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A Mormon candidate and a lot of questions

October 20, 2011, 11:43 am | By Kristin Ford

One of the biggest headlines coming out of last weekend’s Values Voter Summit, the annual Religious Right conference hosted by the Family Research Council, was Rev. Robert Jeffress’s attack on Governor Romney’s religion. Jeffress, a conservative Texas pastor, came out in support of Governor Perry for the GOP nomination and said Governor Romney was a member of a “cult.”

Romney, a Mormon, responded by saying:

“I just don’t believe that kind of divisiveness based on religion has a place in this country. I would call on Gov. Perry to repudiate the sentiment and the remark made by that pastor.”

At Tuesday’s debate, Perry said he “didn’t agree with that individual’s statement” and went on:

“Our founding fathers truly understood and had an understanding of freedom of religion. We also are a country that is free to express our opinions. That individual expressed an opinion. I didn’t agree with it, Mitt, and I said so. But the fact is, Americans understand faith. And what they’ve lost faith in is the current resident of the White House.”

Though it was good of Perry to separate himself from this controversial statement, his coded reference to Americans “understanding faith” seems like a bit of a caveat to his ostensible repudiation of Jeffress’ inflammatory remarks.

Rev. Steven D. Martin, executive director of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, talked in more depth on this issue on U Need 2 Know radio, a progressive show based in Columbia, SC.

In the interview (available here), Martin points out the danger of Jeffress’ assault on religious freedom:

“Religious freedom and diversity of this country for last 200 and some odd years that has protected religious conservatives and evangelicals. If we become intolerant of other people we may not necessarily agree with about religious positions, it puts us in danger and the democracy at risk.”

The whole interview is worth a listen, especially because Martin lays out some guidelines about why evangelicals (and all Americans) should be incredibly nervous about attempts to impose religious litmus tests or judge candidates based solely or primarily on their religious affiliation.

As Amy Sullivan of TIME has pointed out in her column and in a segment for NPR, candidates’ religious views should only be brought into consideration where there is clear policy relevance. Jeffress’s comments–specifically attacking the theological side of Romney’s faith–clearly didn’t meet this standard.

Gov. Perry has an obligation to genuinely distance himself from this problematic attacks on Romney. An email exchange obtained by The Daily Beast this week suggests Jeffress’s remarks weren’t just a fluke. The emails “show an influential evangelical activist with close ties to the Perry campaign stressing the political importance of ‘juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false God of Mormonism,’ and calling for a ‘clarion call to Evangelical pastors and pews’ that will be “the key to the primary” for Perry.”

Perry would do best to disassociate himself from anyone willing to attack another person’s faith for political gain.

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Herman Cain’s Electric Fence “Joke” Strikes a Nerve

October 18, 2011, 11:20 am | By Kristin Ford

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Herman Cain, the GOP Presidential candidate enjoying a foray in the limelight while currently leading the polls, waded into the immigration debate this weekend with an outrageous statement:

“When I’m in charge of the fence, we going to have a fence. It’s going to be 20 feet high. It’s going to have barbed wire on the top. It’s going to be electrocuted, electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side that says it will kill you.”

After widepsread criticism, Cain has since said he was joking, but he doesn’t appear to be fully backing down (he said he apologized for “offending anyone”– a classic political non-apology). And he is even getting support from controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for his comments.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus released a statement yesterday condemning these remarks, according to The Hill:

“Words have consequences, both in shaping ideas and inspiring actions. Whether or not he made his comments in jest, Mr. Cain’s words show a lack of understanding of the immigration issues our country is facing and a staggering lack of sensitivity,” Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) said in a statement. “Surely, Mr. Cain understands the duty that candidates have to offer responsible policy proposals.”

People of faith have a clear responsibility to treat all human beings with dignity and respect. Even in jest, Cain’s comments were an extreme departure from shared religious values of compassion and justice. As a pastor himself, he ought to reconsider his inhumane approach to the issue of immigration and fully apologize for his comments.

Photo credit: Associated Press

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A new progressive initiative standing up for faith and values

October 7, 2011, 3:49 pm | By Kristin Ford

IMG-20111007-00019.jpgThis morning, the Young Democrats of America launched a new initiative– the Faith and Values Initiative— to highlight the connections between core religious values and progressive policies.

The president of YDA, Ron Snyder, said:

“Young Americans of all faiths are looking for leaders who value opportunity for all, loving our neighbor, and shared responsibility for creating a society of common good. At the core of Democratic policies is a deep appreciation for shared sacrifice – that to whom much is given, much is required; that, as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, each of us holds a responsibility to our larger community.”

Josh Dickson, the director of the initiative (pictured above), made his point about the disconnect between Tea Party ideology of selfishness and greed (the gospel of Ayn Rand) versus the teaching of the Bible by holding up both a copy of a Rand book and the Bible.

