Cronkite was no fan of the ‘religious right’

Walter Cronkite, who died the other day, is being universally remembered as the nation’s newsman, the voice of all.

He was a relic, really, of a day when journalists were seen as down-the-middle, impartial, objective. He wasn’t a favorite of the left or the right, like just about all TV celebrities these days.

But Cronkite did lend his considerable voice and credibility to a partisan cause during his later years.

He did not like the “religious right.”

A couple of years back I got a fundraising letter for the Interfaith Alliance, a liberal to moderate group that tries to serve as a balance to conservative Christians in the public square.

On the envelope was a picture of Cronkite. And this quotation: “For years I kept my opinions to myself. But now I must speak out.”

In a letter marked “From the desk of Walter Cronkite,” America’s most respected man described his deep concern over the “dangerous and growing influence of people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on our nation’s political leaders.”

He explained his larger fears this way: “As a concerned person of faith, however, I have watched with increasing alarm as the Christian Coalition and other Religious Right groups manipulate religion to further their intolerant, political agendas.”

Today, the Interfaith Alliance is remembering Cronkite, its honorary chairman. Cronkite was affiliated with the group since 1997.

The Alliance’s president, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, writes:


Walter Cronkite embodied the core values espoused by Interfaith Alliance—integrity and civility, respect for diversity and the importance of religious liberty.  In venues across the nation and around the world Walter called for responsive and responsible government, leaders characterized by honesty and courage, and citizens informed as well as active.  Walter valued personal faith even as the right to keep his faith private.

Walter was uncompromising in his reporting of reality—what he saw and heard—and straightforward when speaking of possibility—exploring what could be and pointing the way forward.  The intensity and seriousness with which Walter did his work were complemented by the lightness of his sense of humor and the warmth of his smile.  His strong resonant voice conveyed the relentless objectivity with which he reported the news but a pause in his speech or an infrequent tear in his eye provided insight into how much he cared about the people and events in his reports.

Cutting ties with religious problems

I have jury duty this week, so I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to blog.

We’ll see how it goes.

images.jpegSo, Obama has ended his two-decade membership at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Beside the whole Jeremiah Wright flap, he’s apparently unhappy with a recent appearance by the social activist Catholic priest, the Rev. Michael Pfleger (that’s him), who mimicked Sen. Clinton crying over “a black man stealing my show.”

images1.jpegAnd John McCain has, of course, regurgitated the endorsements of televangelists John Hagee and Rod Parsley (and him).

So many troubling religious connections. I’m surprised Sen. Clinton hasn’t trotted out some mild-mannered Methodist minister to show off as a righteous religious mentor.

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, head of the moderate/liberal Interfaith Alliance, send the following note to the 3 candidates:

While I appreciate your decisions to distance yourself from the harmful rhetoric from people like Father Pfleger, Rev. Hagee and Rev. Parsley you share some of the responsibility. You have all gone after endorsements of clergy, and I sense that you are now having some buyer’s remorse. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t continue to use clergy as political props when they serve your purpose, and then discard them when they no longer fit your image.

The clergy who have endorsed you share some responsibility. They open themselves up to criticism when they make political endorsements. The more the pulpit is treated as a stump for partisan politics the more clergy will be caricatured as cartoon figures. Houses of worship will be considered just like other institutions interested in power regardless of its cost. And politics and faith will be confused to an extent that harms both religion and democracy. When will it end? It must end soon or people will be fed up with politics and religion.

I ask you all to stop seeking clergy endorsements from the pulpit, and stop using religion as a political tool.

In the coming months, I hope you will talk about the role of faith in public life in a way that is constructive. What are the boundaries for you between religion and government? What role will your faith play in creating public policy? How will you balance the principles of your faith and your obligation to defend the Constitution, particularly if the two come into conflict?

A new top 10: abuse of religion on the presidential campaign trail (so far)

And the worst abuse of religion during the presidential campaign goes to…

Mike Huckabee.

tjndc5-5iw2dfqrbysd2dum1rg_layout.jpgFor this line: “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards.”

He won’t get a gold statue.

The Interfaith Alliance today released its list of the 10 “worst abuses of religion during the campaign so far.”

Interfaith Alliance President the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy explains:

I have witnessed more abuses of religion in this primary season than in any election in recent memory. Candidates from both parties seem to be locked in a competition to be ‘holier than thou.’ Incidents like these demean the sanctity of religion by inferring that God has endorsed a certain candidate. Far be it for candidates to run for ‘Commander-in-Chief’ instead of ‘Pastor-in-Chief.’

Here’s the top 10:

10. Mitt Romney is asked if he believes “every word� of the Bible
(CNN/You Tube debate (11-28-07).
9. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asks John Edwards to “name his greatest sin�
(CNN/Sojourners town hall 6-26-07).
8. James Dobson tells a reporter he does not think that Fred Thompson is a Christian
7. Barack Obama distributes a campaign flier describing himself as a “Committed Christian� (1-21-08).
6. Hillary Clinton said we need to “inject faith into policy�
(CNN/Sojourners town hall 6-26-07).
5. Mike Huckabee explains his rise in the polls by invoking the Biblical story of two fish and five loaves feeding a crowd of 5,000 people (11-28-07).
4. Tim Russert asks all the Democratic candidates to “name their favorite Bible verse� (MSNBC 9-26-07).
3. John McCain says the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation and that he would prefer a Christian president (9-27-07).
2. Barack Obama asked a congregation to help him “become an instrument of God� and join him in creating “a Kingdom right here on Earth� (10-17-07).
1. Mike Huckabee tells a crowd: “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standardsâ€? (1-14-08).

(Photo: AP/Elise Amendola)