Appealing to religious conservatives 101

The New Yorker’s Peter Boyer has a sharp piece this week on the role that church-going Catholics and evangelicals have played in electing Republicans and on whether McCain can get them to the polls.

For people who live and die for this stuff, you may not learn anything new.

But for folks who are trying to get a handle on why McCain needs the conservative religious vote, Boyer’s article will tell you.

He doesn’t have much on Palin’s influence here, by the way, because she was named just before publication.

Boyer writes:

John McCain’s religious-outreach effort has been attenuated at best, perhaps reflecting the candidate’s pronounced ambivalence toward the religious right, and the insistent agenda of cultural conservatives in general. McCain admitted as much in July, when George Stephanopoulos, of ABC, asked him about his position on gay adoption. He doesn’t support it, McCain said, but he added, “It’s not the reason why I’m running for President of the United States.”

Independents and moderates may admire that attitude, but it is a cold bath to cause-driven activists, who, in another time, would have been able to count upon harmonizing their efforts with those of the national Republican campaign. Activists in California, anticipating a ruling by the state Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage, launched a drive to put an initiative on the ballot in November that would amend the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage. The proposal prompted an extensive support effort—forty-day fasts, prayer marathons, and the like—among Church leaders in California and the two other states that have similar measures, culminating in a daylong stadium rally on the weekend before Election Day. “There has been no dialogue with the McCain campaign at all,” says Jim Garlow, the pastor of the Skyline Church, in suburban San Diego, who is one of the drive’s organizers. “If I were Senator McCain, I would do everything I could to identify with this issue. I don’t know that he will. I have no idea what his campaign is about. At this point, he seems quite low-key on these types of things.”

‘…we speak from the truth of human nature itself…’

I’m not sure how much the gay-marriage issue has come up at the RNC (I don’t recall having heard much).

But the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference and the Orthodox Union — which represents Orthodox Jewish congregations — have released this joint statement:

“Created in the Divine Image”

Many communities within the United States are now engaged in a new conversation on the meaning of the word “marriage”, questioning whether it should describe a union only between a man and a woman. As leaders of our respective faiths, we, as Orthodox Rabbis, communal leaders and representatives of the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States, wish to affirm our shared commitment to the ordinance of God, the Almighty One, who created man and woman in the divine image (Gen. 1:26-27), so that they might share as male and female, as helpmates and equals (Gen. 2:21-24), in the procreation of children (Gen. 1:28) and the building up of society.

We now confront a demand that same sex unions be classified as marriage. Advocates of this position argue that to do otherwise is to engage in a form of discrimination against homosexuals. We recognize that all persons share equally in the dignity of human nature and are entitled to have that human dignity protected, but this does not justify the creation of a new definition for a term whose traditional meaning is of critical importance to the furtherance of a fundamental societal interest.

God’s design for the continuance of human life, as seen in the natural order, as well as in the Bible (Gen. 1-3), clearly revolves around the union of male and female, first as husband and wife, and then as parents. A unique goal of marriage, which is reproduction and the raising of families, exists apart from that of same sex unions, which cannot equally participate in this essential function. While others may claim the right to establish private relationships between persons of the same gender that simulate marriage, the legal classification of such relationships as marriage dilutes the special standing of marriage between a man and a woman. Since the future of every society depends upon its ability to reproduce itself according to this natural order and to have its young people reared in a stable environment, it is the duty of the state to protect the traditional place of marriage and the family for the good of society.

While others have the freedom to disagree with us, we hope that even those outside of our common religious traditions will recognize that we speak from the truth of human nature itself which is consistent with both reason and the moral life. We also call upon our local faith communities to consider carefully the long held traditions of Jews and Christians on the nature of marriage as built upon the commitment of a man and a woman desirous of establishing a family for contributing to the common good of humanity.

Rudy loves that small town religion

Well, Sarah Palin is a force of nature, isn’t she? Most politicians simply cannot give a speech like that.

I don’t believe that she mentioned abortion, although I guess there was no need. And the only time I can remember her mentioning church was when she mocked Obama’s comment about certain folks needing guns and church.

rudy.jpgBut was that Rudy Giuliani who I heard talking about the role of faith in little towns like Wasilla, Alaska? There he was defending small-town America against cosmopolitan folks like Obama.

I always thought that Rudy was a big-city mayor who hardly goes to church.

But that’s politics for ya.

Will McCain mention God or faith tonight (other than the final words “…and may God bless America.”).

And, if he does, can he pull it off? We’ll soon see.

