merely agreed. Holding the belief appears to shape views of poverty and government. Those who strongly agree that God has a plan for everyone were much more likely to “some are meant to be rich and some are meant to be poor.” This is still a minority view: only 15 percent of those that strongly agree believe in poverty being fated. Still, this was three times greater than for those who did not strongly agree that God has a plan.

Those who believe God has a plan for everyone apparently see this plan including the rewarding of hard work and ability. Those who strongly believe in God's plan were twice as likely to also believe success is achieved by ability rather than luck (39 percent vs. 17 percent).

As belief in a divine plan grows, so does belief in a major part of the American dream. The survey asked if Americans agreed that “anything is possible for those who work hard.” A majority who strongly agreed in God's plan also agreed with this statement about hard work. Support was lowest among those who did not believe in a divine plan. Those who do not believe in God's plan were half as likely to agree that anything is possible with hard work.

Continue reading Baylor Study: The Politics of God's Plan for Your Life...

August 31, 2011

Sojourners Passes GLAAD's Advertising Test on GLBT Issues

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is praising Sojourners for passing its test. GLAAD sponsored an advertisement for the Ali Forney Center, a homeless shelter that aids lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth. The advertisement was, in part, a test of whether Sojourners would print an ad sponsored by a group like GLAAD.

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In May, Sojourners declined to place an advertisement for Believe Out Loud, an organization that advocates for greater acceptance of LGBT individuals by churches. The video ad featured two women with a child entering a church where they were not welcomed by parishioners.

GLAAD's director of religion, faith, and values Ross Murray approached Sojourners after the Believe Out Loud decision. GLAAD asked if the magazine would be opposed to advertisements by LGBT organizations who focus on one of Sojourners areas of focus and the organization agreed, according to Murray.

Sojourners president Jim Wallis said the magazine declined the Believe Out Loud ad because it did not address one of Sojourners core issues (e.g., poverty or homelessness). Expanding the scope of the social justice mission of the magazine to include LGBT rights was not feasible, Wallis said, because of a lack of consensus on the issue and limited resources.

“Instead, we have taken this opportunity to affirm our commitment to civil rights for gay and lesbian people, and to the call of churches to be loving and welcoming to all people, and promote good and healthy dialogue,” Walis said. “It is our hope that differing viewpoints are not silenced, but are lifted up in a display of Christian, and often interfaith, sisterhood and brotherhood. It is for this reason that we wish to engage first and we typically do not display advertising relating to issues amongst people of faith that have unfortunately, and too often, been reduced to political wedge issues.”

Continue reading Sojourners Passes GLAAD's Advertising Test on GLBT Issues...

August 30, 2011

Blaming Washington for Acts of God

An earthquake. A hurricane. The East Coast is having one tough month.

Princeton political scientists Chris Achen and Larry Bartels say that voters will blame incumbents for many disasters, including shark attacks. For example, counties that are hit with drought are more likely to vote against the president's party.

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The effect is small—just a few percentage points—but real. Achen and Bartels find that incumbents are more likely to be blamed when the disasters are viewed as social or political disasters.

Even those who do not seriously believe God is sending a message with the week's disasters, the back-to-back disasters were fodder for humor at the expense of politicians.

GOP Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann said at an event in Florida, “Washington, D.C. You'd think by now they'd get the message. An earthquake, a hurricane, are you listening? The American people have done everything they possibly can, now it's time for an act of God and we're getting it.”

"Obviously she was saying it in jest," campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart told Talking Points Memo.

Continue reading Blaming Washington for Acts of God...

August 26, 2011

Tea Party and Christian Conservatives: Similar but Not the Same

A diverse set of grassroots conservatives has emerged. Some are social conservatives. Some are not.

Is the tea party just a rebranding of Christian conservatives? Debate over this question is not new, but it has received new fuel recently.

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David Campbell of Notre Dame University and Robert Putnam of Harvard University wrote an August 16 op-ed for the New York Times, reporting on their recent survey that shows that those who like the tea party are not the non-partisan fiscal conservatives described by the movement's leaders. Campbell and Putnam find that the tea party has attracted Republicans—not just any Republicans—social conservatives who want religion to play a greater role in political life.


“The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government,” Campbell and Putnam concluded.


First Things editor R. R. Reno agreed that tea party supporters were religious conservatives. However, he took issue with Campbell and Putnam's conclusion that it was religion, not fiscal issues, that were drawing people to the tea party.


“The religious and social conservatism of the Republican Party intermixes with the fiscal and economic conservatism in all sorts of close and complex ways,” Reno wrote. “But it is willful of Putnam and Campbell to conclude that it’s the religious dimension that constitutes the most salient—and most controversial—dimension.”


Campbell and Putnam are not the first to find a link between the old-fashioned conservative Christian movement and the tea party movement. A link, however, does not mean that the two are the same.


Among the general public, neither the tea party movement nor conservative Christians are well-known. In last year's religion poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 28 percent of registered voters had heard enough about both groups to voice an opinion on them. For the vast majority of Americans, neither is something they have heard of or care about.

Continue reading Tea Party and Christian Conservatives: Similar but Not the Same...

August 3, 2011

Sojourners, FRC Ads Duel over Poverty Programs

Family Research Council (FRC) recently released a new ad, saying that Christian leaders who are trying to protect poverty programs “well-meaning but misguided.” FRC's Faith Family Freedom Fund released radio ads in Ohio and Kentucky in response to a Sojourner-sponsored campaign. Sojourners' ad calls on Christians to join the Circle of Protection, a broad coalition of Christians that wants to reduce the debt without harming programs aimed at helping the poor.

Sojourners' ads hit the airwaves last week, targeting Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). The Sojourners ads feature local pastors calling for protection of the poor. The Ohio ad, for example, featured Pastor Nan Erbaugh (Lower Miami Church of the Brethren) who lives in Boehner's district. She said in the ad,

The Book of Proverbs teaches that “where there is no leadership, a nation falls” and “the poor are shunned, while the rich have many friends.” Sadly, Congress has failed to heed these Biblical warnings, and our own Rep. Boehner is risking the health of our economy if America defaults on its debts. All to protect tax cuts for the rich and powerful.

In budget debates, the rich have many political friends and lobbyists. The poor and needy do not. That's why thousands of pastors are joining a Circle of Protection to protect programs that keep the most vulnerable from going without food, shelter, and medicine.

Please join this growing chorus of faithful Americans by telling Representative Boehner not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. He is responsible to all of us, not just a few at the top. (listen to the Ohio ad)

The FRC countered the Sojourners ads with one of its own. The group said it was “countering an ad campaign by Sojourners opposing necessary cuts to government spending.” The FRC ad featured pastors who said government programs hurt the poor and get in the way of charity. The Ohio ad featured Pastor J.C. Church (Victory in Truth Ministries, Bucyrus, Ohio) and Bishop Harry Jackson (Hope Christian Church, Washington, D.C.):

Continue reading Sojourners, FRC Ads Duel over Poverty Programs...

July 21, 2011

Obama Meets with Christian Leaders over Budget

The President endorses message of reducing deficit while protecting the poor.

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At a White House meeting with Christian leaders, President Obama endorsed the goal of reducing the federal deficit without harming those most in need. The leaders represented the Circle of Protection, a diverse, non-partisan coalition that represents evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, and other Christian groups.

"The President embraced the principle that as we work on deficit reduction the poor should be protected," said National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) vice president Galen Carey, who attended the meeting.

The meeting with Obama came after several meetings between the Circle and high level White House staff. Those meetings included discussions of specific policies, but the Circle wanted to meet with the President because they wanted him to better articulate the need to protect programs for those in poverty.

The 40 minute meeting Wednesday afternoon included only a dozen of the members of the Circle. Evangelicals in attendance included the NAE's Carey, Salvation Army national commander William Roberts, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez, and Sojourners president Jim Wallis (see full list at the end of this post).

For Rodriguez, the timing of the meeting was "divinely ordained." The meeting was announced on Monday. On Tuesday, the so-called "Gang of Six" in the Senate announced that there had been a breakthrough in bipartisan negotiations over the debt limit and the deficit. Their proposal would reduce the deficit by $3.7 trillion over the next ten years. The plan includes both spending cuts and increases in tax revenue. The President met with the Circle on Wednesday. After a discussion and a prayer, Obama left the meeting to attend meetings with congressional leaders on the budget. According to Rodriguez, the Circle expects to hold a public event with the President in the future.

Continue reading Obama Meets with Christian Leaders over Budget...

July 10, 2011

Exclusive: Focus on the Family Responds to TOMS's Founder Apology

Blake Mycoskie distanced himself from the organization yesterday.

Focus on the Family still hopes to broadcast an interview with TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie after the entrepreneur distanced himself from the organization yesterday. In an apology to some upset that he would partner over an "anti-gay, anti-choice" group, he said, "TOMS, and I as the founder, are passionate believers in equal human and civil rights for all."

Focus President Jim Daly recorded an interview with Mycoskie in front of about 1,500 people on June 30 in Orange County, California at a "Style Your Sole" event.

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Daly said he hopes to still be able to broadcast the interview. "By contract, TOMS has the right to block broadcast of the program," Daly said in a statement sent to CT. "We hope they won't do that, but we have yet to hear directly from Blake or anyone at TOMS about this situation.” As CT reported in its July cover story, Focus was applying in May to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa. (Update: A spokesman told CT by mutual agreement, Focus set aside the idea of becoming a distributor before the California event because it did not have the capacity to meet the volume requirements for TOMS distributors.)

After groups that disagree with the ministry over same-sex marriage and abortion criticized Mycoskie for appearing at the event, he apologized, saying, "Had I known the full extent of Focus on the Family’s beliefs, I would not have accepted the invitation to speak at their event." Mycoskie was not specific in what policies he disagrees with Focus on.

Focus's daily broadcast reaches about 2 million listeners in the U.S, according to the organization. “We interviewed Blake because we thought his story would inspire other Christians to act on their faith like he has and to help others in need,” Daly said.

Mycoskie attends Los Angeles-based Mosaic Church, led by Erwin McManus, according to a recent report. He has partnered with other Christian organizations like Willow Creek and will speak at Catalyst this October.

TOMS held a "Style Your Sole" event at Texas-based Abilene Christian University (ACU) last year. ACU was featured in a New York Times feature in April headlined “Even on Religious Campuses, Students Fight for Gay Identity." The university had declined to allow formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance.

In 2009, Mycoskie visited the White House to meet with President Obama's administration and other business leaders on U.S. economic policy. The for-profit company donates shoes to children for each lightweight pair sold, reaching its millionth pair donated milestone last year.

Focus has kept its stance on same-sex marriage while shifting its emphasizing to more of an advice and counseling ministry on family, parenting, and marriage. For instance, its recent broadcasts include "Keeping the Romance Sizzling" and "Nurturing God's Gifts in Your Child."

“Yes, we believe marriage is a sacred, lifetime union between one man and one woman. Yes, we advocate in the public policy arena for laws that uphold that truth,” Daly said in the statement. “But the same Bible that tells us God's design and intent for marriage tells us all people are created in His image and are worthy of dignity and respect."

The organization's tone has shifted since its founder James Dobson left in 2010 and set up his own radio program Family Talk with his son, Ryan. Dobson continues to warn his listeners of the political climate.

"At stake are policies that should concern millions of Americans, including federal funding for abortions, amnesty for illegal aliens, open homosexuality in the military, further assaults on religious liberty, and universal health care legislation amounting to rationing and the denial of medical services for older Americans," Dobson wrote in a newsletter last year. "The possibility of 'death panels' looms before us."

Continue reading Exclusive: Focus on the Family Responds to TOMS's Founder Apology...

July 9, 2011

TOMS Shoes Founder Distances Himself from Focus on the Family

Christianity Today recently published a cover story on Focus on the Family's shift away from politics back towards an emphasis on the family. Backlash, surprisingly, has come from a brief mention towards the end of the piece about its budding relationship with TOMS shoes, a company that donates shoes to children for every pair sold. After receiving criticism for partnering with Focus, founder Blake Mycoskie posted on his blog that "TOMS, and I as the founder, are passionate believers in equal human and civil rights for all."

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Mycoskie partnered with Focus on the Family for a "Style Your Sole" event with about 500 people on June 30. Esther Fleece, who heads the organization's millennial outreach and gave CT permission to post the picture to the right, noted Focus's former dress code when she posted the picture on Facebook: "From panty hose and ties to staff in TOMS." Focus President Jim Daly is second to the left.

The partnership between Focus and TOMS prompted sites like Jezebel to question whether TOMS should partner with an "anti-gay, anti-choice group?" Ms. Magazine started a petition on Change.org that has received about 500 signatures, asking TOMS to drop its relationship with Focus.

Here's what Mycoskie posted on his blog:

Had I known the full extent of Focus on the Family’s beliefs, I would not have accepted the invitation to speak at their event. It was an oversight on my part and the company’s part and one we regret. In the last 18 months we have presented at over 70 different engagements and we do our best to make sure we choose our engagements wisely, on this one we chose poorly.

Furthermore, contrary to what has been reported, Focus on the Family is not a TOMS giving partner.

So there is no misunderstanding created by this mistake, let me clearly state that both TOMS, and I as the founder, are passionate believers in equal human and civil rights for all. That belief is a core value of the company and of which we are most proud.

To clarify, the CT report said that Focus is "working to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa," not that it was already a distributor. Here's the full context:

As this issue of Christianity Today goes to press, the ministry is scheduled to highlight the work of Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, a company that donates shoes to an impoverished child for every pair sold.

"A year ago, they were like, 'Who's that?'," Fleece laughs. Now the company is working to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa. "We're making slow strides here."

CT has contacted Focus for its response. (Update: Focus responds here)

Mycoskie has been attending Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, led by Erwin McManus, according to a piece earlier this year from John Brown University's newspaper. In his TOMS role, he has partnered with other Christian organizations in the past. He recently did an interview with Catalyst's Brad Lomenick and will be a speaker at the October conference. He has also been a speaker for Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit. In his MySpace bio, his favorite books include the Bible, John Eldredge's Wild at Heart, and C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.

Continue reading TOMS Shoes Founder Distances Himself from Focus on the Family...

June 1, 2011

Debt Limit Raises Ire of Social Conservatives

It's becoming a key issue for groups that once played down fiscal issues.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote—and vote down—a bill that would raise the federal debt limit. The debt limit (or "debt ceiling") is the maximum amount the federal government can borrow. The current limit is $14.3 trillion. The U.S. hit that limit last week, and if Congress does not raise the limit by August, the government will not be able to pay all of its obligations.

In previous years, many social conservatives would have viewed the debt limit as a technical, fiscal issue. Yet, many whose agenda typically revolve around issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty are now mobilizing around the debt ceiling.

The Family Research Council made the issue the focus of its weekly radio show and asked people to urge their members of Congress to vote down efforts to raise the debt limit without an agreement on spending reductions.

