Religion and Politics Can Mix

There were many winners at Sunday night’s Compassion Forum at Messiah College and no discernible losers as far as I … Continued

There were many winners at Sunday night’s Compassion Forum at Messiah College and no discernible losers as far as I could tell.

For starters, the sponsoring and organizing group, Faith in Public Life, handled logistics superbly. FPL is setting an agenda and it is doing so with a “Big Tent” philosophy of letting different religious Americans bring their concerns to the fore. Last night a theologically diverse group of pre-selected clergy asked questions about euthanasia, environmental concerns, poverty, AIDS, the relation between science and faith, and so on. In so doing, they broadened the issue palette pertaining to religious politicking considerably. This is where Faith in Public Life is making a major contribution to national discourse.

All of this was done–note this–without castigating or excluding secular Americans. The moderators Campbell Brown and Jon Meacham–let me thank them in advance– asked both candidates to comment on the assertion that “religion already has way too much influence in political life and public life.” Senator Clinton responded:

“I understand why some people, even religious people, even people of faith might say, why are you having this forum? And why are you exploring these issues from two people who are vying to be president of the United States? And I think that’s a fair question to ask. I am here because I think it’s also fair for us to have this conversation. But I’m very conscious of how thoughtful we must proceed.”

Senator Obama offered a somewhat different answer. He contrasted the Democratic Party of old (read the folks who had militantly expurgated faith from public life) with the Republican Party of today (read the folks who have abused religion in politics). Riffing on themes from his Audacity of Hope and arguing that a happy medium could be found, Obama closed by saying: “We are a Jewish nation; we are a Buddhist nation; we are a Muslim nation; Hindu nation; and we are a nation of atheists and nonbelievers.”

(Factor in that “On Faith” columnist Eboo Patel asked a question of Senator Clinton in which he observed that “Americans of all faith and no faith at all believe in compassion,” and it becomes clear that nonbelievers in America had their best night in the public square since Carl Sagan’s Cosmos debuted on PBS).

The candidates, for their part, scored no knock-out punches. This is not surprising since the tone and format of the evening did not encourage pugilism. When pressed Senator Clinton referred to Senator Obama’s remarks about “bitter” Americans as “elitist, out of touch and patronizing”—thus trying to turn Obama’s headiness and professorial bearing back on him. (In an earlier column I noted that John Edwards too was also rolling out an “Obama-Is-Too-Academic” product line. I wonder if the McCain people are buying).

Clinton, for her part, was astonishingly serene and deliberate in her responses. It was as if she walked in with the strategy of slowing down the pace of the game (to better contrast herself with the up-tempo Obama who has been a bit careless with the rhetorical ball of late?). Her “Four Corners Offense” did have the drawback of striking some as a bit dull and rambling. Though in response to a question about why suffering is permitted by a loving God she offered one of the best responses of the night: “Its very existence is a call to action.”

As for Senator Obama, he was very much in his element. His suggestion that an Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in his administration would specifically target poverty was extraordinarily interesting as were his remarks on the compatibility between evolutionary theory and religion. Obama’s handlers probably wish that he weren’t so relentlessly interesting; his recent missteps can be attributed to his willingness to speak with the freedom and candor of a college lecturer.

In all, it was about as serious a conversation on religion and politics that could be had with presidential aspirants in tow. Sally Quinn and I will be discussing all this in greater detail in our upcoming God Vote video. As for me, I had a great time. My only regret is that I didn’t carve out more time to chat with the students of Messiah College whose administrators rendered an important service to the nation by hosting the forum.

For more information about religion and the candidates check out Faith 2008 by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs

Video: Quinn and Berlinerblau discuss “Bittergate.

By Jacques Berlinerblau | 
April 14, 2008; 9:02 AM ET

 | Category: 

The God Vote


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  • Elohist

    Did anyone notice that METHODIST Hillary was knocking down whiskey shots with beer chasers? It kinda shows how superficial all of this is for her.

