Faith in Public LIVE: Amy Sullivan, XPatriated Texan and David Buckley (Part 1)

July 31, 2006, 11:00 am | Posted by

Introducing Faith in Public LIVE: exchanges between bloggers and noted leaders in faith and public policy. Check back and comment throughout the week as this exchange grows, and visit this space every week to see a new series of conversations and debates.

This first edition kicks off with thoughts from Amy Sullivan, editor of Washington Monthly and author of an upcoming book on faith in politics. She writes about the Casey campaign, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, and the potential benefits of just showing up. Check back soon to see responses from Thurman Hart of XPatriated Texan and David Buckley of FPL.

Hi Thurman and David–

Thanks for joining me in this first inaugural Faith in Public Life conversation. I have no doubt that our discussion will range in many interesting directions, but I want to start us out by looking at the Pennsylvania Senate race between Democrat Bob Casey and the Republican incumbant Rick Santorum. From almost the moment he entered the campaign, Casey has led Santorum by double-digits, an advantage that appears largely due to Santorum’s astonishing ability to alienate voters with a blend of sanctimonious social conservatism and unsavory K Street connections.

But Casey hasn’t just sat back to watch Santorum self-destruct (although you could argue that would have been an effective campaign tactic). Instead, he’s employed some fairly innovative techniques that have either neutralized Santorum’s advantage among religious voters or have actually given Casey an edge. The questions I’ve been thinking about are whether other Democrats could use those same strategies–and whether they would want to.

Let’s take Casey’s neutralization efforts first. It’s safe to say that Rick Santorum had counted on the groups of conservative clergy and religious activists who were mobilized by the GOP in 2004 to operate as something like a second arm of his campaign this year. Leaders of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network (PPN), the New York Times reported earlier this year, have sought to bring aboard ten field coordinators and plan to focus their efforts on registering “conservative” voters. In March, they invited Rick Santorum to address a training session for activists (he sent a videotaped talk) and they hired a former Bush campaign staffer who coordinated the 2004 campaign’s efforts with conservative Christian organizations.

In the past, Democrats would have fumed about this sort of thing, and maybe even filed a formal FEC or IRS complaint. But that would undoubtedly have been gleefully held up by Republicans as proof that Democrats are hostile to religion and want to shut out religious voices. This time, the Casey campaign did something different. After the PPN invited Santorum (but not Casey) to address their members in the spring–in violation of IRS rules for tax-exempt organizations–the Casey campaign contacted the group and said, in effect, it’s so great that you’re involved in important political efforts. We’d love to come talk to you as well.

That took the PPN aback. They hadn’t planned on providing a platform for the Democratic candidate. But it’s one thing to neglect to invite both candidates to an event. To ignore a candidate’s specific request to come speak after his opponent has already addressed the organization would be a blatant violation of the law. So today (July 31), Casey will be speaking to a lunchtime meeting of the group in Scranton.

The same thing happened with the PPN website. Originally, the group included information on its website about Santorum, the favored candidate. Cue the Casey campaign. Hey, that’s great–we’d love to be on there, too. Again, the PPN didn’t want to highlight Casey, but they couldn’t legally turn down his request and leave up Santorum’s information. So rather than give Casey equal space, they took down the Santorum material.

All of this should be comforting to those liberals who have worried that Democrats efforts in the area of religion automatically mean that the party must pander to evangelicals by shifting its social positions to the right. (The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus asked in a column: “What does it profit a party to gain a demographic but lose its soul?”)

In this case, the Casey campaign hasn’t done anything but engage with a group that was prepared to work solely on behalf of the Republican candidate, and politely ask for equal time (which also happens to be a request that they abide by the law). It’s so simple and brilliant that I’m still amazed no one had thought of this before. Democrats can’t stop religious conservatives from mobilizing, but they can make sure that those groups don’t give Republicans an unfair advantage.

The example of Casey, however, does raise some serious questions for Democrats, because I don’t think his campaign can be considered outside of the context of his pro-life stance. I hope we’ll move onto that topic in the next few days, because I have wondered–with Casey, Tim Kaine in Virginia last year, and Bill Ritter, the pro-life Democratic candidate for governor in Colorado–whether Catholic Democrats running in redd-ish states nowadays have to be pro-life.

All the Best,

Amy

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New Radio Show Stirs Listeners to Action

July 28, 2006, 3:44 pm | Posted by

The new radio show, The Time is Now, hosted by the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr. launched July 22, 2006 on Air America and provides another excellent resource for progressive voices of faith. The Time is Now follows State of Belief (hosted by the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance), as the second show hosted by a national religious leader launched this year on Air America .

(Listen to the first show of The Time is Now and State of Belief.)

Rev. Forbes, the senior minister of The Riverside Church, one of the largest multicultural churches in the nation, shines as the host oftentimes using rap to send the message that this is “no time for foolishness,” but a time to do something about the decline in moral and spiritual values. His presentation is fresh and reflects his ability to reach a broad audience. The first show opened with rapper Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” and led into an interview with journalist Helen Thomas.