In a legislative alert, the FRC said, "The current fight is not against a looming debt limit but against the status quo of Washington’s out-of-control behavior with the public purse." The organization called for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and "a serious statutory spending cap." According to the FRC, such measures are required "to keep future generations from suffering for the sins of their forbearers."

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) echoed the FRC’s policy proposal. The ERLC’s Doug Carlson said the ERLC believes a "step in the right direction" would be the "cut, cap, and balance" proposal offered by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). His proposal, which is backed by 75 other House members,

* cuts spending in order to cut the annual deficit in half

* caps federal spending to 18 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and

* sends a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification.

Continue reading Debt Limit Raises Ire of Social Conservatives...

May 9, 2011

Sojourners Declines LGBT 'Welcome' Ad

Some progressive sites are criticizing Sojourners after it declined to run an advertisement urging mainline churches to welcome gay members.

Robert Chase took up the issue at Religion Dispatches where he noted that the ad came from Believe Out Loud, a mainline Protestant parachurch organization.

So, you can imagine our dismay when Sojourners refused to run our ads. In a written statement, Sojourners said, “I’m afraid we’ll have to decline. Sojourners position is to avoid taking sides on this issue. In that care [sic], the decision to accept advertising may give the appearance of taking sides.”

Taking sides? ... I can’t imagine Sojourners turning down an ad that called for welcome of poor children into our churches. So why is this boy different?

Jim Naughton at Episcopal Cafe says that Jim Wallis no longer speaks for progressives, if he ever did.

It would seem to me that if you can't bring yourself to say that LGBT people shouldn't be chased out of our churches you have no business passing yourself off as a progressive leader, Christian or otherwise. In fact, based on recent polling on the far more sensitive subject of same-sex marriage, you have no business passing yourself off as a moderate leader, either.

CT spoke with Sojourners founder Jim Wallis about advertising issues back in 2008.

Are you concerned, though, that taking advertising in Sojourners magazine from Human Rights Campaign [a gay-rights group] makes it seem that it is a bigger issue for you?

Advertising is always a difficult question. I had real mixed feelings about those ads. We probably wouldn't do it again, because when you take advertising it implies you might be sympathetic to the advertising. But we don't take a position on this except promoting dialogue. At Sojourners, we've decided to have a safe place for dialogue and even disagreement on our staff and in our constituency.

Update: Sojourners' communications director Tim King posted a blog post where he said he was encouraged by initiatives such as Believe Out Loud. He also posted the video of the ad and an editor's note at the end.

Sojourners stresses the importance of dialogue amongst those on all sides of these issues. It is our utmost hope that differing viewpoints are not silenced, but are lifted up in a display of Christian and often interfaith sisterhood and brotherhood. It is for this reason, that we wish to engage first and foremost in dialogue on difficult issues within our editorial pages and we typically do not sell display advertising relating to issues amongst people of faith that have unfortunately and too often been reduced to political wedge issues.

Another update: Wallis has posted a statement.

April 12, 2011

Effort to Curtail the EPA Fails Despite Southern Baptist Backing

The budget compromise approved by Congressional leaders last Friday made few evangelical leaders happy. The deal dropped the ban on funding to Planned Parenthood sought by social conservatives. Cuts to foreign aid and hunger programs remained despite outcries from relief organizations. Also dropped was an attempt backed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) to curtail efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate green house gases.

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The fight against the EPA began last summer when the agency announced that it would begin regulating CO-2 emissions despite failed efforts in Congress to pass so-called “cap and trade” legislation. The Senate voted last year to stop the EPA, and despite lobbying by the ERLC, the American Family Association, and business groups, the effort failed.

With more Republicans in the Senate this year, the GOP leaders in the House and Senate tried again with a two-prong approach: stand-alone legislation to block the EPA and provisions in the budget negotiations that would strip the EPA of funds needed for the new regulations.

When the Senate voted on the stand-alone legislation last week, the ERLC sent an “Action Alert” urging people to ask their Senators to vote for legislation that would stop the EPA's plan to regulate greenhouse gases. The ERLC said that the regulations would unnecessarily hurt the economy.

“The poor would be hit especially hard,” the ERLC action alert said. “Making this worse, the whole basis for the policy—catastrophic, human-induced global warming—is not even settled among scientists, who are growing increasingly skeptical of such human impact.”

Continue reading Effort to Curtail the EPA Fails Despite Southern Baptist Backing...

March 31, 2011

Polling Evangelicals: God Causes Disasters, U.S. Should Help Victims

Why are there disasters like the events in Japan? Are they "natural" disasters or "supernatural" events caused by God? A recent poll finds that evangelicals are far more likely than other Americans to believe that God causes disasters and sometimes does so as punishment.

A majority of Americans believe that God controls everything in the world, according to the poll from Public Religion Research Institute, in partnership with Religion News Service, conducted the poll March 17-20, 2011. A vast majority of white evangelicals (84 percent) believe God is in control of everything, which is more than mainline Protestants (56 percent) or Catholics (52 percent).

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Evangelicals are also far more likely than other religious groups to believe that God uses disasters to punish people or send signs. A majority of evangelicals (51 percent) believe that "God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some of its citizens,” Only one-fifth of mainline Protestants or Catholics hold this believe.

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More people believe that natural disasters are a “sign from God.” Just over a third of Americans believe disasters are signs from God. However, a majority of evangelicals believe this (59 percent), which is more than other religious groups.

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The poll also found that 83 percent of Americans believe that is important for the U.S. to help out financially when nations like Japan suffer a natural disaster. This support is roughly the same for evangelicals (86 percent), other religious traditions, and those who are not religious.

Continue reading Polling Evangelicals: God Causes Disasters, U.S. Should Help Victims...

March 21, 2011

NAE: Reduce Debt but Protect Poor

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is calling for the federal government to reduce debt, but not on the backs of the poor. The NAE board of directors approved the resolution “Lowering the Debt, Raising the Poor” at its semiannual meeting.

The NAE said the debt is a spiritual issue that demands moral leadership. “This will require extraordinary political courage, bipartisan cooperation and shared sacrifice. Every major area of expense and revenue must be scrutinized – particularly those that have contributed the most to the deficit,” said the resolution.

Aid to the poor—particularly the poorest of the poor—is not a major contributor to the debt, said the NAE. The resolution stated that all international aid programs make up less than 2 percent of the budget, and aid aimed at alleviating poverty is around 0.6 percent.

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“The Bible encourages wise stewardship and calls nations to uphold justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable, NAE director of government affairs Galen Carey said. “Smart and cost-effective strategies to help those living in poverty are in the national interest and should be maintained and strengthened even as we make necessary adjustments elsewhere.”

Robert Zachritz, director of World Vision’s advocacy and government relations, said that foreign aid is a small investment that results in high return in terms of lives saved.

“Through programs like disaster assistance, clean water, AIDS, fighting global hunger, and malaria prevention, lives are being saved. These programs should not receive a disproportionate amount of the coming cuts,” Zachritz said.

The NAE resolution comes as the Congress is considering drastic cuts to foreign aid including a 41 percent cut to international poverty programs and 67 percent cuts to health programs. According to a March 2 letter by NAE and aid organizations including World Vision, ONE Campaign, Food for the Hungry, Alliance to End Hunger, Bread for the World, and World Relief, the cuts includes the following reductions:

 

-- U.S. food aid programs ($687 million)

-- Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance ($875 million)

-- Development assistance by ($747 million)

-- Refugee programs ($827 million)

-- Global health and childhood survival programs ($365 million)

-- Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis ($450 million)

 

While the reductions would include hundreds of millions of dollars, it remains less than 1 percent of the federal spending. These cuts have not been put in place yet, however. The Senate and House are currently negotiating the final details of the government budget.

Continue reading NAE: Reduce Debt but Protect Poor...

March 11, 2011

Faith Leaders Urge Higher Profile for Religious Freedom

In letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they say reported plans "would harm American interests."

A group of faith leaders sent a letter this week to the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging them to emphasize religious freedom in foreign policy.

The March 7 letter asks Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and the ranking Republican member, Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to attend the confirmation of Suzan Johnson Cook as the president's nomination for ambassador for International Religious Freedom (IRF).

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"Dr. Johnson Cook's confirmation hearing is a perfect opportunity to let the nominee and the administration know that IRF should be a high priority for the United States," according to the letter.

The letter is signed by religious leaders from a variety of faith backgrounds including Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Susan Taylor, president of the Church of Scientology, Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland - A Church Distributed, Jim Mellado, president of the Willow Creek Association, Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and Robert Seiple, the first U.S. ambassador-at-large for IRF. (Christianity Today Media Group editor in chief David Neff also signed the letter.)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not announced a hearing to consider Cook's nomination.

Cook was originally nominated to the position by President Obama on June 15, 2010. The letter signers said they were "disappointed by the low attendance at Dr. Johnson Cook's first confirmation hearing last year."

Her nomination expired at the end of the congressional session, due to the concerns of a senator who confidentially filed a hold-over letter following her hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The senator was widely believed to be Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

Following the start of the new congressional session, Obama re-nominated her to the position, which has remained unfilled since January 2009. Religious leaders criticized the administration for neglecting the issue of religious freedom by waiting more than a year after Obama's election to originally nominate someone to the post.

The Washington Post noted that "the policy Johnson Cook has been nominated to lead is being sidelined even before she takes the job" in favor of other policy initiatives. Others pointed out that Obama did not take advantage of the congressional recess to appoint Cook to the position.

"The utter indifference to this key office, and to IRF policy, by the White House and the State Department has been scandalous," Thomas Farr, a former diplomat and current director of the Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy program at Georgetown University, wrote for CT last month.

The letter to Kerry and Lugar urges the Senate to support the importance of both the position and its function. "With strong leadership in its IRF policy, the United States could have had a much greater effect on levels of religious violence, persecution, and terrorism than it has had to date," the letter reads.

The position of Ambassador for IRF functions as the head of the office of IRF, which is part of the State Department. The IRF office's stated mission is to monitor religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, which is does by submitting an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom to Congress and serving as principal advisor on religious freedom to the Secretary of State. The position was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

However, the letter cites reports that the administration may be planning to remove the IRF office from the ambassador's direct authority, and similarly laments reports that, "while other ambassadors at large work directly under the Secretary of State, the IRF ambassador will be several levels removed from the Secretary. . . . Both of these steps would harm American interests."

February 25, 2011

Evangelicals and Tea Party Overlap in Congress, Public

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 22, 2011

Glenn Beck Meets with Billy Graham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 17, 2011

National Debt Becomes Hot Issue for Evangelicals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 12, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 10, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 8, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 25, 2011

Richard Land Leaves Interfaith Coalition on Mosques

Richard Land withdrew from a group of religious leaders who support the right of Muslims to build mosques in the United States. Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques (ICOM) as a charter member. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spearheaded the ICM’s creation in response to increasing challenges to the construction of mosques and Islamic centers last summer.

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Land said he did not quit the ICOM because of a change in his convictions but out of a need to represent the views of the SBC. In a letter to the ADL, Land wrote, “While many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship, they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is 'a bridge too far.'”

Land said that his involvement with ICOM was not a promotion of Islam, but he said this was the perception of many in the convention.

“Southern Baptists have the oft-expressed right to form their own perceptions as well as the right to expect their denominational servant to be cognizant of them and to respect them,” Land said in a statement. “I serve Southern Baptists.”

The departure of Land comes days after the coalition sent a letter supporting the right of a Muslim group to build a mosque in Temecula, California. The mosque received approval from the Temecula City Council in December, but there is a hearing Tuesday night on an appeal to overturn the council decision. The ICOM stated that reversing the decision would be a violation of federal law. Land is listed as a member of the ICOM in the letter.

Concerned American Citizens filed the appeal, viewing the mosque as a cover for the promotion of Shariah Law. The mosque in question will be built on land adjacent to Calvary Baptist Church (not associated with the SBC). The church opposes the building of the mosque for both practical reasons, such as land use, but also because it, too, believes Islam promotes Shariah law and the destruction of religious liberty.

"The religious philosophy of Islam is directly contradictory and confrontational to the Christian faith we espouse. Putting a mosque within feet of a Baptist church exacerbates those differences,” wrote Calvary Baptist pastor William Rench in a letter to the city council supporting the appeal.

The IOCM support for the Temecula mosque is its first since it supported the right of a Muslim group to build an Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Land also publicly supported the right of the mosque in Murfreesboro to be built.

Continue reading Richard Land Leaves Interfaith Coalition on Mosques...

January 11, 2011

Civility Project Disbands after Low Interest in Congress

The Civility Project, a two-year bipartisan attempt to get politicians and others to respect one another, is closing down after just three members of Congress agreed to the project's pledge.

"You three were alone in pledging to be civil," Christian publicist Mark DeMoss wrote in a Jan. 3 letter announcing an end to the two-year project. "I must admit to scratching my head as to why only three members of Congress, and no governors, would agree to what I believe is
a rather low bar."

The three who had agreed were Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

The announcement comes at a time when politicians, clergy and commentators have stressed the need for civility following Saturday's (Jan. 8) deadly shootings in Tucson, Ariz., which left six people dead and 14 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head.

DeMoss, a Republican who represents prominent evangelical leaders through his Atlanta-based public relations firm, teamed with Democratic consultant Lanny Davis when he launched the project prior to President Obama's inauguration.

Continue reading Civility Project Disbands after Low Interest in Congress ...

December 30, 2010

Pro-life Efforts to Watch in 2011

Although November’s mid-term elections halved the number of pro-life Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, there are hopeful signs for pro-life legislation in the New Year.

January will mark the beginning of the arguably most pro-life House ever,” according to a statement released by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chairman of the bi-partisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has stated that “he wants to be the most pro-life Speaker ever” and Americans United for Life chose Boehner for an award.

The House will likely tackle the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (HR 5939) in the upcoming legislative session. Introduced by Smith and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) in July, Smith said the bill is designed to protect conscience clauses in health care nation-wide. Protecting existing conscience rights remains a high priority in 2011. The Alliance Defense Fundsays that the Obama administration “wants to dismantle” a rule passed by the Bush administration in 2008 that prohibited recipients of federal money from discriminating against healthcare professionals refusing to participate in procedures, such as abortion, for reasons of conscience.

Prohibiting the use of federal money to support abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, will also appear on the legislative agenda. The Title 10 Abortion Provider Prohibition Act (HR 614), co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), would prohibit all federal assistance to organizations performing abortions during the period of assistance. Pence said that the act would close the loopholes in the Hyde Amendment, which allows federally-funded organizations to perform abortions if such procedures are separately funded. In June,the Government Accountability Office foundthat over $1 billion in taxpayer money went to pro-abortion organizations in the past 8 years.

Various states are also expected to tackle pro-life issues in 2011. According to an unreleased NARAL Pro-Choice America analysispreviewed to Politico, the number of anti-abortion governors rose from 21 to 29 in the November election, and the number of states with governments where the governor and the majority legislature are both considered anti-abortion increased from 10 to 15.

