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Dan Nejfelt
Dan Nejfelt, Faith in Public Life’s Messaging and Trainings Manager, worked at Sojourners magazine as part of his graduate study of journalism at the University of Missouri before coming to FPL. Prior to that, he taught remedial reading and writing to 7th and 8th graders in rural Arkansas as a Teach For America corps member. Dan blogs about health care, the Religious Right and budget issues.

Friday news wrap – Thursday edition

October 18, 2007, 2:43 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

My weekly news wrap is a Friday feature, but since I’ll be live-blogging the Values Voters Summit tomorrow, I thought I’d use a news wrap to preview. Clever, huh? Predictions at the end.

Often, an imaginary subscriber inside my head asks me why I put so many ‘Romney vs Giuliani vs the Religious Rightvs the GOP’ articles in Faith In Public Life’s newsreel. To which I say, “you should see how many I pass up every day!”

Simply put, stories about the Fight For the Right are dominating religion and politics news. Reflecting this, I’ve included topical articles in every newsreel this month, usually near the top. There’s simply nothing bigger going on. For better or worse, it has overwhelmed, subsumed or outlasted the Myanmar crisis, John McCain’s “Christian nation” statement, The Mormon Problem, Democrats Get Religion, The Broadening Values Agenda, and SCHIP.

If you’re the sort who visits blogs such as this one, you know about the contentious courtship amongst the Religious Right, the GOP, Romney and Giuliani, and need no refresher on the details. So let’s look forward to what might happen at this weekend’s Summit.

Looking back to polls, news stories, my own take, and insider information (kidding), I’ll say the straw poll finish will go Huckabee, Thompson, Romney, Giuliani, McCain. It’s a matter of affinity.

Dear reader, please handicap it in the comments. Your besting of my prediction will be forever enshrined in the archives!

(Ron Paul I have no idea about. David Brody, if you’re listening, please shed some light on that!)

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Looking for love in all the wrong places?

October 16, 2007, 12:48 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

I’m not one to poke fun at people, but this ad for Family Research Council’s upcoming values voters summit is too clever by half:

If this month’s religion and politics news is anything near accurate, the religious right might find itself all dressed up with no place to go.

I will be live-blogging from FRC’s values voters summit this Friday! Stop by for my reports on the political courtship.

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Family Research Council misrepresents Third Way

October 15, 2007, 9:17 am | By Dan Nejfelt

Some culture warriors just won’t come out of the trenches.

On Friday Tony Perkins sent Family Research Council email subscribers a newsletter titled “No Surrender,” which compared the culture wars to the Cold War and misrepresented Third Way’s “Come Let Us Reason Together” on multiple counts.

Referring to the supporters of paper, Perkins says “some people want to bring the ‘culture wars’ to an end by quitting the fight for core moral principles.”

None of the statements of support for the paper advocate abandonment of anyone’s core moral principles, nor does the paper itself. In fact, the papers’ authors and supporters repeatedly point out that the success of the paper rests on the fact that it honors the principles and values of both non-evangelical progressives and conservative evangelicals.

One of Perkins’ core moral principles is “the unalienable right to life of every unborn child,” and Come Let Us Reason Together describes and supports a comprehensive abortion reduction policy, which advances this principle. Yet for some reason, Perkins feels compelled to distort this fact using artful omission.

Let’s compare.

Perkins:

It also suggests uniting around the goal of reducing abortion by distributing contraception — even though abortion has skyrocketed in the years since the introduction of the birth control pill. [Note the specious logic.]

Third Way:

Among its central provisions, Ryan-DeLauro calls for sex education with an abstinence emphasis and medically accurate contraceptive information, better access to contraception for low-income women, after-school programs for kids, and help for parents on communicating their values to their teens. It also expands Medicaid coverage of pregnant women and S-CHIP coverage of children, addresses domestic violence against pregnant women, helps pregnant women and young mothers stay in school, and expands adoption assistance.

Speaks for itself.

He also takes some liberties interpreting the paper’s statement on sexuality issues.

Perkins:

It says that homosexuals deserve the same “public benefits” (i.e., marriage or civil unions) as others.

Third Way:

Protecting the human rights and dignity of all, even for those with whom one disagrees, is not only a consistent thing to do; it is a proud American tradition and a high moral and religious calling. America was founded on the principle that all have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and one of the deepest insights that is common to virtually all faith and moral traditions is that we should want for our brothers and sisters the same protections, public benefits, and opportunities we want for ourselves.

No legislation to protect the human dignity of gay and lesbian people should or need abridge the religious liberty of religious communities.

I don’t see any mention of gay marriage or civil unions in here, but I can see how Perkins might read it in between the lines. Note however that he didn’t ask the study’s authors, who are very accessible, what they meant, and note that he excluded the sentence in the report that follows the one he quotes, which directly addresses FRC and the religious right’s long-held objection to pretty much any legislation that does anything for homosexual Americans. Perkins’ assessment is more self-serving than thorough.

Perkins also has the temerity to say that “civil dialogue is possible” amidst this series of dubious assertions. Yet in addition to shading the truth about Third Way’s report, he takes a derisive tone by repeatedly using the word “progressive” in quotes, as if people who identify themselves as progressives use the word as some ruse, or as if the term itself is illegitimate.

Perkins proves himself a resolute culture warrior by attacking Third Way’s report, and in so doing shows why the culture wars are bound to produce nothing but division and mistrust. War is inherently destructive, and the metaphorical culture war is no exception.

