Bishop T.D. Jakes is one of America’s most prominent and dynamic pastors. He gave an extended interview to NPR that appeared yesterday on All Things Considered. The entire segment is well worth a listen; click the icon at the right to check it out. Among the highlights:
“I think really religion in general is struggling with politics, not just African Americans. Many, many times we’ve allowed ourselves to be taken up under the control of this party or that party, and I think that’s dangerous when you do that.”
“You can’t just be the president of the Christians. You have to be the president of the United States, which incorporates atheists, agnostics and all brands of faith. And many, many Christians don’t understand that. They see this as a Christian nation. But I don’t see this as a theocracy. I see it as a democracy.”
“I think that religious people, minorities and many others have been played on, that people say things to incite us to riot, to get us to vote and then don’t fulfill promises. I’m tired of being a pawn. I want us to be united again.”
YouTube has become a major feature of our public policy landscape, so we wanted to take a look at how leading presidential candidates have used this web video world to spread their message on faith and public life. The videos below feature leading presidential candidates from both parties addressing the relationship between faith and politics. To limit the scope of this video roundup, I chose to limit it to the top three candidates of the two major parties.
I found it difficult to find video of Giuliani speaking directly about his faith. Interestingly I found plenty of videos by conservative Christians attacking his pro-choice position. The official videos by Romney and McCain show that they speak of faith in “me” terms (more personal narratives) whereas Edwards and Hillary get right into saying faith calls “us” to do for others. So for McCain and Romney primary synonyms for religion include character and principle and it’s pretty clear that they are answering in relation to issues like terrorism or abortion. On the other hand both Clinton and Edwards translate faith directly to an application on poverty and health care. It seems that Obama tends to speak very directly about his own faith-based values – speaking of his secular upbringing and conversion and very broadly about the role of faith in solving social ills.
Lou Dobbs says churches should not be helping undocumented workers. He writes:
The nation’s religious leaders seem hell-bent on ignoring the separation of church and state when it comes to the politically charged issue of illegal immigration. A new coalition called Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform Wednesday will begin lobbying lawmakers with a new advertising and direct mail campaign on behalf of amnesty for illegal aliens.
But in calling it “political adventurism,” Dobbs conflates how church or state actually keep themselves separate.
On the state side, government cannot be pressured to prefer one religion instead of another or belief over nonbelief. On the church side, faith cannot do the duty of the legislators. But that lies a long way from saying that religious leaders cannot comment on the issues of the day or even act for social change. From child and adult labor rules to Jim Crow laws, it’s clear the human laws do change, in these cases for the better. Note to Lou: religious leaders sometimes had to break those segregation laws to show compassion for the disenfranchised. Again, in a very targeted way, the New Sanctuary Movement helps the American worker, like Rev. Harkins says:
one of the best things that could possibly happen in those realms is comprehensive immigration reform, because it brings out of the shadows those people who are being paid without the benefit of medical coverage, without the benefit of other types of insurance, driving down the wage base and brings them into the light.
And looking back through history, the record stands. When faith leaders work for “comprehensive” solutions to social problems, the average Joe and Jose both win.
Additionally, it’s significant that Dobbs suddenly raises the issue when religious leaders from across the political spectrum unite to douse the flames of “alien” intolerance that he fans each night. The Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine put it this way: “If given the choice on this issue between Jesus and Lou Dobbs, I choose my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.” In defending why it’s good for religious leaders to speak up on this issue, Rev. Harkins notes the New Sanctuary Movement moves beyond the partisanship of public policy because this is foremost about human compassion and “people policy.”
As you may have heard, Pope Benedict had an interesting thing to say to reporters while on his way to Brazil. This from the AP:
Flying to Latin America, Benedict was asked about comments by Mexico City church officials that the lawmakers would be excommunicated for having voted last month for the legislation legalizing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
“It’s nothing new, it’s normal, it wasn’t arbitrary. It is what is foreseen by the church’s doctrine,” Benedict told reporters aboard a plane to Brazil in his first full-fledged news conference since becoming pontiff in 2005.
Reporters flying with the pope took his comments to mean that he endorsed the comments by Mexican churchmen that the lawmakers should be excommunicated.
Vatican officials have acted quickly to tone down the ‘EXCOMMUNICATION!’ headlines, clarifying that:
“Since excommunication hasn’t been declared by the Mexican bishops, the pope has no intention himself of declaring it,” said Lombardi, who was on board the plane. “Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist. … Politicians exclude themselves from Communion.”
It will be interesting to see how this story develops in the days and months ahead. The Pope’s mind was on Mexico and Brazil when he spoke, but as the US Presidential season approaches, such comments will almost certainly be applied to our political environment. With the most prominent Catholic candidate a pro-choice Republican (pace, Dodd supporters), will conservatives rehash their 2004 calls for withholding of communion from pro-choicers? With the US Bishops meeting in November to consider an updated version of ‘Faithful Citizenship,’ what impact will Benedict’s comments have?
Fr. Tom Reese is a friend of ours here at FPL, and always a wise source of comment on matters related to the Church of Rome and politics. He has issued the following statement in response to the day’s excitement:
Pope on Pro-Choice Politicians
While traveling to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI responded to a question about Mexican politicians who voted to legalize abortion. From his answer, reporters inferred that he endorsed comments by Mexican churchmen that the politicians should be excommunicated. The pope’s press spokesman later issued a statement approved by the pope that said the pope did not intend to excommunicate anyone. In response to questions, AP reports that the spokesman said, “Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist. … Politicians exclude themselves from Communion.”
As Governor Romney eloquently said during the Republican presidential candidates’ debate, each church has the constitutional right to determine its internal policies, for example, who can go to Communion and who cannot. This is not a violation of the separation of church and state. The Quakers, for example, would have every right to excommunicate a member who voted in favor of war. Whether they should or should not is an issue to be debated and decided by the church.
In talking about abortion, it is important to distinguish a person’s position on the morality of abortion from a person’s position on whether the state should criminalize abortion. A person who feels that there is nothing wrong with abortion is clearly taking a position contrary to the position of the Catholic Church. But it is a separate question whether abortions should be criminalized.
Many canon lawyers and moralists believe that a politician could be against abortions and still oppose criminalizing it for prudential reasons, for example, because he believes such laws would be unenforceable, divisive and politically unrealistic. He may believe that a more realistic approach is to enact programs (healthcare, childcare, welfare, employment) that will reduce the number of abortions by giving women a real choice, by empowering them to say yes to life. These politicians point to the fact that there were fewer abortions during the Clinton Administration than during the Bush Administration. Raising the minimum wage, for example, would reduce more abortions than outlawing partial birth abortions. Such a politician could say, “I am opposed to abortion and will do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions short of putting women and doctors in jail.â€
So far, the vast majority of the U.S. Catholic bishops oppose denying Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians and voters. During the 2004 presidential election, only about 10 to 12 bishops of the approximately 190 diocesan bishops spoke out in favor of denying Communion. When the bishops meet in Baltimore this November, the question of denying Communion to pro-choice politicians will once again be debated when they vote on a new statement on “Faithful Citizenship.â€