In states ranging from Iowa to Tennessee, where anti-abortion legislation has often stalled in committee, anticipation is building that a change in leadership could change the prospects for pro-life legislation as well. Kansas provides one example, where current Democratic Governor Mark Parkinson vetoed a measure preventing the re-establishment of a late-term abortion clinic in the state (following the death of George Tiller and the subsequent closure of his clinic in Wichita). However, Parkinson’s replacement, Governor-elect Republican Sam Brownback, told supporters he would sign any pro-life bill that made it to his desk.

Following Nebraska’s lead—the state passed a late-term abortion ban this year based on the concept of fetal pain—pro-life organizations expect more states to challenge abortion laws by proposing restrictions related to fetus age. Several states, including Kansas, New Jersey, and South Carolina, considered bans on post-viability abortion (abortion past the age a fetus is considered able to live outside the womb) in 2010, according to Americans United for Life. Typically, the “post-viability” age is considered to be between 21 to 28 weeks (Roe v. Wade established viability as “about” 28 weeks); Nebraska’s ban sets the restriction back to 20 weeks. “[F]rom our perspective, if we aren't bucking up against Roe, we're not doing our job,” said Nebraska Right to Life Executive Director Julie Schmit-Albin. "So we did our job in Nebraska and now it's time for the other states to do their job."

Other possible state legislation proposing abortion restrictions will likely include laws requiring an ultrasound to be shown to the patient prior to an abortion--such as the one passed by Oklahoma this year--and measures responding to this year’s federal health care reform that would ban insurance coverage of abortion at the state level.

December 15, 2010

Republican Leaders Join FRC Protest of 'Hate Group' Designation

Pawlenty, Huckabee, DeMint, Boehner, and Cantor among those opposing "intolerance pure and simple."

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The Family Research Council, joined by prominent Republican allies, is mounting an aggressive defense to a decision by the Southern Poverty Law Center to designate the powerful conservative lobby as a hate group.

"The group, which was once known for combating racial bigotry, is now attacking several groups that uphold Judeo Christian moral views, including marriage as the union of a man and a woman," reads a Wednesday (Dec. 15) FRC ad placed in the print editions of Politico and the
Washington Examiner.

The ad, in the form of an open letter, was signed by more than two dozen Republican leaders, including several potential GOP presidential candidates: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

Other signatories included House Speaker-designate John Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader-elect Eric Cantor of Virginia.

The ad follows a November 22 report from the Alabama-based civil rights watchdog adding the FRC and four other conservative religious organizations to its list of hate groups for their "demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals."

The report's editor, Mark Potok, told Religion News Service the groups on the list were chosen for "propagation of known falsehoods" and not because of their religious nature.

The ad says the signatories "stand in solidarity" with FRC and other groups known for their opposition to gay marriage.

They also expressed dismay at criticism of the Manhattan Declaration, a 2009 statement that opposes abortion and gay marriage. An iPhone app promoting the manifesto was recently removed from Apple's online store after liberal critics objected to it.

"This is intolerance pure and simple," the ad reads. "Elements of the radical Left are trying to shut down informed discussion of policy issues that are being considered by Congress, legislatures, and the courts."

November 2, 2010

FRC Takes Aim at Republican Rep. on Gay Rights

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Family Research Council Action PAC launched a late radio ad campaign against Republican Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of New Orleans for his support of gay rights legislation.

Tony Perkins, a former Louisiana legislator who leads the organization, told the Times-Picayune that Cao was the only Republican candidate targeted with an FRC attack ad this fall. The ad ends with the tag line, "Washington doesn't need more liberal Republicans. Stop Joe Cao on Election Day."

"Who is Rep. Joseph Cao representing in Washington?" the FRC ad asks. "Cao has repeatedly voted for extra protections for homosexuals at the cost of religious liberty. Cao voted to use the military to advance the radical social agendas of homosexual activists and he voted for a so-called hate crimes bill that places your personal liberties at jeopardy."

Cao co-sponsored both the Hate Crimes Protection Act of 2009 and House legislation to repeal the policy that prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces, known as "don't ask, don't tell."

"I believe it is a human rights violation to impose government-sanctioned penalties on a group of people just because of their sexual orientation, just as it would be a human rights violation to impose penalties on a group because of its religious affiliation or race," Cao said. "I will continue to fight for the protection of human rights for all people."


Cao told the newspaper, "As a former Jesuit seminarian and practicing Catholic, it is ridiculous to say that I have ever taken a position against religious liberties. I am, however, a champion of human rights and justice for all."

Cao faces Democratic state Rep. Cedric Richmond and Perkin's preference, independent candidate Anthony Marquize. In 2008, FRC endorsed Cao and Tony Perkins included Cao in his column, "The Good News on November 4."

In the 2nd congressional district Anh "Joseph" Cao defeated the ethically challenged Congressman William Jefferson. Jefferson has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, laundering money and misusing his congressional office. The pro-life Cao won despite running in a district that is 28 points more Democrat than the national average.

September 16, 2010

Poll: Glenn Beck the Wrong Leader to Lead Religious Movement

Glenn Beck's recent "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington focused more on faith than politics, but most Americans don't consider the conservative broadcaster the right person to lead a religious movement -- or even know what religion he follows, according to a new poll.

Fewer than one in five Americans (17 percent) believe Beck is the right person to helm a religious movement, according to a PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll released Thursday by Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service.

Half of respondents say he's the wrong person; the rest either don't know or declined to answer.

Beck was only correctly identified as a Mormon by 17 percent of respondents -- the same number who think he is either Protestant or Catholic.

This confusion may work to Beck's advantage as an aspiring religious leader, however, since the poll also found that two-thirds of respondent think Mormons have beliefs different from their own, including 41 percent who consider them "very different."

"Perceptions of the Mormon religion have a strong impact on views of Glenn Beck, but only among the relatively small contingent who are aware of his religious affiliation," said Daniel Cox, director of research for PRRI, a nonpartisan research firm in Washington.

Put another way, when people know Beck is Mormon, their views about the Mormon faith directly impact their views about him. People who see affinity with Mormons have a higher regard for him than those who find differences with the Mormon faith.

The results are consistent with other studies about the fast-growing faith's role in public life, including polls about 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron.

"Because other surveys show that Mormons are not especially popular with Americans, as a rule, then it's likely that if more people found out Glenn Beck's religious background, that would inhibit them following him," Green said.

Among the small number of respondents who knew of Beck's faith, 37 percent said he is the right person to lead a religious movement -- an approval rating that's double the general response, Cox explained, because this cohort already includes many of Beck's fans.

For those who know that Beck is Mormon and also believe that Mormons have different views than their own, the number drops to 28 percent who said he should be a religious leader.

When Beck is correctly identified as a Mormon, his general approval rating also depends on what Americans think of Mormons: Among people who know Beck is Mormon and believe Mormons have religious beliefs different than their own, 42 percent had a negative opinion of him, significantly higher than the 27 percent of the general population.

Continue reading Poll: Glenn Beck the Wrong Leader to Lead Religious Movement ...

August 20, 2010

Wallis Admits to Soros Funding

Jim Wallis has admitted that Sojourners has received funding in the past from liberal billionaire George Soros' Open Society Institute.

Last month, Marvin Olasky asked Wallis to admit his affiliations on the left when reported on the money from Soros in World magazine.

George Soros, one of the leading billionaire leftists—he has financed groups promoting abortion, atheism, same-sex marriage, and gargantuan government—bankrolled Sojourners with a $200,000 grant in 2004. A year later, here's how Jim rebutted a criticism of "religious progressives" for being allied with Soros and MoveOn.org: "I know of no connections to those liberal funds and groups that are as direct as the Religious Right's ties to right-wing funders."

Since then Sojourners has received at least two more grants from Soros organizations. Sojourners revenues have more than tripled—from $1,601,171 in 2001-2002 to $5,283,650 in 2008-2009—as secular leftists have learned to use the religious left to elect Obama and others.

In a Patheos interview, Wallis suggested that Olasky was lying.

“It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing. No, we don’t receive money from Soros. Given the financial crisis of nonprofits, maybe Marvin should call Soros and ask him to send us money.

“So, no, we don’t receive money from George Soros. Our books are totally open, always have been. Our money comes from Christians who support us and who read Sojourners. That’s where it comes from. In fact, we’ve had funding blocked, this year and last, by liberal foundations who didn’t like our stance on abortion. Other liberal groups were happy to point out to them that our stance wasn’t kosher on abortion, so our funding was blocked.

“So tell Marvin he should check his facts, and not imitate Glenn Beck.”

Jay Richards of National Review and Olasky responded to Wallis. Here's Olasky again:

Want to see for yourself what someone apparently did not want you to see? Click here to download the PDF, go to page 225, and you’ll see the grant to Sojourners.

You can also see the 2006 grant by downloading the 990-PF for that year and going to page 125. And by the way, look at page 114 of the 990-PF for 2007: another $100,000 grant to Sojourners “to support the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign.”

Wallis released a statement through a spokesperson to Patheos.

I should have declined to comment until I was able to review the blog post in question and consulted with our staff on the details of our funding over the past several years. Instead, I answered in the spirit of the accusation and did not recall the details of our funding over the decade in question. The spirit of the accusation was that Sojourners is beholden to funders on the political left, which is false. The allegation concerned three grants received over 10 years from the Open Society Institute that made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners' funding during that decade -- so small that I hadn't remembered them.

CT has asked Sojourners if Wallis has any further response.

June 30, 2010

Station Pulls Out over Wallis

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Lifest 2010, a Christian music and preaching festival, has one less sponsor today. A Christian radio station felt the need to pull out because the festival featured Sojourners founder Jim Wallis on its slate of speakers.

The festival, scheduled for July 7-11 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, boasts more than 150 Christian artists, speakers, and comedians. Wallis will be Friday night’s keynote speaker. Over 15,000 people are expected to attend.

But this morning, the Oshkosh Northwestern reported that radio station Q90-FM had pulled its sponsorship because of “fundamental disagreement on the wisdom of bringing Mr. Wallis to Lifest.”

Q90-FM posted a statement on their website explaining that the station’s leadership felt Wallis’ political views, particularly those regarding social justice, to be “humanistic” and that Wallis and Sojourners are “seeking an unholy alliance between the Church and Government.”

“We agree with what is commanded through Paul in 1 Timothy 5, that it is our responsibility to take care of ‘widows and orphans’ and any who are unable to care for themselves,” the statement read. “We recognize that individually and as the Body of Christ we are not doing all we could as Jesus taught us to. But we do not believe the solution is the church partnering with the government in this endeavor” (emphasis in the original).

Wallis, who served on the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009, has worked with Presidents Bush and Obama since 2000 on partnering faith-based initiatives with government programs.

“I was an early supporter of the initiative because I believed that partnerships between the faith community and government in alleviating poverty were both necessary and appropriate within the framework of the Constitution,” he wrote for the Huffington Post in 2008.

Q90-FM says that government involvement in faith groups and private charitable initiatives could inhibit faith groups from their primary mission.

“The movement in our nation toward the forced redistribution of wealth through taxation ensures this—when the government controls where the money goes, freedom to express the gospel of Jesus Christ will eventually be eliminated legally, as it has with every Church and State merger since 371 AD,” the statement read.

Continue reading Station Pulls Out over Wallis...

May 21, 2010

Evangelicals Push `Theology of Sex,' Abortion Reduction

The National Association of Evangelicals on May 20 launched an initiative to reduce abortions by promoting a "Theology of Sex" for churches and pledging to find common ground with opponents on abortion.

"There's a sense that, whatever our laws are, abortion is a problem because of the underlying issues of how we treat sex," said Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the Washington-based umbrella organization.

NAE leaders have concluded that churches are not doing a "good job" of teaching about sex and marriage and should better address the high percentage of cohabiting unmarried young adults, including many evangelicals.

"Addressing that subject will do a lot, we think, to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and the number of abortions," Carey said.

Continue reading Evangelicals Push `Theology of Sex,' Abortion Reduction...

May 19, 2010

Evangelicals Call for Prison-Rape Reforms

Evangelicals are calling on the Obama administration to enact long-promised prison reforms, saying the incarcerated deserve protection from violence and rape.

In 2003, former president George W. Bush signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which aimed to lower the estimated 13 percent of inmates sexually assaulted each year.

The bill called for the Department of Justice to research prison rape and requires prisons to establish prevention programs.

Now, the National Association of Evangelicals is urging the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to follow up on the standards proposed.

NAE President Leith Anderson and Director of Government Affairs Galen Carey wrote on May 10 to Attorney General Eric Holder that "those behind bars deserve the same protections against violence as those on the outside."

The NAE pushed for the rape commission to adopt the standards from the 2003 act regardless of the government's tight budget, suggesting that the reforms will reduce recidivism and lead to cost savings.

In 2003, the bill drew support from varied religious and advocacy groups including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Christian Coalition of America, the NAACP and Human Rights Watch.

Like the NAE, the Human Rights Watch's Jamie Fellner reaffirmed the organization's stance in a Jan. 5 letter to Attorney General Holder -- saying that "tens of thousands of adults and juveniles are still sexually abused each year because officials have not instituted basic measures to protect them."

According to the Department of Justice Web site, Holder appointed members to the review panel on Jan. 1 in order to assist the Bureau of Justice Statistics in identifying common characteristics of prison systems and prisoners involved in prison rape.

May 16, 2010

What Glenn Beck Told Liberty Graduates

Fox News commentator Glenn Beck received an honorary doctor of humanities degree from Liberty University yesterday before giving the commencement address to 8,650 students--the school's largest graduating class ever.

Beck, who attended one semester of college because he could not afford to finish, gave a faith-filled message, according to a recap on the school's website.

Beck, who is Mormon, said speaking at Liberty is “an endorsement of your faith. This is a time when we all need to come together. We may have differences, but we need to find those things that unite us.”

... Beck urged graduates not to underestimate the power of the atonement. When he was 13, his mother took her life. He said he nearly followed in her footsteps.

“As a man who needed the atonement … I read the promise. He will carry your burdens. I made Him a promise. You keep your word and I will keep mine,” he said. “He will never break his promise, and now it’s all up to me. [The atonement] is the most powerful thing you will ever encounter.”

The original story on Liberty's website did not note that Beck is a Mormon; however, Falwell noted in a statement that speakers have represented a diversity of religious beliefs.

“The baccalaureate ceremony always includes a gospel message brought by someone who is in complete theological alignment with the university,” Falwell said. “Commencement, however, has always featured leaders from all walks of life and all faiths who share the university’s social values and traditional family values. Commencement speakers have included representatives from the following faiths: Roman Catholicism, Judaism, mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church, and even some speakers with no religious affiliation at all.”

Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave the keynote address at the Baccalaureate Service on Friday. Yesterday, Beck read from his journal he originally wrote for his daughter.

“Your father loves you and so does your heavenly Father. … As long as we have today, we can change the world. … Marry for love, marry for laughs, but mostly importantly as my wife Tania taught me, marry for God. Without God, life’s storms are too strong to withstand. … Life is hard, and then it gets harder. Then you die. But every second of life is worth it. … Always forgive, but don’t forget so much that you put yourself in the same situation. … Freedom and rights are given to man by God, they are his, we are the guardians. … Read the Scriptures every day — they are alive. He speaks to you through them.”

