Frequent church-goers still like the GOP

The Democratic candidate is doing well with Christians (but mostly those who go to church less).

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that Obama is scoring with Catholics who go to Mass less often and white evangelicals who to church…you guessed it!…less often.

Obama has the support of only 17% of evangelicals who frequent church and is breaking even with McCain (45% to 45%) with Catholics who are always at Mass.

Overall, though, Pew finds Obama leading McCain 52% to 38% with registered voters.

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Graphic source: Pew Center for the People & the Press

The joke’s on everyone

Some thoughts on last night’s Al Smith Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria…

* The loudest applause of the evening, to my ears, went to 1. Mike Bloomberg and 2. Hillary Clinton.

* The introductions of the presidential candidates caused a lot of confusion. First, McCain was introduced. He entered and approached his seat on the dais. Then Obama was introduced. But no Obama. Then came Cardinal Egan, who moved between McCain and Obama’s empty seat. Then — a minute or so later — Obama popped out and was re-introduced. I heard more than few jokes that he insisted on coming out last.

* Alfred E. Smith IV is a genuinely funny guy. I don’t know who writes his material. But his gravelly delivery is really good. I bet he could MC the Oscars. One of his first lines: “I’m Al Smith and I approve this dinner.”

* What can you say about Renee Flemming singing Ave Maria? She was standing in the middle of the second row of a four-tier dais and every famous dignitary was turned directly toward her. She could have kept singing for another hour and no one would have moved. Even the media section was still.

974439d098ae4f8e8bf5ba6114030bdc1.jpg* I thought that McCain and Obama were terrific. Hysterical at points.

McCain opened up with some great material about our new folk hero Joe the Plumber: “… Joe the Plumber recently signed a very lucrative contract with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all seven of their houses.”

Obama’s best lines were making fun of himself: “Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-el, to save the planet Earth.” That’s the Superman story, by the way.

* Maybe it’s me, but it was great to hear the candidates compliment one another as they finished their routines.

* Both candidates made touching remarks about the late Tim Russert, whose wife and son were in the audience.

* McCain made several jokes about the media’s infatuation with Obama. When Obama got the chance, he asked: “Is Fox News included in this media?” Rupert Murdoch, who was sitting in the middle of the first row of the dais, turned around to face Obama and laughed.

* At one point, McCain mentioned that he was pro-life. Cardinal Egan, it appeared to me, was the first person in the ballroom to applause — with everything he had. The crowd than joined in. Obama did not applause, no doubt hoping for the moment to pass quickly.

* Egan had a good line at the end of the evening, advising the winner of the race to come see him at the end of a possible second term — if he’s interested in a third: “I have a friend here in New York who is an expert at arranging that kind of thing.”

Yes, Bloomberg laughed.

* For $1,500 a plate, attendees got salmon.

* The Smith Foundation raised $4 million to serve the needy.

* When I got home, I watched McCain on Letterman. Boy, did Letterman grill him.  McCain must have been happy to get out of there and head for the Waldorf.

* There are few reds as red as a cardinal’s vestments in the middle of a black tuxedoed dais…

‘Take my wife (and my running mate), please’

Tomorrow is the big Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama are supposed to be there. I hope to be there, too.

44f2ca7c28f74ebb8a7908575922d993.jpgI guess tonight the candidates will attack each other at the last debate. And tomorrow night they will try to make jokes about it.

Hopefully, Cardinal Egan will have a few good lines to open things up and lighten any post-debate tension.

The dinner, of course, remembers Al Smith, a 4-time governor of New York and the first Catholic to get a major party nomination to run for president (losing to Herbert Hoover in 1928).

Since 1946, Catholic and political insiders have come to the dinner to hear presidents, war heroes and others make quips about the issues of the day.

Four years ago, George Bush and John Kerry were not invited because of the “divisive” nature of the race. The real reason, of course, was that Kerry was (and is) both Catholic and pro-choice.

Will McCain make a Sarah Palin joke (some kind of reference to Tina Fey, perhaps)? Will Obama quip about Jeremiah Wright or his “Muslim” past? We’ll see…

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

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.”