Helen Thomas proved to be an excellent addition to the inaugural show voicing her concerns about the media. She candidly stated, “It’s their job to put the spotlight on the truth.”

When Rev. Forbes asked her why she wrote, Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public, she stated, “Well, I was very outraged. I felt the pressed had laid down on the job in the run up to the war. They could have been much more explicit. They could have gone after the truth and the very fact that we’re in a war that is based on falsehoods, at lease that falsehood peddled from the White House. So, I think that the press defaulted and I was so angry that I decided to write this book.”

The show ended with interviews with two students affected by the crisis in Lebanon, another compelling component of the show that sought to stir listeners to action. One of the students echoed this mission when he stated, “What we say to the world is that whoever is seeing this, let them act in any kind of support.”

The next show features Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leader in the fight against apartheid and the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

The Time is Now is just another example of how progressive faith leaders are increasingly getting their messages out to the public. Rev. Forbes acknowledges that the mass media frequently ignores alternative voices of faith, but his radio show seeks to bridge the gap by providing a medium through which those voices can be heard. He states that the time is now for a spiritual awakening, and with his new radio show, Rev. Forbes is on the frontlines of the movement.

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Faith Blogs Weigh In: Violence in the Middle East

July 27, 2006, 4:39 pm | Posted by

As violence in Lebanon escalates and the goals of an immediate or sustainable ceasefire are debated by international players, religion and politics bloggers are offering their own opinions of the crisis:

An ongoing debate on Street Prophets has surfaced between Pastor Dan and JCHFleetguy regarding the timing of a ceasefire. Pastor Dan contends that the U.S. intervention in the situation thus far has been indicative of the Bush administration’s limited ideological worldview and inability to understand a conflict only from the “I” perspective rather than the “Thou”. This limitation has led the U.S. to stall an immediate ceasefire, which he contends is essential to ultimate peace.

JCHFleetguy agrees with the identification of America’s ideological blinders but agrees with the course taken by Secretary Rice. Certain events, including Lebaneese reform to take control of its territory, must occur before a real ceasefire is even possible. The U.S. must help to secure an ultimately secure and nonviolent future, not one that returns to turmoil in a year.

Other bloggers have chimed in the discussion, such as Asbury Park who asserts that continuing violence cannot end violence but only beget itself. Quarkstomper claims that U.S. involvement in this situation is consistent with the “All or Nothing” attitude that it has shown previously.

Progressive Christian contrasts two articles written about US options with regard to Israel, Lebanon, and Hezbollah. One is written by Jim Lobe at Anti-War.com and the other by Steven Erlanger of the NY Times. He believes the former astutely places America’s green-light support of Israel as detrimental to wider international diplomacy and the latter article resorts to an unconstructive labeling of “radical Islam” in assigning blame for the situation.

Progressive Christian also posts an entry that criticism of Israel’s actions should not be taken as Anti-Semitic and that progressivism requires analysis among allies. A thread regarding a similar subject is raised by Mik Moore at JSpot regarding suspected Anti-Semitic sentiments surrounding the Connecticut Democratic Senate Primary and Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Progressive Christians Uniting and FaithfulAmerica.org have both used their blogs to solicit signatories for a letter calling upon President Bush, Secretary Rice, and Congressional Leaders to press for an immediate ceasefire. Progressive Christians Uniting cites the unjust provocation by Hezbollah as well as a disproportionately violent response from Israel; they also express a concern that American Neo-Cons will use this situation to renew their campaign for forced control of the Middle East.

On Huffington Post, Peter Laarman questions the duplicitous support given to Israel by many Christians enthused by the escalating violence which they believe to be an indicator of Jesus’ second coming. He writes:

We should never forget the huge numbers of Christian Zionists in this country (and doubtless in the Bush Administration) who are enthralled by this latest drama and are feverishly consulting the books of Daniel and Revelation to see whether this might be “it” or at least a prelude to the Big One on the plains of Megiddo. Although anti-Semitic at their core, these Christians are reflexively, even vehemently, pro-Israel because unless that Third Temple gets built where the Dome of the Rock is now, there’s no Second Coming.

Apocalypse-Bob echoes this concern on I Am a Christian Too. He says that this “Left Behind” mentality infiltrates our foreign policy and translates into a hidden aversion to lasting peace in the area. Bob quotes an article from the Toledo Blade that demonstrates the seriousness of the Rapture Christians.

Jeremy Burton at Jspot.org takes a step back from the situation, and says Jews must be careful not to let this situation distract attention from the other numerous threats to the common good. He intends:

“to keep reminding the Jewish community about all the rest of our agenda. Its our mission, even in a moment of crisis in Israel, to never lose sight of our role as a powerful force and voice and as a reliable ally and partner to a progressive agenda in this country”

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Heritage Foundation Attempts to Retake the Religious Voice on Global Warming

July 26, 2006, 11:28 am | Posted by

On Tuesday, July 25, the Heritage Foundation hosted a panel entitled, “Call to Truth, Prudence and the Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming”, which you can watch here. Disregarding reports of human induced climate change as liberal alarmism, panelists called the concerns of religious people about global warming hypocritical and even callous to the poor of Africa.