May 14, 2010

Evangelicals Find New Unity on Immigration

In the shadow of Arizona's strict immigration law, a broad range of evangelical leaders are speaking in support of comprehensive immigration reform, with more specifics than some were able to embrace before.

At the same time, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, New York's Charles Schumer, is hoping evangelicals will nudge their allies in the GOP to push an on-again, off-again immigration bill through Congress.

The renewed push came in the form of a full-page ad in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, paid for by the National Association of Evangelicals, and a three-page policy proposal from Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal firm.

The NAE statement calls for keeping families intact, securing national borders, and establishing a path to legal citizenship for qualified people who want to become permanent residents.

"Initiatives to remedy this crisis have led to polarization and name calling in which opponents have misrepresented each others' positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions," the ad reads.

"This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate."

The Liberty Counsel blueprint was even more specific, calling for a "just assimilation" of those seeking legal citizenship that includes lessons in English and U.S. history. It says temporary worker visas recognize the need for "field workers to engineers" in U.S. companies.

"America deserves a just immigration policy," the statement said, "one that begins with securing, not closing, our borders, one that provides a temporary guest-worker program, and one that offers a pathway for earned legal citizenship or temporary residency."

Continue reading Evangelicals Find New Unity on Immigration...

May 6, 2010

Christians Defy Judge's Ruling and Mark National Day of Prayer

For years, the annual National Day of Prayer observances on Capitol Hill had become almost routine affairs as mostly conservative Christian groups bowed with legislators to pray for the soul of America.

But this year, after a federal judge ruled the law creating the day is unconstitutional, Thursday's events took on an air of defiance as organizers accused nonbelievers of threatening their religious freedom.

"I think it is waking people up across this land," said evangelist Franklin Graham, the honorary chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, who was disinvited from Pentagon observances because of his remarks on Islam.

"I think people realize, many Christians, how we're losing our religious freedoms a little bit every day and if we don't stand up and exercise the freedoms that God has given us in this country, we will lose them."

Graham began the day praying on the sidewalk outside the Pentagon, after military officials withdrew his invitation to speak because his comments about Islam -- he's called it an "evil and wicked religion" -- were "problematic."

Across the country Thursday, organizers said more than 40,000 events were scheduled to be held at parks, churches and courthouse steps -- more than any other year and an increase of more than 15 percent from last year.

Shirley Dobson, leader of the task force and the wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, noted that the nationwide observances are voluntary.

"Citizens can choose to pray or not to pray," she said. "No one is required to participate, despite what the opponents of public prayer say."

She was thankful that the Obama administration is appealing the April 15 decision by Wisconsin federal judge Barbara Crabb -- who ruled observances could continue as her decision is appealed. Dobson said the Pentagon's rescinded invitation was "dishonoring" to Graham and his son, Edward, an Army captain now serving in Afghanistan.

"This situation that's come up the last several weeks serves as yet another indication of the relentless assaults against our religious liberty," she said.

Continue reading Christians Defy Judge's Ruling and Mark National Day of Prayer...

May 4, 2010

Dobson Switches to Rand Paul for Senate

James Dobson has switched his endorsement from Trey Grayson to Rand Paul in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Dobson said that “senior members of the GOP” mislead him by saying that Paul, who is the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, was pro-choice. He said that Paul identifies with the tea party and calls him "my kind of man." Here's a portion of the advertisement Paul is running in Kentucky:

Have you ever made an embarrassing mistake? I did just that last week. I was given misleading information about the candidacy of Dr. Rand Paul, who's running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Senior members of the GOP told me that Dr. Paul is a pro-choice and that he opposes many conservative perspectives, so I endorsed his opponent. But now I've received further information from OB-GYNs in Kentucky whom I trust and from interviewing the candidate himself. I now know he is avidly pro-life, he believes life begins at conception, he opposes ear-marking, he supports Israel, and identifies with the tea party, and believes in homeschooling. Sounds like my kind of man.

A few weeks ago, CT noted that few conservative Christian groups are promoting tea party events, and last month, Chuck Colson expressed caution about the tea party movement.

When he first backed Grayson, Dobson said, "Trey Grayson is the only candidate with the conviction to lead on the issues that matter to Kentucky families. His unwavering commitment to the sanctity of human life and the family resonates with me. I know that he will be a leader on these issues, not just another Senator who checks the box."

In unrelated news, Dobson's Family Talk broadcasts began yesterday. Earlier, Dobson had endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry right before he ended his radio program at Focus on the Family.

He also supports Dan Coats for his old Senate seat in Indiana who faces the Republican primary today.

April 23, 2010

Glenn Beck to Give Liberty U. Commencement Speech

Fox News commentator Glenn Beck will deliver the commencement address at Liberty University's May 15 graduation.

“Beck is one of the few courageous voices in the national media standing up for the principles upon which this nation was founded,” Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor of Liberty University, said in the school newspaper's story.

The baccalaureate address will be delivered by Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, whom Falwell called one of the “patriarchs of Christian higher education."

"Both speakers continue Liberty’s long tradition of commencement speakers who are making a positive impact on society in all walks of life,” he said.

In 2008, Focus on the Family pulled an interview with Beck over concerns with his Mormon faith. Christianity Today did a feature on Liberty last fall and has followed Beck's call to "leave your church" if it promotes social justice.

March 15, 2010

Do You Party With Tea?

Media outlets appear confused over whether evangelicals are taking interest in Tea Party activities.

Politico says the movement is stirring fears among evangelicals.

A reeling economy and the massive bank bailout and stimulus plan were the triggers for a resurgence in support for the Republican Party and the rise of the tea party movement. But they’ve also banished the social issues that are the focus of many evangelical Christians to the background.

And while health care legislation has brought social and economic conservatives together to fight government funding of abortion, some social conservative leaders have begun to express concern that tea party leaders don’t care about their issues, while others object to the personal vitriol against President Barack Obama, whose personal conduct many conservative Christians applaud.

The Los Angeles Times sees social conservatives are putting a religious twist on tea party messages.


In news releases, mission statements and interviews, prominent social conservatives increasingly are using the small-government rhetoric popular with the tea party activists and long used by economic conservatives -- but with a religious bent.

Their websites explore the morality of debt and the risks to religious freedom posed by growing government. Like the tea party activists, they reverently invoke the Founding Fathers, but emphasize the role the founders' faith played in their writings.

Finally, The New York Times ran a piece on Friday on how Tea Party leaders don't spend time on social issues.

For decades, faith and family have been at the center of the conservative movement. But as the Tea Party infuses conservatism with new energy, its leaders deliberately avoid discussion of issues like gay marriage or abortion.

God, life and family get little if any mention in statements or manifestos. The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, a large coalition of groups, is “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.”

What say you? Are you involved in a Tea Party activities? Perhaps you prefer coffee?

March 12, 2010

Joel Hunter Leaves the Republican Party

Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter told CT today in an e-mail that he has left the Republican Party.

For 40 years I was a registered Republican like Paul was a registered Pharisee after he became a follower of Christ - when it furthered the agenda of the Gospel (as I understood it) then I was active as a Rep. When it didn't, I wasn't.

I was never comfortable being identified with a political Party but the hyper-partisanship and the outside voices hijacking legitimate political debate is not something of which I will be a part.

Christian philanthropist Howard Ahmanson left the GOP to become a Democrat in May 2009.

CT has profiled Hunter and interviewed him several times in the past about his relationship with President Obama.

(h/t Ben Smith)

March 3, 2010

Wildmon Resigns From American Family Association

Donald E. Wildmon, founder of American Family Association (AFA) for more than 30 years, has resigned from his position as chairman after several months of hospitalization, according to a press release.

Wildmon contracted encephalitis from a bite from a mosquito with the virus, and he also had surgery for cancer on his left eye.

Wildmon said in the release that he will continue to work at the ministry but will not have a leadership role. Wildmon said his son Tim, who has been with AFA for 24 years, is expected to lead the ministry, according to the release.

Wildmon began AFA in 1977, and the ministry now operates on a $20 million annual budget with 175 employees, owning 180 radio stations and publishing a monthly magazine.


February 22, 2010

Dobson Endorses Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson today endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry for re-election, according to CNN.

Perry faces a primary battle against Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was endorsed by former President George H.W. Bush in January.

"Over the years, Gov. Perry has established a record that is consistently pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-religious liberty," Dobson said in a statement. "No other candidate in this race measures up to the high standards established by Gov. Perry on these critical issues of our day."

In the 2008 election, Dobson endorsed former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in the primaries and later endorsed Arizona Senator John McCain. Dobson retired from his role at Focus on the Family but announced he would begin his own radio show. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Dobson's show will begin February 26.

September 1, 2009

Obama's Ramadan Dinner

Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter attended President Obama's Ramadan dinner tonight, another instance of an evangelical commemorating the Muslim holy month.

Brian McLaren is fasting in observance of Ramadan. However, Hunter, who has reached out to Muslims in the Orlando area in the past, attended due to his role on the faith-based office's advisory council. Ramadan commemorates the month during which Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to Mohammed.

Portions of Obama's remarks from t he dinner can be found after the jump.

Continue reading Obama's Ramadan Dinner...

August 18, 2009

Founder of American Family Association in Intensive Care

Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association (AFA), is in intensive care at a Mississippi hospital for meningitis.

AFA President Tim Wildmon said in an e-mail to supporters that his father was diagnosed over the weekend, but his condition had improved in the last day.

Don Wildmon founded the conservative organization as the National Federation for Decency in 1977. The website claims 180,000 paid subscribers to its monthly magazine, the AFA Journal, and owns and operates about 200 radio stations.

August 6, 2009

Doonsbury Takes on The Fellowship

The comic strip Doonsbury takes this week to mock The Fellowship, a group that ministers to high profile leaders in Washington, D.C. Nevada Sen. John Ensign and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford have both been involved with The Fellowship and recently admitted having affairs. The group meets for prayer and Bible studies, and some politicians live in a house on C Street in the district.

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau starts off on Monday with captions "A troubled GOP lawmaker furtively makes his way to the one place he'll be understood, supported, and above all, forgiven...the house of fallen sons."

On Tuesday
, the politician asks a character from The Fellowship, "May I meet the family in prayer so I can be absolved of an adulterous affair? Also, can I get a room for my girlfriend?" The man responds, "First things first. How's Friday?"

Wednesday's strip caricatures members of the group wanting details on his affair. Today, Trudeau depicted the politician saying "I had no inkling that God would then test me by placing her husband in my path. First he demanded $50,000 for his silence, then, after I paid, he raised it to $100,000!" Someone in the group says, "So her husband betrayed you." He asks, "Yes, but I'm a Christian. Do I forgive him?"

Any predictions for Friday?

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(h/t Bill Shuster)

July 30, 2009

Late Jack Kemp Given Medal of Freedom

This morning, the White House announced that the late Jack Kemp, a hero of many political conservatives, prolifers, and many conservative evangelicals, would be awarded the Medal of Freedom. (See below for the full list, which also includes Desmond Tutu and Rev. Joseph Lowery.)

Kemp's biography reveals a person of conviction who lived out his life in the public through sports, politics, and social activism, motivated by his faith convictions. He joined his wife's Presbyterian church after their marriage.

In the New York Times obit from this past May, there was this comment:

"Jack Kemp is the indispensable political leader of the modern conservative economic revival," Edwin J. Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research institution in Washington, said recently, adding, "Jack's role in developing and exploring the potential of supply-side economics in the late 1970s laid the groundwork for Reagan's economic program."

Kemp was indeed a rare person and most conservatives (I hope) will salute the decision of the Obama administration to grant Kemp this kind of recognition. His voice certainly is missed in the current political debates in Washington.

Continue reading Late Jack Kemp Given Medal of Freedom...

July 20, 2009

Hate Crimes Legislation Moves Forward

The Senate voted July 16 to close discussion and attach the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as an amendment to the Department of Defense Act. The act would add sexual orientation to the category of hate crimes, and the House pass a similar version earlier this year. Changes can still be proposed today, according to the Associated Press.

Because the act is attached to the larger Department of Defense (DOD) spending bill, the entire bill still has to be discussed in a conference committee for both the House and Senate in order to produce a final version. The Washington Times writes about the legislation’s past failures:

Senate Democrats have pushed the hate-crimes legislation since 1993 and successfully added it to two of the past three defense authorization bills, though both times it was removed in negotiating a final version with the House.

Emboldened by having a Democrat in the White House, supporters are optimistic it will make it to Mr. Obama's desk this year.

Because the act is attached to a DOD bill which contains extra funding for F-22s that President Obama has publicly opposed, proponents of the act are expressing concern that even if the bill comes out of committee with the act intact, the president might veto it despite his support for hate crimes legislation.

Continue reading Hate Crimes Legislation Moves Forward...

July 7, 2009

Christian Left Takes Messages to the Air Waves

Radio waves appear to be the conduit for Christian activism this summer. Christian organizations are running political ads "framing the issue as an urgent matter of Biblical morality," The Wall Street Journal reports.

The American Values Network spent nearly $200,000 placing radio ads advocating action against global warming, according to the report. Previous ads have described the effect of climate change and the need for "redemption."

The Wall Street Journal points out that at least one of the American Values ads supported by name the Waxman-Markey climate bill, which passed the House last week.

Last weekend, radio ads sponsored by Faith in Public Life, Sojourners, and the PICO National Network ran in five states urging "people of faith" to ask their senators to support health care reform.

Continue reading Christian Left Takes Messages to the Air Waves ...

July 1, 2009

Conservatives Launch New `Freedom Federation'

A new federation of two dozen conservative Christian groups announced plans today to work together to strategize around moral values they feel are under attack across the
country.

"We are not wed to a particular partisan candidate or party," said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and an organizer of the Freedom Federation. "We are wed to core shared values."

Those values include opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and pornography and support for religious freedom, limited government and the right to own firearms.

The announcement followed a meeting of some 30 leaders who began a dialogue but did not draw up concrete action plans. Several leaders said work could include addressing health care reform and immigration reform and opposing gay marriage.

Asked if the federation is a response to the new Obama administration, with which many of the affiliated organizations often disagree, Staver said: "It certainly has heightened the concern. It didn't start the concern."

Continue reading Conservatives Launch New `Freedom Federation'...

June 24, 2009

Southern Baptists Express `Pride' in Obama's Election

Southern Baptists on Wednesday overwhelmingly expressed their "pride" in President Obama's election as the nation's first African-American president while also criticizing his policies that they oppose.

The resolution, adopted at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., said Baptists "share our nation's pride in our continuing progress toward racial reconciliation signaled by the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America."

The statement also commended Obama for his "evident love for his family" and retention of security policies that "continue to keep our nation safe from further terrorist attacks."