  • Robert Leibold

    When asked why God allows pain and suffering in this world, Hillary laughed, lolled her head, laughed again, lolled her head once more, and then all-too-predictably and evasively stated that the question was indeed a worthy one, a question bantered about since time immemorial. Her most incisive moment came when she at last laughingly answered the question with the words, “I don’t know.” Thus heralded one of the scant few moments in which I’ve witnessed the truth from the woman.If Hillary’s response was, as Mr. Berlinerblau noted, a mature or intelligent one, then God help our morally beleaguered, incredibly ill-educated national leadership and those of us forced to vote either for Peter or Paul in this inane charade of an election cycle.

  • david a belanger,veteran

    this is more important, how about getting this out in the real news..here some great news they dont want to tell you bush lovers.Sullivan points out that the military”s causality reports also exclude the “enormous number [of new veterans] flooding the VA,” often with medical problems developed due to the war. A January report by the Department of Veterans Affairs showed 299,585 veterans who recently served in the Middle East had been treated by the VA since 2002. Forty percent (120,049) of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who sought care from the VA did so for mental health disorders. thats a total americans hurt,injurd,sick,mental,maimed, ready america here it is 374,298 americans…. 4492 dead plus 31590 hurt and 38631 critticaly, plus 299,585 mentally thats what give you the total..thanks bush/cheney

  • E Favorite

    I agree it was a good night for non-believers.As Obama was rattling off his list who makes up our nation I was waiting hopefully for a mention of my group, then leaped to my feet clapping when he finished with “atheists – nonbelievers” (which is how I heard it).We atheists don’t often have moments like that in national political discussions.Hopefully, when he’s president, it will become routine.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Why does God allow pain and suffering?He doesn’t, because He isn’t.

  • Reasonable not hateful

    Leave to Norrie to not comment on the substance of the article but to make ill advised comments on the existence of God.Lose the chip on your shoulder, it ain’t attractive.

  • Freestinker

    If a candidate’s religious faith is irrelevant to their fitness to govern (as Article VI of the Constitution suggests), then what purpose does a candidate forum on religious faith serve other than to expose the degree to which each might be subject to irrational thinking?

  • Sam

    It was a better night for the candidates and for the studio audience than it was for the CNN moderators, who asked the most eye-rollingly irresponsible questions. For example, Clinton is getting mixed reviews here for her responses to the “suffering” question. But that question, along with some others, reminded me of The Inquisition. If a Presidential candidate, who didn’t believe the Biblical dogma with which most of the country is programmed, were to really give an intellectually honest answer, he or she would be condemned at the ballot box, just as a commenter here named Norrie was immediately attacked for effectively applying the principle of Occam’s Razor to the question. That said, I think Clinton fared better than Obama overall, because she got to show her warm and fuzzy side and also that she’s able to think out loud without a script and without stumbling. Obama was thinking out loud too, and I applaud him for his line about America not being just a Christian nation and including atheists in the mix. But he stumbled and committed a logical fallacy when answering the question about “divine intervention.” He claimed that a) God does intervene in the world, but that b) how He does it is a “mystery.” The old “God works in mysterious ways” argument is cited in “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” chapter of Carl Sagan’s cautionary work “The Demon-Haunted World,” as a special pleading. Also, it appeared that CNN excluded opponents of religion in politics from asking questions to the candidates. For example, among all the clergy present, where was the Rev. Barry Lynn who heads Americans United for Separation of Church and State? And, apparently to try and get the candidates back to tearing each other down, Campbell Brown misrepresented to Obama what Clinton had said about his “bitter” remark.