Sarah Palin the ‘post-denominationalist’

Sarah Palin gets the big stage tonight.

If you’re still wondering about her religious background and beliefs, the best analysis I’ve come across is from Catholic analyst John Allen.

e1cf45956fa54ff48999421997fd2d5b.jpgNo, Palin is not Catholic. But Allen puts in perspectives Palin’s lack of a clear denominational identity. Yes, she attended an Assemblies of God church, but no, she does not consider herself a Pentecostal.

Allen writes:

Instead, Palin appears to be part of that rapidly expanding galaxy of “post-denominational” Christianity, where elements of Evangelical and Pentecostal styles of faith and worship fuse into a myriad of unique local combinations, and where old denominational loyalties are essentially dead.


Palin’s nomination, therefore, does not simply mark a breakthrough for women, or for western states. She also puts a face on the fastest-growing and most dynamic segment of global Christianity these days – even if it’s proving difficult for journalists and political handicappers to get their minds around.

Buying school supplies as a mitzvah

I got to have some fun the other day, writing a first-person account of shopping for school supplies for my sons.

At the end of my little story, I wrote that I spent $137.58 at Staples and another $14.04 at CVS.

I didn’t mention the fact that for a lot of families, that’s a big price tag. Even a budget-breaker.

Then I got a note about 12-year-old Jonathan Delman, a student at the Robert E. Bell Middle School in Chappaqua. As part of his preparation for his bar mitzvah (planned for next spring at Bet Torah Synagogue in Mount Kisco), Jonathan spent the summer collecting school supplies and packing 25 full backpacks for kids who might otherwise not have what they need for school.


He sent letters to friends, asking them to donate items. Then he gave everything he collected to Westchester Jewish Community Services, which serves many families in need.

“Jonathan had a great idea and a supportive group of friends who are doing a wonderful thing for children less fortunate,” said Meryl Lewis, WJCS Director of Volunteers. “WJCS serves many children in need who will benefit from the generosity of spirit demonstrated by Jonathan and his friends.”

That’s Jonathan and Lewis.

Anyone interested in doing a similar project can contact Lewis at 761-0600, x 222.

Way to go, Jonathan…

Sinners and winners (and sometimes both?)

As the Big Race starts to really heat up…

The Fordham Center on Religion & Culture is offering a program on Tuesday, Sept. 16 called: Sinners and Winners: Election ’08: Religion, Morality and Media.”

Sinners and Winners. You gotta like that.

The program is free and open to the public. It’s from 6 to 8 p.m. at Fordham’s Lincoln Center Campus, 113 West 60th Street.

Here’s the description:

From Mitt Romney’s Mormonism to Barack Obama’s pastor, religion has played a controversial role during the presidential race. Were the Democrats finally “getting religion”? Did Mike Huckabee represent a new face of evangelicalism? Were Senators McCain and Obama obliged to denounce outlandish statements by clergy supporters? Has the coverage of religion enlightened or obscured major moral issues facing the nation, like war, abortion, poverty and torture, and helped voters size up the candidates? An extraordinary panel will focus on both the issues and how well the news media have been covering them.

And here is your panel:

images.jpegRay Suarez is senior correspondent at PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” He has covered and produced local, national and international stories for television and radio in Chicago, New York and Rome as well as for CNN and American and British news services. From 1993-1999, he was host of NPR’s nationwide call-in news program. “Talk of the Nation.” He is author of The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America.

images1.jpegE.J. Dionne, Jr. is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at Georgetown University. A frequent commentator on national television, he is the author of many books, including Why Americans Hate Politics and, most recently, Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right.

Andrew Kohut is President of the Pew Research Center, in Washington, DC., Director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Global Attitudes Project. A frequent commentator on the interpretation of opinion polls, especially in national elections, he has co-authored, mostly recently, The Diminishing Divide: Religion’s Changing Role in American Politics.

Peggy Fletcher Stack has been senior religion writer at the Salt Lake Tribune for seventeen years, covering leaders such as Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu and major religious stories in the U.S., Africa, Europe and South America. She writes regularly about Mormon issues and ideas and followed closely the religion questions surrounding Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist.

Don Wycliff, after 35 years as a journalist, is currently associate vice president for news and information at the University of Notre Dame where he also teaches in its journalism program. From 1991 to 2000 he was editorial page editor of the Chicago Tribune and from 2000 to 2006 its public editor. He also served as an editorial writer at the New York Times, and was a reporter or editor at other papers in Chicago, Dallas and Houston.

I’m talking about Christian-Muslim relations at Graymoor tomorrow

It’s been about a month since I went to Yale to cover a major gathering of Christian-Muslim leaders from around the world.

