Faith Transcends Primary Politics: Believers Ask Candidates to Respect Religion’s Role

January 15, 2008, 10:52 am | Posted by

Catholic, Evangelical, and Mainline Leaders Identify Three Principles to Protect Religion on the Trail

Christian pastors, priests, theologians and leaders of faith-based organizations today warned that divisive religious rhetoric from presidential candidates and relentless scrutiny of candidates’ faith undermines the vital role of religion in public life.

“We are troubled to see candidates pressed to pronounce the nature of their religious beliefs, asked if they believe every word of the Bible, forced to fend off warnings by a few religious authorities about reception of sacraments, compelled to confront derogatory and false allegations of radical Muslim childhood education, and faced with prejudicial analyses of their denominational doctrines,” leaders wrote in the statement, Keeping Faith: Principles to Protect Religion on the Campaign Trail.

More than two dozen Catholic, Evangelical, and mainline Protestant leaders signed the statement calling on candidates to affirm three principles to protect religion on the campaign trail: 1) avoid using religious or doctrinal differences to marginalize or disparage each other; 2) acknowledge that no single faith has an exclusive claim to moral values; and 3) recognize that policy positions should reflect the best interests of all citizens regardless of religious belief.

Democratic and Republican candidates have courted religious voters with extensive faith-based outreach efforts, and people of faith will be a critical factor in the South Carolina primaries held on Jan. 19 and Jan. 26.

The text of the statement and complete list of signatories, also available here (PDF), follows:

Keeping Faith: Principles to Protect Religion on the Campaign Trail

The role of religion in public life is a pivotal and contested question this election year. Republican and Democratic candidates alike have drawn on Biblical language and highlighted the importance of faith to articulate their personal and political values. As believers, we will always stand up for religious expression and the importance of religion for America, but we are troubled by some current trends in political campaigns.

Religion forms virtues vital to democratic citizenship. Religion calls citizens to transcend self-interest in service to others—to those in need, to neighbor, to community, to country and to the world. Religion promotes fundamental moral values necessary for civilized public life—honor and honesty, charity and justice. Religion has brought hope and liberty to America’s powerless and disenfranchised, and its teachings have inspired our country’s most admirable achievements.

Yet in this year’s presidential campaign, we are troubled to see candidates pressed to pronounce the nature of their religious beliefs, asked if they believe every word of the Bible, forced to fend off warnings by a few religious authorities about reception of sacraments, compelled to confront derogatory and false allegations of radical Muslim childhood education, and faced with prejudicial analyses of their denominational doctrines.

Exclusionary religious rhetoric by candidates and constant scrutiny of the minutiae of their faiths undermine religion’s valuable role in public life. It also runs contrary to the unique American commitment to both religious freedom and non-establishment of religion. History is replete with examples of religion compromised by its collusion with power, and the role of religion in the current campaign raises concern that it is once again being misused.

As citizens of faith united in efforts to reinvigorate religion’s role in the public square, we are convinced that the greatest protection for that role is clear and unambiguous support for both religious expression and non-establishment of religion. Following Article VI of the U. S. Constitution and the First Amendment, we identify three basic principles.

* No person should be expected to leave their faith at the door when operating in the public square. But it is inappropriate to use religious or doctrinal differences to marginalize or disparage candidates, by either comparison or assertion. No religious test may be applied to candidates for public office – not by the law, not by candidates, not by campaigns.

*Candidates for public office should welcome the contributions that religion brings to society. But just as government may not endorse or favor a religious faith, candidates for public office are obliged, in their official capacity, to acknowledge that no faith can lay exclusive claim to the moral values that enrich our public life.

*Just as government policies must be in service to the nation and not to any religious faith, the same holds true for candidates’ positions on policies. While it is appropriate for candidates to connect their faith to their policy positions, their positions on policy must respect all citizens regardless of religious belief.

As the 2008 campaign charges forward, we call upon all candidates, regardless of whether or not or how often they choose to talk about religion, to protect it. We call upon all candidates to join us in affirming these principles.