Dr. Kenneth Chilton, an economics professor of Lindenwood University argued that proposed environmental protections would harm the ability to provide expansive, abundant energy for the world’s poor. According to Chilton, technology is key as market-based pressure from high gas prices here in the U.S. will force energy companies to find more oil or expand alternative solutions. What is good for the U.S. will be good as a positive externality for the third world. Read an article of his here.

Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, an ethics professor at Knox Theological Seminary, echoed a concern for the poor, maintaining that he has the same values as people of faith who support environmental restrictions, but he believes the resources must be used rather for health, education, and energy.

Though Beisner later expressed his view of biblical justice that allows for glaring and perpetual inequality between the U.S. and Africa, his concern for the poor was ostensibly earnest. A responsible person of faith must accept that resources are limited and must be allocated efficiently. Health, education, and energy certainly warrant considerable allocation of our resources. However, if recent upward trends of global air and water temperatures are due to human activity, it is imperative that resources be allocated immediately to limit global warming thereby preventing further desertification in Africa, further heat-related deaths, further catastrophic hurricanes, and further impediments to health, education, and energy.

The Evangelical Climate Initiative, a religious organization — that goes out of its way to assure it does not have liberal ties — has signed on with the huge majority of the scientific community to promote cap-and-trade regulation of greenhouse gases. They note national and international consensus on this matter, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the scientific academies of all other G8 nations.

Where does their disagreement come from? Perhaps it can be found in a theology of comfort. In a document distributed at the event, the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) — an organization which need not assure of its absence of liberal ties and of which Dr. Beisner is a member — uses this quote of theologian Wayne Grudem to advance their argument that Global Warming is not a problem:

“It does not seem likely to me that God would set up the world to work in such a way that human beings would eventually destroy such ordinary and morally good and necessary things as breathing, building a fire to cook or keep warm, burning fuel to travel, or using energy for a refrigerator to preserve food.”

The idea that we, as a civilization, are morally upright for doing that which seems comfortable and ordinary is dangerously suspect. If this is the basis for our science or our religion, we eventually justify that which is comfortable at expense of actual truth, prudence and protection of the poor.

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Listening to the evangelicals

July 21, 2006, 6:20 pm | Posted by

I attended three events in the last two days that reveal coming changes in the religious and political landscape of America.

On Thursday, I went to the National Press Club to attend a press conference on some recommendations on how to deal with North Korea. They had good ideas for what the US, the UN, and China should do, but even more significant is who they were. At the table were six men each representing an organization: the Open Society Policy Center, the Hudson Institute, the Korean Church Coalition, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Yes, at the same table as the Open Society (founded by George Soros) sat Richard Land the head of Southern Baptist political action and talk radio host. Next to him sat Richard Cizik, head of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, who has been a leader in convincing his thirty million member organization to care about creation. During the press conference Cizik referenced Ronald Reagan’s famous “evil empire” speech as a pivotal moment that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now whether or not one agrees with that analysis, it clearly functioned rhetorically for Cizik as a moment of moral clarity and he wanted to draw upon that moral moment to bring North Korea to justice.

The second event of that day was a Senator Rick Santorum speech at the National Press Club. Up in the press gallery, a few yards away, I listened as Santorum also referred to the “evil empire” speech. But he was using it to argue that America needed to confront more vigorously the specter of “Islamic fascism.” In fact he criticized Bush and Condi Rice for using the term “terrorism,” as Santorum apparently wants to confront, not just the acts, but the faith as well.

Here were two events with men using the same moral framework for different causes. One singing the usual religious Right songs against the press and Islam. But in the other room, I heard a new song about human rights and multilateralism. The senator just might lose his job in November; Cizik was part of a photo spread in Vaniety Fair along with George Clooney and Al Gore.

A reporter in front of me asked Cizik if evangelicals are getting too spread out politically. No worries, Cizik assured: Not thinning, rather moving in new directions.

I asked Richard Cizik if Rick Warren and Jim Wallis had joined this coalition. Cizik said not yet, but that Warren’s concern for poverty, Africa, and the environment might become more visible in Washington in the near future. Cizik also pointed out that while evangelicals have had a history of being “cowboys” on foreign policy, they also have a growing tradition of working for human rights. And looking in his eyes, I got the impression that caring for the least of these might just dominate some day.

The third event. On Wednesday, I attended a California constituent breakfast hosted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. I was seated next to a happy, blonde Republican flight attendant. She informed me that she attends a Calvary Chapel mega church in Southern California. I jokingly told her that it is up to folks like her to save the evangelical soul. She laughed demurely and reminded me that there is only “one who saves souls.” Fine, she can have her private faith, but she nodded throughout Feinstein’s talk on supporting stem cell research and the environment. After the talk I asked my new evangelical friend about solving global warming, she looked worried for a second, then sung out: “stewardship.”

Tip O’Neill said all politics is local. For those willing to listen, these local anecdotes may just say something about the new global values of the American evangelical.

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