  • Robert Leibold

    Actually, it [the so-called Democratic religious “debate” night] proved a wildly successful evening for Republicans, who’ll likely win the general election this year given the sudden, absolutely inexplicable implosion of the Democratic Party, and the nakedly embarrassing revelation that Hillary is not–as we had once been told by the Arkansas Politburo–among the smartest women in the world.Any successes we’ve gained since November 7 have been nullified since day-one of the Clinton-Obama race for the nomination. How we had it all just five months ago and then blithely tossed it into the gutter within the past 120 days, is beyond me–though, given the overall context of a few of the responses here, I’m inclined to say that we fully deserve our free-fall into political anarchy. Sadly, the Democratic Party of my youth of fifty years ago is dead, and has been replaced of late by the same manner of thinkers who once loftily attempted to construct the tower of Babel.In your zeal to convolute truth, Father Reese, it does indeed appear that you’ve been enormously successful in misleading and thereby confusing your afflicted flock. Thank God for Thessalonians 4, and the knowledge that the righteous will emerge successful in the end.

  • Michael

    Will Hillary Denounce the Pope and boycott his visit to the USA because of his stances on abortion, gay rights, women rights and equality issues such as no women priests. Will she attack him as strongly as the Rev. Wright attacks or will there be the usual double standard.

  • dogdiva

    Sorry…I’m confused. I thought you were against religious litmus tests for public officials and didn’t favor an increased emphasis on ‘being religious enough’ or ‘the right kind of religious’ for people at the center of government.I watch in horror Sunday night as we asked grilled Presidential candidates with profound questions like “What is your favorite Bible verse?” and “Why does God let bad things happen?”at a forum called Faith In Politics. I really took it all the wrong way I guess. I watched what seemed to me an effort for a democracy to ‘get used to’ or ‘learn to accomodate’ a powerful religious overtone in our government and politics. I searched before and after for the voices who objected and have so far found none…certainly not yours. I think a forum on Compassion was a brilliant idea! I think that compassionate religious organizations should be welcomed as part of that forum…to address the ‘compassion’ topic. John Mecham grilling candidates about their religious beliefs and asking them to defend their beliefs or prove they were schooled in religious doctrine would not have entered my mind. I’ve not found one word of shock or dismay at what took place Sunday night. That would seem to mark the beginning of the end for ‘separation of church and state’.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Reasonable Not Hateful,You wrote:”Leave to Norrie to not comment on the substance of the article but to make ill advised comments on the existence of God.”Lose the chip on your shoulder, it ain’t attractive.”I wasn’t commenting on the substance of the article because I was commenting on Robert Leibold’s post which began: “When asked why God allows pain and suffering in this world, Hillary laughed…”Why is my comment any more “ill advised” than anyone else’s in On Faith? I was saying what I think about the Abrahamic God(s) that our politicians are falling all over themselves to embrace.As for that putative chip on my shoulder, I’ll leave it to others to decide if it’s there. Personally, I don’t see it. I’m quite content and happy to let people persist in error with regard to diety-existences.It’s no skin off my back, or, as Jefferson said, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”Happy springtime and good wishes to all.

  • E Favorite

    Happy Sringtime to you, too, Norrie.No I don’t think you have a chip on your shoulder and yes, I am wondering what a non-ill-advised comment on the existence of God would be.Here are some possibilities:- The bible and my minister/priest/parents say God exists, so he exists.- Ever since I felt the holy spirit (or something)enter me, I’ve known that God exists.- I have no reason to think God exists, but if you do, that’s fine with me.

  • VICTORIA

    reasonable not hateful- (not hateful- but not kind either) i liked (and will remember) that jefferson quote-putative – adjective remarking on mr liebold’s assertion that anarchy is imminent in the democratic party- (and i infer the rise of the righteous republicans in its wake?) i watched the pope flying in just now- it occurred to me this may be some dim-witted attmept by bush to create the illusion that catholics (votes) are a welcome entity to the GOP. do you think the catholics are going to fall for it? just musing—