Stephen Schneck

Director, Life Cycle Institute

Catholic University of America

Lisa Sowell Cahill

J. Donald Monan Professor of Theology

Boston College

Rev. Les Schmidt

U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Liaison

Catholic Committee of the South

Dr. Randall Balmer

Professor of American Religious History

Barnard College, Columbia University

Brian McLaren

Author and Founding Pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church

Spencerville, MD.

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS

Executive Director

NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Rev. Joseph Darby

Senior Pastor

Morris Brown AME Church

Charleston, SC

Rev. Don Flowers

Senior Pastor

Providence Baptist Church

Charleston, SC

Dr. Baxter M. Wynn

Minister of Pastoral Care

First Baptist Church

Greenville, SC

Rev. Jennifer Butler

Executive Director

Faith in Public Life

Richard Gaillardetz

Professor of Catholic Studies

The University of Toledo

Rev. Jennifer Kottler

Executive Director

Let Justice Roll

Alexia Kelley

Executive Director

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Chris Korzen

Executive Director

Catholics United

Rev. Dr. Paul de Vries

President

NY Divinity School

Board Member, National Association of Evangelicals

Rev. Fred L. Thelen

Pastor

Christo Rey Church

Lansing, MI

Rev. Tim Ahrens

Senior Pastor

First Congregational Church

Columbus, OH

Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J.

Center for Human Rights and International Justice

Theology Department

Boston College

J. Brent Walker

Executive Director

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Sr. Sharon Dillon, SSJ-TOSF

Executive Director

Franciscan Mission Service of North American

Rev. Derrick Harkins

Senior Pastor, Nineteenth St. Baptist Church

Washington, DC

Board of Directors, World Relief

Dr. Glen Stassen

Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics

Fuller Theological Seminary

Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

President

Chicago Theological Seminary

Marie Dennis

Director

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Rev. Stephen Copley

Senior Pastor

First United Methodist Church

North Little Rock, Ark.

Sr. Mary Waskowiak, RSM

President

The Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Dr. Ken Brooker Langston

Director, Disciples Justice Action Network (Disciples of Christ)

Coordinator, Disciples Center for Public Witness

Diana Butler Bass

Author, speaker on American Religion

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Observant Jews Effectively Barred from Nevada Caucuses

January 11, 2008, 4:16 pm | Posted by

The Republican and Democratic Nevada caucuses are being held on Saturday January 19 at 9 and 11:30 am – during morning religious services for observant Jews.

The media-sponsored exit polls in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary only asked Republicans if they are evangelicals – effectively rendering Democratic evangelical primary voters invisible. But at least they got to cast their votes.

Religious Jews in Nevada will have to choose between voting and practicing their faith on January 19, the day of the Republican and Democratic Nevada caucuses. January 19 is a Saturday and the caucuses will be held at 9 and 11:30 am – during morning religious services for observant Jews.

As Melissa Boteach, Poverty Campaign Coordinator at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs writes:

January 19th is one of the most important contests in the Democratic and Republican quests for their parties’ nomination for the presidency. It is also Shabbat.

This year, the Nevada Democratic and Republican parties have decided to hold their primary caucuses on a Saturday, with citizens required to report by 11:30 and 9:00 AM respectively, right during morning religious services. When I called the political parties in Nevada to inquire as to whether or not there were measures being taken to help accommodate those observant Jews who wished to participate in the caucuses, I received mixed results. A young Jewish woman at the Nevada Democratic Party told me that they had tried to put caucus-sites near religious neighborhoods and synagogues so that people could walk; precinct captains would be educated about the need to write down information on behalf of observant Jews instead of asking them to sign-in and write themselves. A gentleman at the Nevada Republican Party told me that the party was not even aware of the problem, but promised to make an effort to educate precinct captains on the issue. Neither had an adequate answer as to why the caucuses had to take place on a Shabbat morning.

Nevada has one of the fastest growing Jewish populations in the country, and its 65,000-80,000 Jewish community members are expected to have a disproportionate impact on the results.