At the same time, Baptists voiced strong opposition to his expansion of federal funding "for destructive human embryo research," increased "funding for pro-abortion groups" and a reduction of abstinence-education funding. The resolution also opposed Obama's declaration of June as "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month."

Continue reading Southern Baptists Express `Pride' in Obama's Election...

June 24, 2009

NAE Chooses Cizik's Replacement

The National Association of Evangelicals has chosen a replacement for Richard Cizik, who resigned last year after saying he was shifting his views on same-sex civil unions. The new director of government affairs is Galen Carey, a longtime employee of World Relief, the NAE's humanitarian arm. The full story is on CT's site.

June 12, 2009

Groups Fight Legalized Online Gambling

Several Christian groups signed a letter this week to as the House to oppose a bill that would legalize online gambling in the U.S.

"The prevalence of gambling addiction is three to four times higher with Internet gambling versus noninternet gambling. ... online gambling represents a highly invasive and reckless form of taxation dependent on human exploitation," the statement says.

Signers included Focus on the Family Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Gary Bauer, president of American Values, Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, and Tom McClusky of Family Research Council.

The government started enforcing the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act this week by seizing more than $30 million in assets. The signers also urge the House to oppose a bill that would give banks more time to comply with UIGEA.

June 11, 2009

Christian Activists Push for Immigration Reform

Several Christian activists don't want to see immigration reform get left behind the administration's economic and health care concerns.

In a press conference on Wednesday, members of Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), a nonpartisan coalition of churches and other organizations, expressed urgency that immigration reform happen this year. "Every single day that we wait on immigration reform is more suffering we are inflicting on undocumented people," said Jim Wallis, President and CEO of Sojourners. "This is a matter of faith for us. The way we treat the stranger, the scriptures say, is the way we treat Jesus in himself. And the stranger, in the face and form of undocumented people, is not being treated very well."

Their objective might be challenged in the House by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and in the Senate by Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont), who want to add same-sex partners in the same category as spouses in new immigration legislation. Senator Leahy told The New York Times it was "a matter of fairness," while Honda said in the San Francisco Chronicle that "it's a civil rights issue."

Politico reported that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is withdrawing its support from the bill over the issue of gay rights. Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told Politico that the addition of gay rights language was a "slap in the face to those of us who have fought for years for immigration reform." However, on Wednesday, Rodriguez indicated that the group's unity is their greatest asset when he said that "the strength of the coalition is stronger than anything that may arise in Congress."

Continue reading Christian Activists Push for Immigration Reform...

June 2, 2009

Anti-Filibuster Group Calls for Filibuster (sort of)

A coalition of leaders from conservative groups, including many evangelical activists, recently petitioned Republican Senators to use their filibuster power to lengthen the Supreme Court nomination debate.

The petition carefully avoids any mention of Sonia Sotomayor, or any call to vote against President Obama's nominee. Instead, the coalition asks Republican Senators to "make crystal clear why Americans should believe that Republicans are intelligent defenders of the Constitution, or not." The Third Branch asks that the filibuster "honestly displays the differences between Republicans and Democrats to the American people."

The Third Branch Conference, formed in 2005 by Manuel Miranda, was originally known as "The National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters." Its purpose was to fight attempts to block President Bush's nominations through the use of a Senate filibuster.

Yet, in this letter, the conference calls on Senators to be ready to use a "traditional filibuster." The stated goal is not to block the nominee but to extend the debate so that the public understands the differences in the parties' judicial philosophies.

Continue reading Anti-Filibuster Group Calls for Filibuster (sort of)...

May 28, 2009

Focus on the Family: 'The Obama administration is really listening'

A representative of Focus on the Family attended a faith-based office discussion on children in foster care, and a follow-up CitizenLink article seems cautiously optimistic.

Kelly Rosati, adoptive mother of four and senior director of Focus on the Family’s Sanctity of Human Life department, was among those in attendance.

“The Obama administration is really listening," she said, "and wanted to know from those on the front lines what could be better done to serve the kids in America’s foster care system."

Unfortunately, the president supports placing some of those kids with homosexual couples.

This takes a different tone from the pretend letter that Focus on the Family Action issued just a few weeks before the election, which said that several events would take place during an Obama administration, including terrorists attacks on four U.S. cities.

May 8, 2009

Jack Kemp's Spiritual Secret

Peggy Noonan provides a loving tribute to "an optimist not in the modern and prevalent sense of being too stupid to know things can go bad, but in a way that suggested an informed sunniness."

Jack Kemp died this week at the age of 73. According to columnist Peggy Noonan, the late NFL quarterback, congressman from Buffalo, HUD secretary, and vice presidential candidate was spiritually grounded and supported by a praying wife, Joanne.

She picked their first house because it was near her church, Fourth Presbyterian in Bethesda, Md. For 38 years she's led a Christian study group that meets every Friday morning at her home. She did the same in Buffalo. "He was the power of political ideas, she was the power of spiritual ones," says their son. She has devoted her time and energy to friends, neighbors, husband, Prison Fellowship, groups that advocate for the unborn, four children and 17 grandchildren. She is one of those who quietly make it possible for Washington to function, however imperfectly, as a real and coherent community.

Once before I was to give a big speech, I saw her in the audience and told her I felt nervous. "Then we must pray," she said, and did, unselfconsciously, with focus, in a gray folding chair in a cavernous auditorium with hundreds of people milling about. That's who was behind Jack Kemp. No wonder he did what he did.

May 8, 2009

Focus on the Family Defends Miss California, Dobson to Interview Prejean (Updated)

Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family, said the Christian community should stand behind Miss California, even after a racy photo of her appearing in panties appeared on a gossip blog.

"In her moment of truth, standing on a national stage and defending marriage, that meant more for the cause of marriage than anything else," he said.

Several conservative Christian groups praised Carrie Prejean for her voicing her opposition to same-sex marriage during the Miss USA pageant. After a racy photo of her was posted on the web, Prejean said her Christian faith was under attack and that the photo was taken while she was a teenager.

CitizenLink writes, "Daly pointed out that we are all sinners, saved by grace."

"I think at this moment, we should stand behind Carrie," he said. "The reality is we're all fallen people, we're all made in God's image, and Jesus has come to set us free."

Dobson will interview Prejean for a two-day broadcast starting Monday.

Update: Jim Daly told Christianity Today that the Prejean interview was taped before the semi-nude lingerie photos emerged, so there will be no questions asked about them on broadcast. But James Dobson does plan to make a brief statement at the beginning of the show.

"Within the Christian community, it's a fair debate about what she's done in the modeling industry. But it's a distraction to the more important story of religious freedom," Daly said. "Pageantry and underwear commercials: We would not encourage Christian women to go do those things. At the same time, no matter what your profession, I've heard of God using it and radical grace breaking through. It can find any of us at any times in our lives: the alcoholic, the prostitute, the model, the businessman that's having an affair. I'd hate to have the Christian community focus on poor decisions she's made as opposed to celebrating that she had the courage to speak for biblical truth."

Continue reading Focus on the Family Defends Miss California, Dobson to Interview Prejean (Updated)...

April 23, 2009

After Years of Rejecting It, Sojourners Claims the Religious Left Label (Updated)

Is the organization rebranding itself?

I received a surprising press release e-mail last night from Jason Gedeik, deputy press secretary of Sojourners:

I wanted to gauge your interest in the first big mobilization of the Religious Left in the Obama era - a signal of the shift in power dynamics. Sojourners is mobilizing over a thousand Christian activists and 70 religious and anti-poverty groups at a conference next week in DC to prepare a new poverty coalition for legislative battle this year. This is the Religious Left filling the hole created by the decline of the Religious Right but now we have the political power and ear of the White House - definitely a new trend and a "first" within this new political era.

What's fascinating isn't really the gathering of activists. That happens all the time. What's amazing is the repeated self-identification as "Religious Left."

For decades, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis has repeatedly argued that neither he nor Sojourners are part of the Religious Left.

photo of Jim Wallis

"There is a Religious Left in this country, and I'm not a part of it," Wallis told me last year.

And earlier this year, he told CT's Sarah Pulliam he didn't like the terms Religious Left or Religious Right. "I would not be happy with labeling anyone just right-wing. That's simplistic and reductionist," he said. "Labels are shorthand, sloppy ways to describe someone."

He told The Seattle Times in 2004 that there should not even be a Religious Left. "People of faith should not be in any party's pockets, any candidate's pockets," he said. "The religious right was a political party, not a religious one. There should not now be a religious left."

"But isn't there the perception that you're part of the religious left?" Times reporter Janet I. Tu asked.

"The media only sees that," he said. "The media thinks everything has only two sides. People are hungry for a moral center."

The Sojourners website has several other quotes from Wallis saying things like, "The alternative to the Religious Right is not the Religious Left. It's time to transcend the old polarities of our public life."

In fact, his most popular book was subtitled, "Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It."

So is Gedeik off message by using the phrase? Or is Sojourners rebranding itself?

Update (9:30 a.m.): I just got off the phone with Gedeik, who said the use of the phrase is strategic.

"Part of that was to grab your attention and make you guys think," he said. "Regardless of how we want to be branded, the media likes to use phrases that are easily encapsulated. Progressive is the word Jim likes to use, but for the media progressive and Left or liberal are somewhat interchangeable."

Continue reading After Years of Rejecting It, Sojourners Claims the Religious Left Label (Updated)...

April 14, 2009

Did Dobson Concede Defeat?

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson is scheduled to appear tonight on Fox's "Hannity" to debunk an article from the London's Telegraph article titled "US religious Right concedes defeat."

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A CitizenLink alert says Dobson intends to "set the record straight about media reports indicating he has 'conceded defeat' in the so-called culture war."

Here's the Telegraph article Dobson plans to debunk.

"We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action," he said.

"We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles."

Here's how Citizenlink responds:

Continue reading Did Dobson Concede Defeat?...

April 8, 2009

Faith-based Advisers Petition Obama on Conscience Protections

Five members of President Obama's faith-based advisory council have joined the debate over his plan to rescind recent conscience protections for healthcare workers, but could not agree whether those rules should remain intact or be overturned.

Obama's Department of Health and Human Services has set a Thursday deadline for comments to be submitted on whether regulations former President Bush enacted in December should be overturned, as Obama plans to do.

The letter, signed by eight religious leaders and scholars, said upfront that some signers would urge HHS to retain the Bush regulations, while others would urge the Department to rescind them.

Continue reading Faith-based Advisers Petition Obama on Conscience Protections...

April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day (in Religion & Politics)

"Brace yourself," I thought, after reading almost every news story, blog post, Facebook message, and tweet today. April 1 is a day to be easily fooled, and Sojourners tried its hand at fooling.

"Video: Rush Limbaugh to Speak at Sojourners’ Mobilization to End Poverty"

Continue reading April Fool's Day (in Religion & Politics)...

April 1, 2009

NAE President Wades Carefully into Immigration Debate

The president of the National Association of Evangelicals took a rare step into the immigration debate Tuesday, saying that the long waiting period for citizenship must be
shortened.

"There are inconsistencies and many outdated aspects of immigration laws, and I think they are therefore unjust and unfair," said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The NAE consists of 79 different member denominations, which is one of the reasons Anderson said he is hesitant to make strong statements on immigration. The NAE is drafting a resolution on this issue, and Anderson said the first draft found support at a board meeting in March.

"There was a very positive response that this was an important issue, and I think that makes sense because so many of our evangelical denominations have significant growth through the Hispanic community, and the Hispanic community is increasingly a major part of the evangelical movement through the United States so of course we care about that," Anderson said.

Continue reading NAE President Wades Carefully into Immigration Debate...

March 26, 2009

Donald Miller Added to Faith-Based Office Task Force

Author Donald Miller, who campaigned for President Obama, will be on a task force for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Miller became involved with the Obama campaign after he gave the benediction at the Democratic National Convention. He then traveled with the campaign to Christian colleges, including Calvin and Hope Colleges in Michigan. He writes about his new role with the office on his blog but doesn't go into details.

I’ll be meeting with the CFBCI about twice a month, when I’m able to sit on on the conference call, and I’ll keep you informed of their progress. It all sounds really good to me and I’m honored to be one of the people they’ve asked for input. I assure you I’m a small fish on the phone. Perhaps the smallest.

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Evangelicals on the office's broader council include Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, Frank S. Page, president emeritus of the Southern Baptist Convention, Joel C. Hunter, pastor of Northland, a Church Distributed, and Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners.

Director of the office Joshua DuBois told me earlier this week that the rest of the members have been chosen and will be announced soon.

Continue reading Donald Miller Added to Faith-Based Office Task Force...

February 27, 2009

James Dobson Resigns

James Dobson resigned as chairman of Focus on the Family, The Associated Press reports.

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He will continue to host Focus on the Family's radio program, write a monthly newsletter and speak out on moral issues, Eric Gorski writes for the AP. Daly told Gorski that there is no timetable for Dobson to leave the radio program that garners 1.5 million listeners, and the group will "look for the next voice for the next generation" while Dobson remains on the air.

On political matters, Dobson "will continue to speak out as he always has - a private citizen and not a representative of the organization he founded," said Gary Schneeberger, a Focus on the Family spokesman. He said the nonprofit ministry and Focus on the Family Action - an affiliate set up under a different section of the tax code that permits more political activity - will continue to be active on public policy.

January 28, 2009

Focus on the Family Action Taps Former Bush Aide who Resigned for Plagiarism

Focus on the Family Action recently hired Timothy Goeglein, a former White House aide who resigned last year after he admitted to plagiarism. He will fill a new role of vice president of external relations, according to the group's CitizenLink magazine.

"News reports are calling him a lobbyist, but Goeglein will actually be Focus Action's 'eyes and ears in Washington,'" the article states.

Goeglein left his position in the White House last year after he admitted to copying work a Dartmouth College publication for several of his columns for his hometown newspaper, the The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He told the newspaper, "Pride. Vanity. It's all my fault. It's inexcusable. What I did is wrong. I categorically apologize."

He was special assistant to President Bush and public liaison deputy director, often acting as a pipeline for social conservatives, including evangelicals. He was also once a spokesman for Gary Bauer, who ran for president in 2000.

The CitizenLink article makes no mention of the plagiarism story, but a press release from the organization does.

He has accepted full responsibility for his actions, and the matter is behind him, the organization's president and CEO Jim Daly said in the release.

"Tim has been forthright about his mistakes and humbly accepted the consequences of them ? a pretty rare thing in Washington," Daly said in the statement. "He is a Christian, and being a Christian doesn't mean you're perfect ? only that there is grace and forgiveness when you confess your imperfections. Tim has done that, and we welcome him to our team enthusiastically."

Continue reading Focus on the Family Action Taps Former Bush Aide who Resigned for Plagiarism...

January 27, 2009

Spiffy up that Resume

The National Association of Evangelicals launched a search today for someone to replace Richard Cizik as director of government affairs.

Cizik resigned in December after he told National Public Radio that he is shifting his views on same-sex unions.

A spokeswoman for the NAE said the organization does not have a set time frame that it wants to have the position filled.

From the release, here's what the individual will be expected to do.