  • Paganplace

    “No I don’t think you have a chip on your shoulder and yes, I am wondering what a non-ill-advised comment on the existence of God would be.”How bout: No God worth mention, never mind blind obedience, would expect us to justify cruelty on the basis of fallacious senses of authority, nor demand obedience to corrupt institutions? :) There’s a lot of talk about how the Only God Of Infinite Goodness made the whole world to punish me eternally if I don’t obey irrational abusers. So happens I have a little more faith than that. And if some God is so small to both need me to believe people I know to be liars, and afraid of me seeing otherwise, well, he better be. :)

  • Arminius

    Hi, Paganplace!”There’s a lot of talk about how the Only God Of Infinite Goodness made the whole world to punish me eternally if I don’t obey irrational abusers. So happens I have a little more faith than that.”I have more faith than that too. And in my personal view, the God of love that Jesus preached is much too big for any one church – especially those churches that depend on the authority of those who rule. Arminius

  • Paganplace

    Hi, Arminius. Just one of those days, eh? :)

  • Don Michielini

    “In all, it was about as serious a conversation on religion and politics that could be had with presidential aspirants in tow. Sally Quinn and I will be discussing all this in greater detail in our upcoming God Vote video” and “There were many winners at Sunday night’s Compassion Forum at Messiah College and no discernible losers as far as I could tell”

  • BGone

    The attempt to vote righteousness in failed. That’s dead and gone. You can say it be gone. Next attempt will be to vote prosperity back in. Prosperity be goned real fast.NBC news is now hinting at rationed flour. I don’t know what gives them an idea like that. The report came from a donut shop where they have nothing left not even holes. We can’t, “let them eat cake” donuts for sure.Salmon fishing has been shut down on the west coast -no fish to catch. Time for another, “loaves and fishes” miracle. Now you know why the president summoned the pope -Billy Graham tried and failed.Will the God voters claim the shortage of bread is due to a failure of righteousness or will they blame God’s political party? Religion and politics mix equally well as alcohol and gasoline -E85 that is. A little of one and a lot of the other.

  • Kwan J

    Can mixed, like the middle East, the West, Among religions, War after wars.

  • VICTORIA

    arminius- i didn’t realize the differences were that big between episcopalians and catholics- one of my dearest friends in the world of over 25 years is an (openly) gay espiscopalian priest- i thought the services i attended with my friend, the father,( i actually called him ‘brother’ in public- he could not possibly have been more indifferent to the title) very catholic in tone- more anglican- less ritualistic- but very similar- i just always assumed they were almost the same- and this is as much as ive ever thought about it in my life- thanks for the POV-

  • Bud

    Hi Norrie,Regarding that putative chip:”As for that putative chip on my shoulder, I’ll leave it to others to decide if it’s there. Personally, I don’t see it. I’m quite content and happy to let people persist in error with regard to diety-existences.”According to UsingEnglish com, the definition of a Chip-on-your-shoulder is:”If someone has a chip on their shoulder, they are resentful about something and feel that they have been treated badly.”Since you don’t seem to be resentful, then I would agree you don’t have a chip on your shoulders, at least according to this definition.Cheers.

  • GhaleonQ

    *rolls eyes* I’m a political and theological conservative (Lutheran), but I don’t see why Clinton, at least, didn’t bail out with McCain. That was an absolutely unbearable, substance-less mess on her part. Obama didn’t say anything profound, interesting, or demonstrate the depths of his religious faith (shallow, it’s seemed, and that’s not an insult), but at least his comments didn’t make me question the presence of a loving God.

  • BGone

    GhaleonQ:You said that Obama’s comments didn’t make me question the presence of a loving God. Do you know of anything anyone could say that would do that, cause you to question the presence of a loving God?The Lutheran God is the being in the burning bush. You’ve probably heard about IT. Suppose you found out that being was really a devil? Would that be enough to cause you to question the presence of a loving God? It shouldn’t. Maybe there’s a loving God that lets people make silly mistakes, believe stories like Moses, and others as well, speaking to God. The question is not is there a God but who represents God. Does any human actually represent God or know what God wants?