Neither party has a lock on faith or values, but at a time when every major Republican candidate is flocking to the Religious Right sponsored Values Voter Summit to appeal to social conservatives, it’s good to see the perceived GOP stranglehold on religion challenged by a bold new group of young people of faith.

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Evangelicals for Rick Perry?

September 29, 2011, 12:22 pm | By Kristin Ford

Dan Burke at Religion News Service has a piece this week pointing to growing conservative evangelical support for Governor Rick Perry’s presidential bid. Though Perry has stumbled in recent debate performances and faces right-wing criticism for mandating a vaccine for adolescent girls, supporting in-state college tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants, and his connections to the Muslim community, he’s also garnered praise from some evangelical Christians for his overt religious efforts including a high-profile, controversial prayer rally.

As Elizabeth Dias at TIME covered earlier, evangelical pastor Rick Scarborough, founder of Vision America (a conservative group mobilizing pastors and their congregations to take action on social issues), said about Perry, “…the more I’ve studied and listened, the more I have liked what I have heard.”

And in this week’s piece, Burke finds support for Perry from Religious Right stalwarts like Donald Wildmon of American Family Association, Jerry Falwell Jr., James Dobson, and David Barton.

But the story also cites religion and politics expert John Green, who points out that people in the pews aren’t always in lock-step with their leaders on political issues or candidates:

The conservative Christian movement is less top-down than many in the media suspect, said John C. Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. But grassroots activists take note when evangelical eminences like Dobson praise a particular candidate.

With Values Voter Summit — the Religious Right’s marquee annual gathering coming up — there are high stakes for GOP candidates looking to court conservative evangelical. Will these voters line up behind their leaders or will they take issue with some of the Republican candidates’ extreme anti-compassion stances, like the Liberty University students who said it was “un-Christian” to let someone die because they don’t have health insurance?

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Developments on immigration this week: GOP debate, “Culture of Cruelty report,” E-Verify, and DREAM Act

September 23, 2011, 1:12 pm | By Kristin Ford

Culture_of_Cruelty_report_thumb.jpgThere have been a number of developments this week on immigration issues– from a new report documenting abuse of detainees to immigration at the GOP presidential debate to congressional issues: E-Verify and the DREAM Act. Here’s a summary of what’s happening from a faith perspective:

Border Patrol Abuse

This week, a border organization called No More Deaths, affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist denomination, released a groundbreaking report based on thousands of interviews with Border Patrol detainees. The report outlines a systemic culture of abuse and mistreatment at the U.S. Border Patrol and complicity at multiple levels of government. The report, which has earned significant mainstream media coverage, has also attracted the attention and support of the faith community.

Read the report here and add your name to a petition calling on the Obama administration to address these injustices and hold Border Patrol responsible for abuse of detainees. It’s a startling look at another facet of our broken immigration system, one that routinely denies people basic human dignity and rights.

Mandatory E-Verify

Immigration reform advocates like America’s Voice were tracking (and livetweeting) this week’s Congressional hearings on mandatory E-Verify, a problematic employment eligibility program.

Faith groups like PICO National Network have joined the chorus of voices– including an increasingly prominent business contingent– opposing the legislation. PICO said in an action alert:

As people of faith, we oppose E-verify if it is not coupled with a broader immigration reform package. Not only will this bill hurt immigrants and American workers alike, it will also hurt small business and our economy while undermining our core faith values of human dignity, workers rights and family unity. Enforcement only strategies like E-verify have been proven to be ineffective, highly costly, and often undermine our core faith values of human dignity and family unity. The only true solution to the immigration crisis is a comprehensive solution that will restore the rule of law and uphold our values. As people of faith, we believe that this is a moral and economic imperative for our nation.

The bill, facing growing opposition from an unusual coalition ofconservatives, Tea Partiers, and Democrats, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee this week.

DREAM Act Advocacy

Faith groups, alongside longtime DREAM Act champion Sen. Dick Durbin, are hosting dozens of DREAM Sabbath events across the country this fall, earning media coverage in Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida so far. Jose Antonio Vargas (Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author of a poignant New York Times op-ed “coming out” as undocumented) is also part of the nationwide initiative.

After last year’s heartbreaking defeat of the DREAM Act, stymied by a filibuster in the Senate, people of faith aren’t letting up. Their call for common-sense, compassionate legislation to help young people join the military or go to college and contribute to our nation is a prophetic voice at a time when immigration seems too controversial to succeed in a deeply divided legislature.

GOP Debate

At last night’s debate, the candidates were asked about immigration, specifically their stances on providing tuition assistance to undocumented immigrant students. Perry supported a bill to do this in Texas (much to the chagrin of his conservative, anti-immigrant base), though he still opposes federal DREAM Act legislation that would do this on a national level.

It’ll be interesting to see how this issue continues to play out. Some commentators are speculating that Perry’s softer stance on immigration compared to the rest of the GOP field could enable him to win a significant number of Latino votes as the nominee, particularly given the some of the Latino community’s frustration with President Obama.

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