The Director of Government Affairs will be responsible for representing the NAE before Congress, the White House and the Courts and will work to advance the approach and principles of the NAE document For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.

Job qualifications include, among others, personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, agreement to and affirmation of the NAE Statement of Faith, and participation in an NAE affiliated congregation. Candidates must also possess knowledge of evangelical beliefs, history and community, along with experience in government affairs and a familiarity with politics and policies of concern to evangelicals.

January 15, 2009

Giving Obama an Agenda

Everybody wants to give president-elect Barack Obama their two cents, and a coalition of evangelicals and Third Way put their's in this morning.

Third Way, a Washington think tank aiming to shape Democratic Party policy, partnered with the evangelicals to give Obama's transition team policy recommendations, which include the following:

? Reducing abortions through common ground policies. We agree on a goal of reducing
abortions in America through policies that address the circumstances that lead to
abortion: preventing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women and new
families, and increasing support for adoption.
? Protecting the rights of gay and lesbian people to earn a living. Based on a common
commitment to fairness and the Golden Rule, we support a policy that makes it illegal
to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote employees based on their sexual orientation.
We also believe that there must be a clear exemption for faith-based employers.
? Renouncing torture. We agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American.
? Creating secure and comprehensive immigration reform. We agree that we need
secure, compassionate, and comprehensive immigration reform. We support policies that
create an earned path to citizenship and protect families, while securing our borders and
treating American taxpayers fairly.

The memo's drafters include the following:
? Rachel Laser, Director of the Culture Program for Third Way;
? Dr. Robert P. Jones, Visiting Fellow at Third Way and President of Public Religion Research;
? Dr. David Gushee, Professor at Mercer University and President of Evangelicals for Human Rights;
? Rev. Dr. Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor at Northland, A Church Distributed;
? Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference;
? Dr. Ronald J. Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action;
? Katie Paris, Director of Communications Strategy for Faith in Public Life

Update:
The audio from the press conference can be found at Faith in Public Life's website.

"The culture wars have been characterized by vilifying those who differ from us on provocative issues and treating them as traitors and threats," Hunter said at the press conference. "I believe we can end those wars by thinking of our differences as ways we can learn from each other and advance without compromising core values."

January 9, 2009

Joe the Journalist Goes to Gaza

Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher, told a television station that he plans to report from the Middle East for www.pjtv.com, a conservative Christian Web site, for 10 days.

"Being a Christian I'm pretty well protected by God I believe," Wurzelbacher said. "That's not saying he's going to stop a mortar for me, but you gotta take the chance."

Wurzelbacher became famous after John McCain referred to him several times in a presidential debate in October. The plumber's move coincidentally comes shortly after he released a new book.

"I get to go over there and let their "Average Joes" share their story, what they think, how they feel, especially with world opinion, maybe get a real story out there," Wurzelbacher told the station.

December 18, 2008

Moral Majority Founder, Conservative Leader Paul Weyrich Dies

Paul M. Weyrich, who co-founded the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell in 1979, died this morning around 1 a.m. He was 66 years old.

Weyrich was the first president of The Heritage Foundation and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

Weyrich wrote a piece for Christianity Today as part of a package on "Is the Religious Right Finished?"

Weyrich's last column was published this morning on the CNS News site where he writes on the Minnesota Senate race. Check back on our site for updates.

Update: Christianity Today has posted the obituary by Religion News Service.

December 11, 2008

Richard Cizik Resigns from the National Association of Evangelicals

Richard Cizik resigned last night as vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Christianity Today
has posted a news story on its main site, an interview with Leith Anderson, president of the NAE, and relevant portions of the National Public Radio interview, which started it all.

December 10, 2008

Bush Gives Presidential Medal to Chuck Colson

President Bush gave Charles Colson the Presidential Citizen Medal today.

He was one of 24 people honored today with the second highest honor for a civilian, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Colson was the first member of the Nixon administration to serve prison time for Watergate-related offenses and founded Prison Fellowship in 1976.

"For more than three decades, Chuck Colson has dedicated his life to sharing the message of God's boundless love and mercy with prisoners, former prisoners and their families," the White House said in the citation. "Through his strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society."

Colson is also a columnist for Christianity Today.

November 7, 2008

On The Religious Left, Great Expectations

The first priorities for Barack Obama's administration will be the economy and a variety of foreign policy issues. But the burgeoning religious left, which worked so hard to get Obama elected, expects some movement on its issues, including a robust White House office of faith-based initiatives, poverty reduction, and reducing demand for abortion.

Here's what Matthew 25 Network founder Mara Vanderslice (pictured) told God-o-Meter about this last issue:

I hope that an Obama administration is going to prove to religious Americans that supported him that he's going to provide common ground on the abortion issue. He spoke directly about wanting to reduce the number of abortions and it's one of the first things people are looking for: How is he going to legislate and lead on that issue?

I wish they had been more vocal on this intention to reduce abortion [on the campaign trail]. He [Obama] said it at different times and locations but the pro-life groups got their message out very effectively, painting Obama as an extremist on the issue. I don't think that's true but they had some success with that. So it's up to a new Obama administration to show us he's going to find that common ground.

Many in the religious left see such untraditional Democratic policy initiatives as abortion reduction not only as a genuine priority for their movement but also as a political necessity if Obama and the Democrats want to hold onto their gains among certain faith constituencies, from white Catholics and evangelicals to Latino Christians to black Protestants.

(Originally posted at Beliefnet's God-o-Meter)

November 5, 2008

A Post-Election Chat with Ralph Reed

Amid today's talk that Barack Obama has narrowed the God Gap, God-o-Meter checked in with Ralph Reed, who spearheaded religious outreach for George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns and who pioneered such outreach for Republicans as executive director of the Christian Coalition.

What surprised you in the exit polls?

The durability--in a difficult election cycle--of the Republicans' conservative coalition--the overwhelming margin for McCain among evangelicals was about what Bush got four years ago. I don't think anyone would have anticipated that six or eight months ago. I don't think that was due entirely to the Palin effect, although she helped.

But the Republican Party has to do some retooling of the party's grassroots infrastructure, its message and the messengers because we lost some states last night that we haven't lost in two generations, like Virginia and Indiana.

So one surprise was that evangelicals, who were seen to be despondent over the McCain and the GOP, turned out in droves.

But a truly successful majority party is a multitasking party that tends to its core supporters and reaches out to those who haven't always felt welcome in their ranks. Obama clearly did that. He never wavered from his core liberal positions... But he reached out to evangelicals, which was a smart thing to do. Now, it didn't' work. e tried to emulate Martin Luther King in speaking about the challenges of the poor and left behind in a way that the white majority could hear.

Ronald Reagan did that, reaching out to Catholics and blue collar voters. And four years ago, Bush got 44-percent of the Hispanic vote even while winning 78-percent of evangelicals. So it's not an either or--you got to do both. The party has to stay true to social conservative but also has to figure out a way to win younger voters and African Americans and Hispanics.

If Obama's evangelical outreach failed, why was it a smart thing to do?

Because to be competitive in the South and the Midwest heartland of the country whether you win evangelicals votes are not there are a lot of moderate and independent voters that were beginning to have the view that the Democrats are hostile to religious voters. [That] was hardening. Even if you don't get the evangelical vote, if you're going to carry Virginia and Florida and Indiana and Missouri, you can't be viewed as hostile to religion and the values that people hold. So the Democrats were smart to begin talking about faith and values.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. If you look at what we did at Christian Coalition and then with the Bush campaign, [the Democrats] tried to beat us by attacking us. And it dint' work. And after about 15 years of attacking the values message, the Democrats decided to copy it and it was smart.

That's a welcome mat to Republicans--they shouldn't attempt to veer way from the values message. You can say a lot about what caused this [McCain's defeat] but it wasn't caused by the Republican Party's values message. In two states that McCain lost, Florida and California, McCain lost even as marriage amendments won.

But do you worry that McCain's loss will be blamed on Sarah Palin and other religious conservatives, who may have scared off independent voters?

I'm not worried at all. If you look at the polling, from the time Palin was selected around August 31 to September 20, when Lehman Brothers cratered and the DOW lost 25 percent and you have a credit crisis and financial panic, MCain was doing fairly well among independents and better among soft Democrats.

The Palin effect was across the board. It energized the base and caused independents and women to give her a second look. The gap began to yawn again around the financial panic. It was after McCain suspended his campaign and went to Washington and was not able to come up with a solution that united his party. But if you talk to people on the ground, the volunteers, the door-to-door knockers [for McCain], they were invisible until McCain selected Palin. I think it's revisionist history to blame the bottom of the ticket for issues that were always top of the ticket.

There's been a lot of talk about Palin's future. How can she have a future as a national candidate if her appeal is strong but limited to the Republican base--largely its religious base?

The strong but limited appeal was based on the ticket. The ticket underperformed among independents and those outside the Republican coalition. The sinking tide lowered all boats. But I don't think it's fair to particularize it to her. She has not yet been tested as a candidate in a normal national campaign, where she'd get the opportunity to introduce herself to voters in a primary.

I'd argue that if Obama had not run for president and Hillary Clinton would have won the nomination and then selected Obama as her running mate, with Rev. Wright and Rezko and Ayers and his voting record, he would have never had the opportunity to litigate all that like he did in the primaries.

(Originally posted at Beliefnet's God-o-Meter)

November 4, 2008

Richard Cizik's Reaction to an Obama Administration

Richard Cizik wants evangelicals to reach out to Barack Obama as he takes on his new role. I just spoke with Cizik, who is the vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals.

I think anybody who doesn’t see the extraordinary significance of the first African American being elected the United States, they’re missing history. I think it’s an extraordinary moment in American history. I have to say, I never really believed I’d be able to see the day that I would see an African American or any minority would be elected the president of the United States. I never thought it would happened.

America is changing. The religious communities of America are changing, too. Anybody who doesn’t understand that the multi-racial nature of American politics today fails to capture what’s happening. The Republican Party has to be afraid that it’s monochromatic.

I suspect that millions upon millions of evangelicals around the world are extremely proud of America tonight. I’m confident that Barack Obama wants to unite this country. I hope the better angels of Obama’s nature triumph, and I frankly don’t agree with everything on him. I suspect there will be actions he takes I don’t agree with. I think it’s important to have the right attitude – the attitude of Christ – which is he needs our prayers and our support, even if we don’t agree with him.

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November 4, 2008

Don Miller: Stud, Pizza, and CNN

Author Don Miller (Blue Like Jazz), who delivered the benediction at the DNC and campaigned for Barack Obama, has posted a few updates on his Facebook page today.

The first, posted in the early afternoon: "Donald will tell his grandchildren that he voted. The lines and the weather are worth braving. You're a stud for sticking it out!"

And another, posted this evening: "Donald is going to make pizzas. And is glued to CNN. And is happy."

Miller didn't say why he was happy -- whether it was the pizza, CNN, or the returns so far.


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September 13, 2008

Q & A: Bishop Harry Jackson

Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of a large, charismatic congregation in Maryland, is one of the leading voices in black religious conservatives. He spoke to me about how the McCain campaign can rally Christian conservatives to vote on November 4.

"I think the election so far has been like being on a roller coaster at a strange amusement park for the first time. You know you're going to have ups and downs but you don't know where the turns are. I was very concerned the McCain campaign was dead on arrival, meaning we stand for some good things but we might see him not incurring excitement in terms of winning. I was very concerned about his commitment to the pro-life community. He has a great record in terms of being anti-abortion, but his position on stem cell research is questionable. I don't think it's as major as abortion is but I do think it shows a little bit of inconstancy."

What do you think will get people mobilized enough to get out and vote?
If they can rally the base of the faith community who work through the largest potential grass-roots organization in the world, the church, he could really see the number of workers on the ground floor multiply amazingly.

If I were advising them ? and they didn't ask for it but I'll give it to them ? first of all I would say they need to make a huge media blitz of Sarah Palin going to all the radio and television networks and having her just interview. Tell her advice, offer anecdotes about her life.

But is Palin enough? She's not the one running for president. Are conservatives convinced she'll make a difference to the ticket in the future?

People who are Dr. Dobson's age these are the "I'm not voting" type. She becomes an important emissary to our community that can cross generational lines, the gender gap, and basically say to them we're all right, we're going to do right for you.

September 13, 2008

Q & A: Sean Hannity

In the two minutes before Sean Hannity's speech this morning, he told me what he thinks evangelicals care about.

"The issues that they care about family values, cultural values, obviously issues involving life. Government policies that impact the family positively, higher taxes impact whether families can make decisions about where they send their kids to school, whether they can go on vacation, whether they can go out to dinner. All of these things impact our families. If there’s burdensome regulation and taxes, that impacts evangelicals.

My opinion based on my interpretation of the evangelical friends I have and of which I’m one, the Republican Party is not a perfect party, but it’s certainly more in tune with their values.
You always vote for the person, their values, their principles. Just because you’re a Republican doesn’t mean you’re right. I’m looking for where are those Reagan conservative values and do they believe in limited government, liberty, freedom, strong national borders. It’s more based on the issues and than one particular party."

September 13, 2008

Fired up against Obama

Yesterday was love of Sarah Palin day but the crowd got riled up against Barack Obama this morning.

"Great to see so many bitter Americans. I see you cling to your guns and your bibles," Fox News commentator Sean Hannity said to a cheering crowd.

"How many of you saw Barack Apollo Obama at Obama's Greek temple designed by Britney Spears' set designer?" he said to those in the audience, some of whom wore buttons with "Nobama" and "Obama" crossed out on them. "Barack descended from the heavens, ladies and gentlemen. He descended the multi-talented God of light, the God of sun, God of truth, the God of prophecy, the God of socialized medicine, sent down from heavens to save you."

"I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure Barack Apollo Obama does not become president," Hannity said as the crowd stood applauding and snapping more photos.

September 12, 2008

'Values Voters' still love Romney

The crowd at the Values Voter Summit still seemed to love Mitt Romney who drew many supporters last year during his run for president.

"Palin herself could put the lipstick on the pitbull," Romney said to a cheering crowd.

The audience drew quieter as Romney focused most of his address on the foreign policy and the economy. When he began talking about religion, gay marriage, and abortion, the crowd became more energized.

"Americans are God-fearing people. Even those who don’t believe in God, in this country, they really believe in something bigger than themselves, as Rick Warren called it, a purpose-driven life. We’re family oriented. We sacrifice everything we have for our spouse and our children. In my view, a family begins with commitment of marriage and marriage is a commitment between a man and a woman."

The "values voters" began booing quietly when he mentioned Barack Obama's remarks at the Saddleback forum in August.

"Americans respect the sanctity of human life. We value life from its very beginning to its very end. Rather than vigorously defending life, Barack Obama just a couple of weeks ago, dismissed an inquiry with a flippant response that it’s above his pay grade. Did you hear what he said would be the most important criteria for selecting a Supreme Court justice? Their empathy. How about respect for the law and the constitution?"

Romney came in first in a straw poll at last year's summit when he was still running for president.