  • CarolTate2

    You either believe in God or you don’t. If you don’t that’s your problem, don’t try to shove your ideals or lack of them down mine or my children’s throats!… You took God out of our schools & replaced them with islam & perversions. The result is that Christians are being persecuted but other religions are not!You took God out of our government & look how that’s turned out……. really good job guys!

  • CarolTate2

    If there is a loving God why does he allow pain and suffering happening in this world? ******** this is what anyone who doesn’t want to believe in GOD always throws up!.. God gave human kind FREE WILL, humans are the ones who have caused all the pain & suffering. It is up to us to stop it!Don’t ask of God what you can do for yourself!

  • Neal Obstat

    Caroltate2,

  • Neal Obstat

    By the way, Caroltate2, nobody took God out of the government, at least not lately. Read the Constitution. Do you notice that the word “God” never appears? That was a conscious decision after debating that very issue. God was never in the government of the United States. Moreover, in 1797, a treaty with Tripoli, signed by President Adams and passed unanimously by the Senate, said “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion.” Of course, none of this means that you can’t try to live your own life according to your religious ideals and notions of God, or to raise your children according to those ideals. But the government is officially neutral when it comes to God or religion. Why? So that YOUR ideals are not forced onto everyone else. Why is it that so many Christians think that not giving a privileged place to their Christian view is tantamount to being hostile toward and prejudiced against their Christian view? Believe what you believe. More power to you. But leave others alone to believe what they believe too. And don’t try to give a privileged place in the government to your own religious view. THAT is being hostile to others’ religious beliefs.

  • BGone

    The word is UNCOMPROMISING.Those that say they will never COMPROMISE their values always COMPROMISE the truth in an effort to authenticate their values.This is Passover season. Anyone know what that’s all about? Anything to do with supernatural beings deemed to be God appearing to killers on the run in balls of fire? Was that really God? The human race has an awfully lot bet that it was God.

  • Rheba

    Notwithstanding the presence of wonderful evangelizers who asked questions about poverty, I found the “Compassion Forum” sleazy. It forced the candidates to pass an unconstitutional religious test for public office, something forbidden by the Constitution. I am a Christian who attends church regularly and tries to live the social justice gospel preached by Jesus Christ. However, I found this a lame attempt to reach the religious right, whose political influence has thankfully waned. We are a secular society, informed by religious values. The questions by the moderators were insulting, rude and stupid.

  • Garyd

    Come on people this wasn’t a religious test. This was the left’s all out attempt to convince people with religious values that they aren’t really at heart all that unsympathetic to their concerns. This was a political rally and little more.This was about making a play to strip some of those ‘values voters’ from the Republican Party.

  • Athena

    Now that we’ve had several debates centered on religion, I look forward to a debate on science. Each candidate would be questioned as to their plans to increase American spending on research and development, hard sciences, medical research, biotechnology, getting broadband Internet access to underserved communities, and renewable energy sources. Some of us care more about those issues than whether the candidates can recite Bible verses or wear flag pins on their lapels.

  • Cindy Murphy

    A Nation With out God will not stand. We need him more than ever before. The reason why this nation was blessed was our forefathers depended on God for direction for this nation. They placed their faith and hope in The Lord Jesus. This nation started going down hill when the Government and Judicial system started to take God out of public schools and Government etc. If God does not have 1st place in this nation now which our forefathers did back then how will this nation survive? God has been sending WARNING SIGNS. Is anyone noticing? The Weather, Fires, 9/11, earthquakes, even in the economy situation. What will it take to get this Nation on track with God? We are at the fork in the road will this nation turn back to God or Will they be rebelling towards Him and go their way. If this nation rejects God. God will reject this nation. If it were not for the Christian intercessors we would be dealing with worse than 9/11 now. God’s giving this nation time to repent and to turn back to him. How long his Grace period is I don’t know. I’d repent now before it’s too late.