The conference was a response to “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a open letter released last year to Christian leaders from 138 Muslim leaders and scholars. The letter called for a new era of understanding between the two great faiths — focusing on their shared belief in one God and their common commitments to love God and love thy neighbor.

Tomorrow — Thursday, Sept. 4 — I’ll share my impressions of the conference (and what may happen next) at Graymoor, home of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement.

I’ll speak at 7:30 p.m. in the Pope John XXIII Parlor on the 5th floor of the friars’ main building. Directions are here.

I’ll share a bit about my recent correspondence with the chief justice of the Palestinian Territories, who had some qualms with what I wrote about the conference. I’ll blog about it, too, one day soon…

The complexities of asking for God’s protection

And here is a “hurricane statement” from the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches:

The hurricane season fills us with dread and sends us to our knees to ask God’s protection.

This is an appropriate and necessary reaction, but it’s difficult to know what we want God to do for us. During the “blitz” of the Second World War, citizens of London often remarked about the difficulty of praying for God’s protection. The consequences of asking God to protect your house were that your neighbor’s house might be destroyed.

So it was with Hurricane Gustav, which at one point was a category 4 storm projected toward New Orleans. As media descended on New Orleans, millions of us prayed that the city be spared a direct hit. By Tuesday morning, September 2, it appeared that the worst had been avoided and media resumed their focus on the U.S. presidential campaign.

But had our prayers been answered? Days before Gustav approached the Gulf Coast, it landed full-strength on Cuba and did incalculable damage. Moreover, this looks like a busy hurricane season. Even as Gustav weakens into a giant rain storm, Hurricanes Hanna and Ike are loose in the gulf, and Tropical Storm Josephine is gaining strength.

How do we word our prayers now?

The only way possible: with humility and hope.

Dear God, we confess that we are frightened by our helplessness in the face of natural disasters like hurricanes and human disasters like war.

We pray, dear God, for our safety and the safety of our loved ones.

We pray, dear God, for the safety of all who stand in harms way.

But if there is no escape from the tumult, we pray that we will never forget that you are standing in the midst of it with us, that you will never desert us, that you will offer us unlimited comfort and strength to face what must be faced, and do what must be done.

We pray, dear God, to remember that in times of storm or calm, in war or in peace, we are all neighbors dependant on one another for our survival.

And before the next storm comes, dear God, remind us to ask the questions that are ever on your heart:

Are the storms that come a product of our sinful disregard for your world that has led to global warming, undrinkable water and unbreathable air?

Have we failed to see that some of our neighbors are more vulnerable to the storm because of age, disability or economic restraints?

And when the storm passes, do we lose sight of what we must do to protect one another and be better neighbors to one another.

When the storm approaches, dear God, let our first thoughts be of our neighbors who face the same fate.

And whatever happens in the storm, dear God,
hold on to us,
protect us
and use us.

In Jesus name we pray,


Thanks that Gustav ‘has not been worse…’

Here’s a statement on Hurricane Gustav from Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

We give thanks that damage from Hurricane Gustav has not been worse, and we continue to hold the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas in our prayers as they await the end of this storm. May all those affected know the companioning presence of God through the active concern and involvement of others near and far away. We pray that the light of dawn may bring reassurance and comfort to all who are living through this dark night of fear.

Ramadan far less mysterious these days

A little secret shared by journalists who cover religion is that we don’t love holidays.

I don’t mean in our private lives, of course.

But when you write about religion, religious holidays present an ongoing challenge. You often feel that you have to write about them (or your editors want you to), but more often than not there is no news. No angle. Nothing to say.

So we write about, say, the overlooked history behind a holiday, some new trend for observing the holiday, whatever we can come up with.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has not presented such a problem.

In the years before 2001 — and certainly in the years immediately after 2001 — there was plenty to write about Islam in general and Ramadan in particular. People wanted to know how Muslims practice their faith in America, as well as what they think about life in America and what was happening around the world.

I’ve written numerous articles about Ramadan and the two main Muslim feast days.

Well, Ramadan started yesterday and I don’t have much to say. Non-Muslims who are interested in Islam have probably figured out the basics by now — that Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, that Muslims believe Ramadan is when God first revealed the Quran to the prophet Muhammad, that Muslims seek to do charity during Ramadan, etc.

If you do want to know more, check out the Ramadan Awareness Campaign website.

The bottom line, I guess, is that Ramadan, like Islam itself, is not so foreign anymore.

So Happy Ramadan.