September 12, 2008

FRC creates PAC, but won't endorse any presidential candidate

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins announced the group's new political action committee that will endorse candidates and raise money.

The PAC will not endorse a presidential candidate, however. "We're not a huge PAC yet and to make a dent, even, in that effort would take a lot of money," Perkins said at a press conference.

He also said, "There are still lingering concerns about some of John McCain’s positions." Conservative Christians have voiced concerns in the past over McCain's over embryonic stem cell research and the federal marriage amendment.

Although FRC extended invitations to John McCain, Barack Obama, and Sarah Palin, none of them will appear. Perkins said he believes Palin could have an impact on McCain's policy decisions.

"I’ve had a number of conversations with John McCain, we’re not golfing buddies by any means … she’s not just window dressing, she’s going to be an active partner," Perkins said. "While it may not have been a vigorous conversation, John McCain and his campaign were listening."

Perkins said the PAC plans to raise about $250,000 and put the money into one of the tighter races.

"We’re not looking to make a huge impact monetarily," he said. "We’re there saying, this is the candidate who lines up with those who are concerned about families."

The PAC endorsed about 80 candidates with just two Democrats on the list: Rep. Heath Shuler and Rep. Mike McIntyre.

September 11, 2008

Sarah Palin and Rick Warren Chat by Phone

Sarah Palin and Rick Warren are chatting by phone, though it's unclear who initiated. Warren seems less happy than ever with Obama, while still claiming to be above partisan politics.

(Originally posted at Beliefnet's God-o-Meter)

September 5, 2008

Q&A with Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran against John McCain in the primaries, spoke at the Republican Convention shortly before Sarah Palin's acceptance speech Wednesday. I interviewed him Thursday.

How does Sarah Palin’s candidacy change the race?
I think it’s really energized the base of the party and given people a reason to be excited about the ticket. There was a lot of anxiety about McCain picking Lieberman. He really gave people a reason to be not just accepting about the ticket. Everyone I’ve talked to is excited about the ticket. It’s a completely different atmosphere than it was a week ago.

Do you think Palin’s pregnant daughter will change whether people will vote for her?
The way the media went after the daughter is the most shameful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. If anything, it just caused [evangelicals] to run to her. Everyone understands that the basis of being a Christian is that everyone has fallen short of God’s ideal. Everyone understands that. We do understand is that when there’s a problem or failures, the family sticks together. We saw a mother who gave her unconditional love to her daughter. That embodies what Christianity means. We all mess up, the issue is how we respond to it. What she showed us is exactly what we wanted to see in terms of a witness.

The religious outreach is much less public here than it was in Denver. Why do you think that is?

For Republicans to recognize the value voters is nothing new. It’s not out of the ordinary. It’s not just recognizing them as an extraordinary. It represents what’s in the heart in soul of the convention. It’s not like we have to reach to that which is right in the party.

Do you think the issues that evangelicals care about have changed?
I think one of the things that is positive is that while they are still steadfast on life and marriage, but there’s a broadening of the issues. People are care about hunger, poverty, and diseases. It’s one of the things I’m very, very thrilled to see. I’ve advocated for a long time education reform, health care reform, and conservation. Those are issues that touch everybody.

How has your faith affected your policies?
In two ways. I don’t have to wake up every morning and think what do I want to believe today. You sense that public policy ought to be a direct result of your deep convictions, not just trends that you can pick up on through polling. I believe in my heart of hearts that sanctity of every human life is important. I don’t support traditional marriage because polls show I should. It’s the foundation of our society. In that way, I think it’s a part of shaping your views and the priorities you have.

Some have called you economically more liberal.
Totally false. Absurdly false. That was one of the most ridiculous attacks I’ve ever heard.

I cut taxes, balanced the budget, I was one of the strongest supporters of fair tax. When people said those things, they based it not on objective fact finding … they drank the Kool-Aid. But when then they did their own research, they saw I have a strong conservative record on fiscal issues.

What challenges will McCain have to face before the election?
I think he did it with [Palin's] selection. I don’t see any barriers at this point.

Do you think he’ll receive as many votes from evangelicals as President Bush did in 2004?
I’m beginning to believe he is. I’ve heard nothing but excitement and energy. I just really sense that there’s a completely different attitude than there was a week ago.

McCain doesn’t talk about his faith the same way that Sen. Obama does.
Some people eat their soup louder than other people, but it doesn’t mean the soup tastes better.

What about the evangelicals who may be taking a second look at Obama?
I think his appearance at Saddleback really hurt him among people who are looking for a candidate with their values. It was absurd for him to say that the definition of when life begins was above his pay grade.

What are your future plans? Do you have plans to run again?
I have no idea. My own plans are to help Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin get elected.

September 5, 2008

Q&A with Sen. Brownback

Sen. Sam Brownback, who originally ran for president against John McCain, believes that the biggest challenge McCain faces among evangelicals is getting them out of their houses on November 4.

Here's a portion of the interview earlier this week:

What do you think of the Palin pick?

It’s excellent. I think it was a game change. You know, the American public wanted to vote for history, and that was some of the appeal of Barack Obama to show yes, we can do something like this. Well, now you can vote for history by voting for the Republican ticket, by placing the first female vice president of the U.S.

What challenges do John McCain and Sarah Palin face, particularly among evangelicals?

You know, I don’t think they face much challenge among evangelicals now, other than getting them out to vote and pushing their neighbors to get out to vote. It’s probably more of an organizational challenge at this point. And that can take some time but it’s doable.

Do you think people will be as excited about McCain on November 4 as they were for Bush in 2004?

That’d be hard to do. You know, because Bush was one of them, really spoke the language and knew it in his heart, and John loves the country but is a different candidate. I think he’s going to get their votes and now with the pick of Palin who may become one of the future leaders of the overall movement, I think he’s really endeared himself to the faith base of the party even if they don’t see it in him as much as they’d like to.

Barack Obama speaks more openly about his faith and has an intense religious outreach. Do you think that will work?

I don’t think so, because he’s just off on the core subjects. That came through so clear at Saddleback, that he’s not there on life, he’s not there on marriage. It came through at the Democratic convention in his big speech – he talks about supporting abortion and same-sex marriage. And I just think those for a lot of people are the portal issue. You’ve got to get the basics right before I can look at you on other issues. And if you can’t get the basics right, how can I trust you on a broader set of issues?

At the Democratic National Convention there was more religious outreach. Why is there less here?

It’s because it’s woven into our program here, it’s in the DNA. It’s the priest or the pastor that kicks off the convention and prays in the name of Jesus. It’s people speaking of their faith or their testimony. It’s more woven into who we are and what the party is.

What objections do evangelicals or Catholics raise when they’re talking to you about whether to vote for McCain or not?

Individuals raise the issue of stem cell research to me – that’s the major one I get. But then when they weigh it against Obama who’s for stem cell research and not even for protecting a child that’s accidentally born in a botched abortion, that one’s so over the top pro-abortion that there’s not even a choice here.

Have you heard any objections to Palin because of her daughter’s pregnancy?

From the media I have. From other people I get a yes and amen, that life happens and things happen that you wish didn’t, but this is how you deal with it. You don’t kill the child. You have the child and you try to make a go of it as a family and you surround the child and the family with love and affection. For most people it’s been yes, that’s how we deal with the things that happen in life that you wish didn’t. So it’s been, by and large from the faith perspective, a yes, this is what you do. And it’s been a good common object discussion with the country about what it means to be pro-life.

There’s been talk of the evangelical agenda broadening, and some think that may be a chance for Obama to get more votes. Do you see that?

Yes, I see it happening, particularly in younger evangelical voters, and I don’t think that’s all a bad thing. But I don’t concede then those voters to Barack Obama. I have to stand upstairs – I don’t concede the social justice agenda to Barack Obama when McCain’s the guy that led the charge for a reform immigration system and opposed his own party to do that, when McCain’s the guy who endured torture and is opposed to torture. I think we fight on this new terrain when McCain’s the guy putting forth proposals to deal with global warming.

Usually people enter politics because of a topic. In this case it may have been the pro-life movement or it may have been when they were driving and got out at the public square that for a lot of people faith came in. But then once you’re in the system you broaden because now you have a thousand issues to deal with. You may have come into politics because of that but now there are a bunch of issues you have to deal with. You can’t just say well I don’t care I only want to deal with my set. If you’re an elected official or otherwise you have to deal with them.

September 4, 2008

Sen. DeMint butts heads with McCain but thinks Palin will keep him on track

Sen. Jim DeMint has "butted heads" with Sen. John McCain, but he thinks that Gov. Sarah Palin will hold him accountable.

Here's the interview:

A couple of weeks ago I kind of thought we would come to a convention with really divided interests maybe and not a lot of excitement. I think the Governor Palin nomination, which has given a lot of us as conservatives an indication that McCain is going to really go after reform ideas and move to the conservative side rather than going the other direction. In the same swoop he's bringing a lot of youth and energy to the party. We need to develop new leadership, and Governor Palin is a great indication of where we could go.

Evangelicals and conservatives seem to be more excited about Sarah Palin than John McCain, do you think that's true?

Well, I think they have a lot in common. I know they're both tough, and they don't back down. I'm excited about her because she's kind of the next generation of leadership for our party. And I'm more and more excited about McCain because if you look at the key issues that facing us as a country today, which I think are national security, energy security, and wasteful Washington spending. So I think we've got just a good complement, a good team. McCain and I have butted heads on a lot of things, but we need somebody who's tough in dealing with a lot of our foreign issues right now. We don't need someone who's never done anything with executive or leadership type things like Obama.

Sen. Obama has tried to reach out to religious voters pretty heavily ? do you think that will work?

I think religious people are smarter than that. All you have to do is look at how he votes. You look at votes like voting against the born alive infant protection act. I don't think he has any claim to a moral compass that people are going to buy into. I don't think you se anything in his past that suggests that he is going to do more to create religious freedoms in this country. We don't need the government to be pushing religion, but what the government has been doing is purging religion and values from our culture. That's a huge problem, and I think he would continue that purging.

You said you've butted heads with McCain ? what challenges does he face among conservatives?

Well I think he's got to listen. I think John McCain's heart is usually in the right place. It was on campaign finance, but the bill that was written I didn't think was that good. I think his heart was in the right place on the immigration issue, but the bill turned out to be an amnesty bill without any good border control. He's still coachable, and one thing good about Palin is, I think she'll help hold McCain accountable on a lot of the conservative issues.

What about the Republican platform on poverty? It seemed to emphasize global poverty and not domestic poverty?

That might be a little for political correctness that snuck in. The more poverty around the world can be addressed more through open trade and economic relationships. We've seen trade with China, for instance, take millions of people out of poverty. But, we're not going to be able to help the world unless we're strong at home. And we're losing that from the economy point of view, from the energy point of view. So regardless of what's in the platform, my intent is to hold their feet to the fire on country first.

September 4, 2008

Rep. Pence: evangelicals remember McCain's 2000 race

But Pence says it's ancient history.

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana believes that any lack of enthusiasm for John McCain is because of the 2000 race, when evangelicals put their support behind President Bush.

What objections do evangelicals raise when they talk about not voting for John McCain?

Well I think the arguments with Sen. McCain are more a reflection of the affection for George W. Bush in 2000. And you know elections get a little bit rough. There have been differences on issues like campaign finance reform and the marriage amendment, which Sen. McCain did not support on the federal level, but he supports traditional marriage and has supported initiatives in Arizona. I think most of the frustration is derivative of the contest between George Bush and John McCain in 2000 – and all of that is ancient history now. What I’m seeing among evangelicals and social conservatives is a tremendous amount of energy for John McCain, and that has only accelerated by his selection of Sarah Palin.

Several people have attacked Sarah Palin on experience – she’s only had one term as governor, and John McCain previously criticized Sen. Obama’s lack of experience. What do you think about those attacks?

Well I certainly think if Democrats want to fight this election on experience I’m very comfortable with that. I believe Gov. Palin has much more executive experience than the Democratic nominee for president. And John McCain has geometrically more experience, particularly on national security and national defense and bipartisanship, than Sen. Obama. But I actually think what some think is a weakness for Gov. Palin is actually a strength. I think Americans are tired of business as usual in Washington, D.C., and so I really do believe that if she carries a transformational message of reform along with John McCain to the country, it’s going to resonate with Americans.

There’s talk of the evangelical agenda broadening, and some think that may be an opportunity for Sen. Obama to get more evangelical votes. Do you agree with that?

No, I don’t. I think that values voters vote their values. At the end of the day, I believe that Christians like me are looking for people that are willing to tame a moral stand for the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage in the public square. Quite frankly, Barack Obama is not just out of sync with most conservative Christian voters in the country, he’s extremely out of sync. He’s on the extreme left wing of even the liberal wing of the Democratic Party on those issues. And I think ultimately the substantive differences between Barack Obama and John McCain will determine the direction of values voters.

September 4, 2008

Palin pushes Dobson over the edge

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has Focus on the Family founder James Dobson on her side.

"A genuine reformer. A deeply committed Christian," are Dobson's words.

On a Focus Action radio broadcast, Dobson said Palin has helped change his mind on McCain.

"If I went into the polling booth today, I would pull the lever for John McCain," he said.

Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, Kelly Shackelford, and Tom Minnery also expressed unanimous support for McCain and Palin.

"I don't remember this kind of electric moment since I went to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan," Dobson said.

This is seven months after he said he would not vote for John McCain.

August 30, 2008

Is Palin an evangelical?

John McCain's vice presidential pick Sarah Palin has a Pentecostal background, but reporters seem to be struggling to define her faith.

A profile in the Wall Street Journal says she's Lutheran.

The Washington Post writes, "Her evangelical Christian faith -- she believes in creationism and is adamantly opposed to abortion -- may help [McCain] court skeptical social conservatives."

Palin1.JPG

Hm. I'm not sure those two beliefs necessarily link to an "evangelical Christian faith."

Instead of assigning a label to her faith, Eric Gorski of the Associated Press reports that a business administrator in Pentecostal Assemblies of God told him that her home church is The Church on the Rock, an independent congregation. A spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign told Gorski that Palin attends different churches and does not consider herself Pentecostal.

Tennessean religion reporter Bob Smietana writes that Palin grew up among evangelicals, and attended the Wasilla Assembly of God as a teenager and young adult. Smietana writes that while in Juneau, Alaska's capital, she sometimes attends Juneau Christian Center, an Assemblies of God congregation.

Boston College professor Alan Wolfe writes at The New Republic that Palin is an evangelical, shaped by the region in which she lives.

"... she is not a Southern evangelical, and therein lies a tale."
Southern Baptists, he writes, became preoccupied with sin, while those in the west were more libertarian where sins could become forgiven.

He writes, "Sarah Palin named two of her children after witches, once took drugs, and refused to sign a bill forbidding domestic benefits for gay couples. Any one of these--especially the first--would raise suspicion in the eyes of a traditional Southern Baptist."

With Richard Land's high praise, however, I'm not seeing that suspicion quite yet.