  • Saul Cardona

    As a child I had to walk to and from school in my little hometown. I can vividly remember a store with a sign in the wall warning customers to not to speak about either “politics or religion.” The fact is that most people in America prefer to not speak about either of these topics. Perhaps the subject of politics and/or religion is far more extensive than that sign in the store, and it is indeed recorded in the psyche of our society. Not speaking about subjects is dysfunctional, and this is especially true when the subject makes us uncomfortable. This year we have the unique opportunity to speak about politics and religion because we find ourselves in an election year and no politician can afford to ignore the subject. The fact is that from the birth of our nation we have had to wrestle with the issue of religion and politics—this very subject led our Fore Fathers to say, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” making clear that the civilian government shall not rule the affairs of the church nor the church the affairs of the government, but it leaves the subject open to public discussion. As individuals, politicians also have all kinds of religious preferences. In this election year, which politician will pass on the temptation of talking about important issues such as “religion and politics” and gain political advantage? Truthfully, the discussion of religion and politics is good for us and for our system of government, because at the end of the day religion and politics intersect in our lives and in our society. Senators Clinton, Obama, and McCain cannot ignore the subject of politics and religion and we as observant citizens have the responsibility to observe and analyze their responses to see how they mix it. It is my opinion that so far they have been doing what politicians in election years do: they become more concerned with the possible liability than seriously engaging in the discussion of the subject. I also wonder about their evasiveness and lack of content, bringing to mind that store in my own little hometown. Even in today’s society, speaking about politics or religion is discouraged and simply not allowed—like in the store. Furthermore, the warning sign is on the wall for a reason and the reason for politician’s today is that these subjects may lead to scaring voters away on Election Day. A savvy politician will easily conclude never seriously addressing this subject and at all cost try to keep the status quo. This is exactly what they have been doing, talking about religion and politics, but not seriously addressing the subject.Army Chaplain (Major) Saul E .Cardona is the Director of the Family Life Center in Fort Belvoir VA. He holds Masters Degrees from the Evangelical Seminary in P.R. and Columbus State University in GA. and Doctor in Ministry from Regent University VA. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Army or the Department of Defense.

  • Saul.Cardona

    By ignoring to engage the topic of “religion and politics” Senators Clinton, McCain, and Obama miss the unique opportunity of promoting the development of a healthier society. It is my opinion that Senator Obama has done more that Senators Clinton and McCain in reference to this subject. Commenting on the subject, Senator Obama said, “We are a Jewish nation; we are a Buddhist nation; we are a Muslim nation; Hindu nation; and we are a nation of atheists and nonbelievers.” This is undoubtedly a very profound statement. He describes a nation with people of all faiths and no faith, and an elected government with the responsibility to serve all. As a military chaplain I cannot agree more with Senator Obama’s comment because we are a nation of multiple faiths and no faiths at all. As an Army Chaplain, I have the responsibility and the obligation to serve all, to include those who choose not to have faith, even if I am an ordained minister. From first-hand experience I have wrestled with the fact of diversity of faiths, and no faith at all, in the U.S. Army and the military in general. This is not an easy task, but a necessary subject to allow the development of a healthier society. Our past and present history has been marked with a number of clergymen who have claimed to have the unique and exclusive understanding of faith. Even scarier is the fact that some of these individual have the ability to influence politicians and the government. We are a nation of many faiths and no faith at all, so how will the presidential candidates help the development of a healthier society? By the balancing subject of “religion and politics?” Will they even address this issue at all? Only time will tell. Army Chaplain (Major) Saul E .Cardona is the Director of the Family Life Center in Fort Belvoir VA. He holds Masters Degrees from the Evangelical Seminary in P.R. and Columbus State University in GA. and Doctor in Ministry from Regent University VA. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Army or the Department of Defense.

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    Hello all. I stumbled upon this place and wanted to say hi.

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