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Friday news wrap

October 12, 2007, 3:21 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

One of my great pleasures here at Faith In Public Life is putting together the daily newsreel. It is a fun process, and it forces me to take a pretty wide view of what’s going in faith and politics news. On Fridays I like to take a look back at the way things unfolded over the course of the week. The week-in-review will become a regular Friday feature here, but next week I’ll instead be live-blogging the Family Research Council’s “Washington Briefing.” (That’s the artist formerly known as the Values Voters Summit.)

The past two weeks have been chock full of stories that pointed to seismic activity on the right. Ever since Salon.com’s Michael Scherer broke the story on September 30 that religious right leaders were threatening to back a third party candidate if Giuliani got the GOP nomination, stories about the Religious Right’s political future (or lack thereof) have surfaced every day, largely by design of Dobson, Perkins, et al. If I were so inclined (and allowed), I could spend an entire day clipping video of Religious Right leaders on cable news and Sunday morning shows.

But by the end of this week, The Great Right Rift started to feel more like a shift in the wind. Stories of the cataclysm that will inevitably follow Giuliani’s inevitable nomination shared space with news that the religious right was beginning to take a shine to Romney, and Giuliani agreed to show at the Family Research Council’s straw poll next weekend. Turmoil abounds, and a schism is definitely possible, but the situation’s beginning to look less like armageddon and more like politics.

As readers of this blog are well aware, there was this paper about “common ground” released this week by some groups called “Third Way” and “Faith In Public Life,” but a different story about common ground was my favorite news item of the week. As first reported in Time and Newsweek, 138 preeminent Muslim leaders and scholars sent a letter to Christian leaders appealing to interfaith harmony and peace. (Full text of the letter here.)

Why care? Because getting such a broad and prominent group to sign onto a single statement of peace shows that all that talk about Islam being a religion of peace isn’t just a bunch of politically correct nonsense. Says Time:

It points out that both religions are founded on goodwill, not violence, and that many of the fundamental truths that were revealed to Muhammad — such as the necessity for the total devotion to God, the rejection of false gods, and the love of fellow human beings — are the same ones that came to other Christian and Jewish prophets.

Because of this, the letter says, Muslims are duty-bound by the Koran to treat believers of other faiths with respect and friendship — and that Muslims expect the same in return. “As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them — as long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes.”

With Christians making up about 33% of the world’s population and Muslims making up around 22%, the letter says that finding common ground, “is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders.” It is, instead, essential for the survival of humanity.

The New York Times noted that no Wahhabist signed the letter, but that doesn’t invalidate this gesture of solidarity and peace. We can all hope that this bears greater fruit, but the statement is a blessing in and of itself.

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Come, Let Us Reason Some More

October 11, 2007, 3:02 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

This afternoon Pastor Dan revisits the discussion of Third Way’s “Come Let Us Reason Together,” and I’m glad to see him put his initial reaction in context and qualify one particular statement from his original post. Two of the paper’s authors, Robbie Jones and Rachel Laser, have posted a diary response to his criticism of their work over at Street Prophets.

Yesterday I said that Dan viewed the paper as something it was not meant to be — a Democratic strategy memo. In response, or perhaps just coincidentally, today Dan explains the grounds for treating it as such:

The study itself mentions voting patterns and common political ground. Seems fair to analyze the partisan implications. In fact, thinking through the partisan implications of religious life is pretty much what we do here, except when we’re doing the vice versa. So of course I’m going to pick it apart to see what it might have to say about the next couple of elections.

This contextualizes and clarifies Dan’s initial response, which I originally thought of as entirely beside the point of the paper. I better understand it now, but what I read yesterday was not an analysis of partisan implication, but an evaluation of the very worth (or lack thereof) of the paper:

Come to think of it, why any of this? I really can’t see any point to this study other than to provide an intellectual foundation for people who’ve already decided that the future of the Democratic party lies in attracting “persuadable evangelicals.” As we come closer and closer to the possibility of a true political realignment in this nation, though, that strategy seems to make less and less sense. It’s nice to know that we might be able to pick up a few evangelicals here and there, but what we need to know is why that would be preferable to concentrating on winning many more non-evangelicals who are solidly and consistently in agreement with the party’s core positions.

That’s one place where Dan and I differed originally, and it was the basis of my original blog post. However, in his subsequent post, he drops such absolutism while also managing to stick to his guns:

I’m really not trying to be snide here. There is value in this conversation over the long haul, but in the foreseeable future, evangelicals are going to be the base of the Republican party. And given current voting patterns, I’m just not convinced that there’s enough middle ground to be worth contesting. So what’s in it for people like me?

A fair question, Dan, and a hard one for me to answer. You highlight the study’s observation that “Evangelical diversity of views has not translated proportionately into diversity of voting,” as support for a “why bother” approach to evangelicals. My answer to that would be “you should bother because diversity of views has not translated proportionately into diversity of voting.” Where there is dissonance there is opportunity.

As you’ve said, you approach “Come let us reason together” from a partisan political perspective. That perspective is valid, but certainly not the only valid one. The end of the culture wars, toward which “Come let us reason together” is a step, certainly would have massive electoral implications, so the paper is bound to be discussed within that context. But the paper’s stated purpose, while politically significant, derives its significance not from any effect it may or may not have in the next election, but rather from it’s suggestions for moving beyond the climate in which intractable division thrives.

I do not wish to make Third Way’s study some kind of silver bullet, but until we dare to believe that we can overcome the bitter stasis of the culture war, politics will be nothing more than incremental whittling at the margins, and progress on consensus issues will continue to be upheld in the greater partisan freeze that is the inevitable fruit of wedge-issue politics.

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