…

On January 19th, Nevada’s observant Jews will be asked to make a false choice between practicing their Judaism and participating in a defining American moment. To all Americans, not just American Jews, this should be seen as a disappointment.

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Evangelicals to Networks: Stop Pigeonholing Us, Fix Exit Polls

January 10, 2008, 3:40 pm | Posted by

Networks’ exit polls only ask Republicans if they are evangelicals

Prominent evangelical leaders have called on media outlets to correct flaws in their presidential primary exit polls that pigeonhole evangelicals as beholden to the Republican party. Following the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, exit polls asked Republican voters if they considered themselves “born-again or evangelical,” but did not ask that question of participants in the Democratic contests. As a result, news reports have misrepresented evangelicals as a de facto category of the Republican party, which is a mischaracterization of the politically and ideologically diverse evangelical movement.

Revs. Joel Hunter, Jim Wallis, and Brian McLaren, Christianity Today editor David Neff, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities president Dr. Paul Corts, Redeem the Vote founder Randy Brinson, Drs. David Gushee, Randall Balmer, and Glen Stassen, signed the letter calling for the networks to correct the exit polling by asking both Democrats and Republicans the same set of religious questions. It was sent to the polling directors and political directors at ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC and the Associated Press.

The text of the letter, available online at http://blog.faithinpubliclife.org/upload/2008/01/Evangelical%20Letter%20to%20Networks.pdf, follows:

Letter from Evangelical Leaders to Polling and Political Directors of Media Outlets Represented in the National Election Pool

January 10, 2008

Dear Polling or Political Director:

Religion is playing an unprecedented role in the 2008 presidential campaign; the need for accurate and thorough information about religious voters is difficult to overstate. Thus far, the National Election Pool’s exit poll surveys have pigeonholed evangelicals, reinforcing the false stereotype that we are beholden to one political party.

Your entrance and exit polls at the Iowa caucuses asked Republican caucus-goers if they were “born-again or evangelical Christian(s),” but did not ask the same question of Democrats. This omission left a substantive hole in subsequent news coverage of the caucuses. Based on your polling, the public helpfully learned that born-again or evangelical Christians played a central role in Mike Huckabee’s victory, but received no information about the impact of evangelical voters in the Democratic race.

As reported by numerous news organizations, candidates of both parties spoke explicitly of their religious faith while campaigning in Iowa and have robust faith outreach operations. By omitting the question of evangelical/born-again identification from the Democratic polls, you prevented the public from seeing the full picture of how the bipartisan courtship of evangelical voters affected the outcome of the first contest of the 2008 campaign and perpetuated the misperception that all evangelical Christians are Republicans.

No party can own any faith. Evangelicals have broadened their agenda to include care for the planet, the poor and the stranger, and as a result are increasingly diverse politically.

Your New Hampshire exit polls gathered much more detailed information about voters’ religion but still asked only Republican voters if they were evangelical or born-again. The data revealed a significant difference between the voting patterns of Republican evangelicals in Iowa and New Hampshire. In Iowa, Mike Huckabee dominated, claiming 46 percent of evangelicals’ support, with no other candidate receiving even 20 percent. In New Hampshire McCain, Romney and Huckabee split the evangelical vote almost evenly. The disparity of these results suggests that evangelical voters’ behavior may not conform to expectations, which further shows the need to measure it in both parties.

With voters entering polling sites in Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina in the coming days and weeks and Super Tuesday following shortly thereafter, it is imperative for you to remedy the imbalance in your exit polling immediately. Evangelicalism is not a monolithic movement that fits neatly into one party. For the sake of accuracy and dispelling shopworn stereotypes, we urge you to allow all evangelicals an opportunity to be represented in your surveys and polling data.

Dr. Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland A Church Distributed

David Neff, Editor, Christianity Today

Rev. Jim Wallis, Founder, Sojourners

Randy Brinson, Founder, Redeem the Vote

Paul Corts, President, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

Dr. David P. Gushee, Distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University

Brian McLaren, Author, Founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church

Randall Balmer, Professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University

Glen Stassen, Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary

*Institutional affiliations are given for identification purposes only.