"Palin, the gun-toting mom, has a libertarian streak in politics and a libertarian streak in religion," Wolfe writes. " ... [W]hile Palin may be quickly endorsed by men speaking in Southern accents, she is neither a Billy Graham nor a Jimmy Carter. American evangelicalism, like John McCain, has many mansions. Sarah Palin inhabits only one of them."

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life broadly describes Palin as Protestant. Although it's clear that some evangelicals are excited about her, I wonder whether she calls herself an evangelical.

Update:

Fred Barnes wrote last summer in the Weekly Standard how Palin's faith impacts her politics.

"Her Christian faith--Palin grew up attending nondenominational Bible churches--was a minor issue in the race," Barnes wrote. "She told me her faith affects her politics this way: 'I believe everything happens for a purpose. In my own personal life, if I dedicated back to my Creator what I'm trying to create for the good . . . everything will turn out fine.' That same concept applies to her political career, she suggested."

Jay Newton-Small at Time Magazine asked Palin some religion questions two weeks ago.

What's your religion?
Christian.

Any particular...?
No. Bible-believing Christian.

What church do you attend?
A non-denominational Bible church. I was baptized Catholic as a newborn and then my family started going to non-denominational churches throughout our life.

As a side note and not religion related, someone asked me if I feel a kindred spirit with Sarah Palin because our names are so similar. Apparently, her middle name is Louise, so it's Sarah Louise Pulliam vs. Sarah Louise Palin. Just a few typos and I'd be running for VP.

Another update: Mollie over at GetReligion criticizes Wolfe's mention in The New Republic that Palin named two of her children after witches.

Todd Palin told People: "Sarah’s parents were coaches and the whole family was involved in track and I was an athlete in high school, so with our first-born, I was, like, ‘Track!’ Bristol is named after Bristol Bay. That’s where I grew up, that’s where we commercial fish. Willow is a community there in Alaska. And then Piper, you know, there’s just not too many Pipers out there and it’s a cool name. And Trig is a Norse name for 'strength.'"

August 30, 2008

Cizik's caution vs. Dobson's elation

I'm finally in Minneapolis (the airline lost my luggage, but at least I have my laptop), and I'm catching up on the Sarah Palin developments.

Although I've seen thrilling remarks in the press releases from conservative evangelicals, Suzanne Sataline from the Wall Street Journal talked with one evangelical who is more cautious.

Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said he was initially stunned because he had never heard of the Alaskan governor.

"Do we have a Dan Quayle on our hands? I'm open to being persuaded otherwise if she proves herself," Cizik told Sataline.

"I like some of the personal choices she's made, such as carrying a Downs child to term,'' Cizik said, referring the governor's infant son who has Down Syndrome. "So will millions of evangelicals.''

Cizik has been an outspoken advocate for environmental issues, which drew heavy criticism from some conservative Christians, including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. Cizik said he and other evangelicals need more information about Palin's views on the environment and global affairs.

"I don't think evangelicals are going to vote for this team for superficial partisan reasons. I think lots of people are looking beyond labels this time around,'' he said to the Journal. He told Sataline he hasn't decided how he will vote.

On the other hand, Dobson is pretty excited. Even though six months ago he planned not to vote for John McCain, he told Dennis Prager, "But I can tell you that if I had to go into the studio, I mean the voting booth today, I would pull that lever."

He said in a statement: "Sen. McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is an outstanding choice that should be extremely reassuring to the conservative base of his party. She is a strong executive who hates corruption and puts principle above politics. After floating the names of Tom Ridge and Sen. Joe Lieberman in recent weeks ? selections that would have created consternation among pro-family Republicans ? Sen. McCain has chosen a solid conservative who has a reputation for espousing common sense."

August 29, 2008

Rice sociologist calls McCain's pick 'strategically brilliant'

Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University, believes that Sen. John's McCain's decision to pick Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is a strategically brilliant development. Lindsay is author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. I spoke with Lindsay this morning.

"The only dirt I know on [Palin] is that there’s some kind of indication that she was using political pressure to get [her ex-brother-in-law] fired. She has a lot of appeal for evangelicals. She’s pro-life, that’s something that’s important to evangelicals. No Republican has ever won the White House without evangelicals."

"If [McCain] had chosen a pro-choice candidate, like Ridge or Lieberman, [evangelicals] would have voted McCain, but they wouldn’t have mobilized around him. [Palin] is pro-life, she was involved in [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] growing up, she has the right background. Her child has Down syndrome. That shows not only a commitment to pro-life, but to living it out. That will be important for evangelical supporters of McCain. I think evangelicals honestly are probably relieved that McCain chose a pro-life candidate. In my research, the reason so many of these leaders were Republican was because of abortion."

"The real liability McCain faces is that he’s built his campaign against Obama on the issue of experience. Here’s a first term governor who was mayor of a small town in Alaska. Not a lot of executive experience, but McCain may be able to say there are different elements in the campaign that are important."

"I don’t know enough about [Palin] to say if she’s a perfect candidate. She doesn’t have the national profile that Mike Huckabee has. It is possible that McCain can introduce her to evangelicals in a way that’s winsome in the next couple of days."

Is she an evangelical?

"I don’t know what her church attendance is like. She’s been involved with groups that cater to evangelicals, but I don’t know if she is or not."

What about Sen. Obama's religious outreach? Do you think it's working?

"I think he’s very smart in terms of religious outreach. He’s got some great people working on his staff working on that front. The thing about Senator Obama’s campaign is that he does not have to win large segments of the evangelical votes. All he has to do is carve off some of votes in certain places. The cosmopolitan vote is the one most up for grabs."

"A cosmopolitan evangelical is someone who is less interested in converting the country or taking the country back for Christ; they are interested in seeing their faith as attractive. They’re less prone to see the evangelical subculture as their primary point of reference. It’s the cosmopolitan evangelicals that [McCain] has to win over in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida."

August 29, 2008

McCain picks Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for VP

Sen. John McCain chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, and so far, it seems like bells and whistles from the conservative evangelical community.

Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America said in a statement: "Governor Sarah Palin is a bold choice for Vice President who is a courageous advocate for unborn children. In addition, she is a conservative who is a reformer not afraid to shake up the establishment."

Back on Aug. 8, Richard Land told CBS she would be the pick that would most excite Southern Baptists and other conservatives.

"Richard Land: Probably Governor Palin of Alaska, because she's a person of strong faith. She just had her fifth child, a Downs Syndrome child. And there's a wonderful quote that she gave about her baby, and the fact that she would never, ever consider having an abortion just because her child had Downs Syndrome. She's strongly pro-life.

She's a virtual lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. She would ring so many bells. And I just think it would help with independents because she's a woman. She's a reform Governor. I think that, from what I hear, that would be the choice that would probably ring the most bells, along with Mike Huckabee, of course, who's a Southern Baptist."

Family Research Council Action President Tony Perkins said in a statement:

"On February 11th of this year, for example, she signed into law the 'Safe Haven for Infants Act,' facilitating the safe surrender of an unwanted newborn to a place of safety and hope. Her actions contrasts sharply with the Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who when he was in the Illinois Senate repeatedly helped to kill a bill that sought to protect babies who survived abortion."

Over on the Between Two Worlds blog Andy Naselli has found an article from four months ago when Al Mohler highlighted the Palin family in an article ("Welcome to the World, Trig Paxson Van Palin") and on his radio show (also titled "Welcome to the World, Trig Paxson Van Palin").

Here's a description of the radio show:

A little boy with an extra chromosome was born on April 18. His name is Trig Paxson Van Palin and his new home is the Alaska Governor's Mansion in Juneau. His mom is Governor Sarah Palin, who along with her husband Todd, has welcomed Trig as their second son and fifth child.

On today's show, Mohler explains why Trig's very existence defies the Culture of Death and gives us all hope.


In 2006, the Anchorage Daily News included her religion in a series of articles on her.

"Her Christian faith, they say, came from her mother, who took her children to area Bible churches as they were growing up (Sarah is the third of four siblings)," Tom Kizzia wrote. "They say her faith has been steady since high school, when she led the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and grew stronger as she sought out believers in her college years."

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 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

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

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 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 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 18, 2008

Rick Warren to God-o-Meter: Obama, Dems Can't Just Talk Faith

In an interview with Beliefnet's God-o-Meter on the day after his Saddleback Civil Forum with John McCain and Barack Obama, the Rev. Rick Warren sounded pretty dubious about Barack Obama's and the Democrats' chances of making inroads among evangelicals. The full interview will run Monday on Beliefnet. Here's a preview:

Before last night, McCain had been widely criticized by Christian activists for keeping mum about his faith and about values issues like abortion and marriage Last night seemed to change that. How much headway did McCain make among skeptical evangelicals?

I'm a pastor, I'm not a prophet, so I would not predict how evangelicals are going to vote. I will tell you they're not monolith. That's a big myth. They're going to make up their minds based on the hierarchy of their values. For many evangelicals, of course, if they believe that life begins at conception, that's a deal breaker for a lot of people. If they think that life begins at conception, then that means that there are 40 million Americans who are not here [because they were aborted] that could have voted. They would call that a holocaust and for them it would like if I'm Jewish and a Holocaust denier is running for office. I don't care how right he is on everything else, it's a deal breaker for me. I'm not going to vote for a Holocaust denier...

It all depends on the hierarchy of their worldview of what matters most to them. My gut reaction when it was over was that Obama will pick up probably some younger votes and McCain will probably pick up some older votes and it might come down to which group winds up showing up that the polls.

The Democrats recently added language to their party platform that they say is aimed at reducing demand for abortion. Do you think it represents a significant step toward a pro-life position?

It is a step, there's no doubt about that. I've been getting a lot of feedback on it. I was out of the country and people starting writing me about it. The general perception was 'Too little too late--window dressing". I'm not saying I would say this, because I haven't even read it, but what I was hearing form people was that [Democrats] were saying 'It's OK to be pro-life and be a Democrat now. In other words, 'You can join us. We're not changing our firm commitment to Roe v. Wade, but you can now join us.' Well, for a person who thinks that abortion is taking a life, I'm sure that's not going to be very satisfactory to most of those people. And to put it in right at the last minute at the end of a campaign, there was some question about that: Why are they doing this?

When you asked Obama about when life begins, he punted, saying 'it's above my pay grade.' Should someone running for the highest office in the land have a clear answer to that, or is that kind of ambivalence acceptable?

No. I think he needed to be more specific on that. I happen to disagree with Barack on that. Like I said, he's a friend. But to me, I would not want to die and get before God one day and go, 'Oh, sorry, I didn't take the time to figure out' because if I was wrong then it had severe implications to my leadership if I had the ability to do something about it. He should either say, 'No scientifically, I do not believe it's a human being until X' or whatever it is or to say, 'Yes, I believe it is a human being at X point,' whether it's conception or anything else. But to just say 'I don't know' on the most divisive issue in America is not a clear enough answer for me.

That's why to say that evangelicals are a monolith is a myth, but the other thing is that you've been hearing a lot of the press talk about 'Well, evangelicals are changing, they're now interested in poverty and disease and illiteracy, and all the stuff I've been talking about for five years now. And I have been seeding that into the evangelical movement and it's getting picked up and a lot of people are talking about doing humanitarian efforts. But I really think it's wishful thinking on a lot of people who think they're going to drop the other issues. They're not leaving pro-life, I'm just trying to expand the agenda....

If an evangelical really believes that the Bible is literal--in other word in Psalm 139 God says 'I formed you in your mother's womb and before you were born I planned every day of your life,' if they believe that's literally true, then they can't just walk away from that. They can add other issues, but they can't walk away from the belief that at conception God planned that child and to abort it would be to short circuit the purpose.

Then it sounds like it would be unconscionable for an evangelical to vote for a pro-choice candidate like Obama.

Well, we're going to see what happens. All I can say is you'll see what happens. This is why there's a difference between simply talking the lingo... after the 2004 election the Democratic pundits were saying 'The Democrats lost in '04 because they didn't talk the language of faith.' And actually that's kind of, not paternalistic, but it's talking down. It's basically saying 'If you just get the right words, then they'll think you've got the lingo.' And just because a person can say 'God' and 'Jesus' and 'salvation' and whatever doesn't mean they have a worldview. And people want to know what do they believe, not just their personal faith. It's just like how many different beliefs do Jews and Christians have and still call themselves Christians or Jews? It's all over the spectrum.

Some Obama supporters are claiming that McCain saw the questions before the forum began, giving him a leg up on Obama.

They're dead wrong. That's just sour grapes. They both did fantastically well. The only question he knew, I gave them the first question and I was changing the questions within an hour [before the forum began.] I talked to both of them a week before the debate and told them all the themes. I talked personally to John McCain and I talked personally to Barack Obama. I said, 'We'll talk about leadership, talk about the roles of government,' I said I'd probably have a question about climate change, probably a question on the courts. I didn't say, 'I'm going to ask which Supreme Court justice would you not [nominate]. They were clearly not prepared for that.

A source at the debate tells me that McCain had access to some communications devices in the few minutes before he went on stage with you and that there was a monitor in his green room, in violation of the debate rules.

That's absolutely a lie, absolutely a lie. That room was totally free, with no monitors--a flat out lie.

(Originally posted at God-o-Meter.)

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 11, 2008

Richard Land's VP Advice to McCain: Pick Sarah Palin

It's not the name you typically hear on the lips of Christian Right heavies leaning on John McCain to pick a rock-ribbed social conservative as a running mate: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But that's Southern Baptist Convention public policy chief--and Beliefnet blogger--Richard Land cited in his recent CBS News interview as his top veep pick:

CBSNews.com: Who's on the list of people mentioned for VP that you think would most excite Southern Baptists and other members of the conservative faith community?

Richard Land: Probably Governor Palin of Alaska, because she's a person of strong faith. She just had her fifth child, a Downs Syndrome child. And there's a wonderful quote that she gave about her baby, and the fact that she would never, ever consider having an abortion just because her child had Downs Syndrome. She's strongly pro-life.

She's a virtual lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. She would ring so many bells. And I just think it would help with independents because she's a woman. She's a reform Governor. I think that, from what I hear, that would be the choice that would probably ring the most bells, along with Mike Huckabee, of course, who's a Southern Baptist.

On Mitt Romney, meanwhile, Land is personally enthusiastic but says a good chunk of evangelicals would oppose him on religious grounds:

CBSNews.com: And what about Mitt Romney?

Richard Land: I think Mitt Romney would be an excellent choice. There are people in the evangelical community who would have a problem with his Mormonism. I am not one of them. I mean, I'm very clear that I do not believe Mormonism is a Christian faith. But that does not disqualify someone from being President or Vice President. And my guess would be that, probably, about 15 to 20 percent of the evangelical community would have a problem with his Mormonism.

So Palin, eh? If Land's saying it, her name must be making the rounds in evangelical circles. And God-o-Meter thinks Land's got a strong point about her ability to deliver independent women voters. How many other vice presidential picks could excite both cultural conservatives and swing voters?

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