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National Religious, Military, and Political Leaders Appear in Full-Page Des Moines Register Ad Opposing Torture

December 13, 2007, 4:13 pm | Posted by

With shocking and new revelations about torture coming out of Washington daily, National Religious Campaign Against Torture calls torture “the most important issue we have to face as a nation”

WASHINGTON – Forty-eight prominent Americans, including President Jimmy Carter, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell), Rev. Jim Wallis, and Dr. Rick Warren, will appear in a full-page ad in the Des Moines Register on Sunday, December 16 sponsored by the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT) Action Fund. Headlined, “Torture is a Moral Issue,” the ad comes out at a time when torture is at the forefront of the national debate.

This ad was produced in partnership with Evangelicals for Human Rights. Evangelical signatories on the ad include Dr. David P. Gushee, President, Evangelicals for Human Rights; Rev. Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals; and Dr. Rick Warren.

The ad declares, in part, “[Torture] degrades everyone involved – policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.”

“With reports about the CIA destroying evidence of torture breaking out of Washington, it is a critical time to address this pressing moral issue,” said Linda Gustitus, president of the NRCAT board and Iowa resident. “Torture is, without a doubt, the most important issue we have to face as a nation. It must be abolished immediately and should never be a part of our nation’s policies or practices in the future.”

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a growing membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, over 130 religious groups have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and congregations.

Iowa spokespeople available for discuss the ad:

Linda Gustitus, President of the Board, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, currently living in Princeton, IA

Pastor Kirsten Klepfer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Grinnell, IA

To schedule an interview with Ms. Gustitus or Rev. Klepfer, please contact Steve Fox at 202-822-5200.

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National Religious Campaign Against Torture Urges Appointment of Special Counsel to Investigate CIA Interrogation Tapes

December 10, 2007, 1:26 pm | Posted by

(Washington) — The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a campaign of over 130 religious organizations working together to abolish U.S.-sponsored torture, sent the following letter today to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, urging him to appoint a Special Counsel to investigate allegations regarding the CIA’s destruction of videotapes and its use of “harsh” interrogation techniques.

December 10, 2007

The Honorable Michael Mukasey

Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Mukasey:

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), a campaign of over 130 religious organizations working together to abolish U.S.-sponsored torture, requests that you appoint a Special Counsel to investigate the destruction of the CIA videotapes that document the use of “harsh” interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists and whether these techniques violated U.S. and international law.

According to a New York Times article of December 7, 2007, several officials have said that “the tapes were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks.” Furthermore, there appears to be credible evidence that requests for the tapes by a federal court at the time such video tapes were intact may have been ignored by the CIA. These two allegations, if true, would be evidence of the use of illegal interrogation tactics by U.S. personnel and an effort to cover-up that fact.

These allegations raise serious concerns that must be fully and fairly addressed in order to retain the trust and confidence of the American people in our intelligence and justice systems.

A key point of controversy during your confirmation process involved your statement that one particular “harsh” interrogation technique (namely, waterboarding) was not necessarily torture. Also, it is possible that top Justice Department officials may have been involved in counseling the CIA about both the techniques used and the handling of the tapes. For these reasons, we believe it is necessary for you to appoint a Special Counsel, independent of the normal Justice Department chain of command, to conduct this investigation. We believe a Special Counsel is critical to achieve the confidence of the American people in the outcome of such an investigation.

NRCAT believes that torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved – policy-makers, perpetrators and victims – and it contradicts our nation’s most cherished values. We believe that any policies that permit torture and inhuman treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.

We urge you to use your good offices to ensure that the public learns the truth behind these allegations and has confidence in the final outcome. We believe the appointment of a Special Counsel is necessary to accomplish that task.

Sincerely,

Linda Gustitus, President

Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director

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www.tortureisamoralissue.org

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