The candidates’ religious bios

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life has posted “religious biographies” of McCain and Obama.

They’re mostly pieced together from interviews and the candidates’ own writings. But each biography summarizes things well.

a5b794ddd97f495a9403e2f74707be74.jpgMcCain’s — which includes why he attends a Southern Baptist church after growing up an Episcopalian — includes:

Southern Baptists emphasize adult baptism as a symbol of faith in Christ, and McCain has said that his wife and two of their seven children have been baptized, but he has not. Responding to questions from a reporter in April 2008, McCain called his decision about baptism a “personal thing,” adding on another occasion that “I didn’t find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs.” But he also has said that he has been in discussion with his pastor, Dan Yeary, about being baptized, adding that he would not do it during the campaign because it might appear insincere.

67a6dbe07e684b989157fb56787c5959.jpgAnd Obama’s story, which has become more familiar, includes:

Obama’s mother married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian businessman and non-practicing Muslim, and the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, when Obama was 6 years old. There, he attended a Catholic private school and later a predominantly Muslim public school. At an April 2008 forum for the Democratic presidential primary candidates that focused on the topic of faith and values, Obama said, “The brand of Islam that was being practiced in Indonesia at the time was a very tolerant Islam,” which “taught me … that Islam can be compatible with the modern world”

When Obama was 10 years old, he returned to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, while his mother — who wanted him to receive an American education — remained in Indonesia. Obama wrote that his grandmother was raised with a “straight-backed form of Methodism that valued reason over passion and temperance over both,” while his grandfather came from a family of “decent, God-fearing Baptists” But neither continued to practice his or her childhood faith. In his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, Obama wrote that “Gramps” briefly enrolled the family in a local Unitarian Universalist congregation because, in his grandfather’s words, ” ‘It’s like you get five religions in one.’ ” In The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote that “religious faith never really took root in their [his grandparents’] hearts”

McCain & Obama set for Al Smith Dinner

Guess who the speakers will be at this year’s Al Smith Dinner on Oct. 16?

John McCain and Barack Obama.

I decided to take a peek at the Al Smith Foundation’s website and there they were. 6:30 p.m. at the Waldorf-Astoria.

p1_mccain_all.jpgFour years ago, you might remember, the archdiocese — Cardinal Egan — decided not to invite the presidential candidates, President Bush and John Kerry. At the time, it was explained that “division and disagreement” between the two candidates was the reason they were not invited.

Of course, there is always division and disagreement between presidential candidates. But it was quite clear that Egan did not want to deal with having the pro-choice, CATHOLIC Kerry at his most closely watched event.

Instead, the audience was treated to George H.W. Bush and…Hugh Carey.

This year, though, the gloves will be off. If the race looks close, and it sure seems that it will be, all eyes will be on the Al Smith Dinner only 19 days before Election Day.

McCain was the featured speaker at the dinner only three years ago, when few observers thought he had a shot at the GOP nomination. At the time, he hadn’t decided whether or not to run.

McCain says ‘another time’ to Billy Graham

If it’s true that John McCain is losing support among many Christian groups (see below), this is hard to understand.

tjndc5-5b5onz2r46chgvwsezi_layout.jpgDoug Wead, a presidential historian who advised President Bush’s 2000 campaign, writes on Newsmax that the McCain campaign has declined an invitation to meet with Billy Graham.

Graham, of course, has had close ties with Republican presidents going back to the Book of Genesis.

Wead — who was involved in the effort to set up a McCain/Graham meeting — says that Graham’s camp got back what sounds like a form letter:

Thank you for your kind letter offering to set up a personal meeting between Senator McCain and Dr. Billy Graham.

Senator McCain appreciates your invitation and the valuable opportunity it represents.

Unfortunately, I must pass along our regrets and do not foresee an opportunity to add this event to the calendar.

demetrios.jpgSo McCain sought John Hagee’s endorsement, but won’t meet with America’s Favorite Preacher?

Tomorrow, McCain is paying a visit to NYC, though, to greet Archbishop Demetrios (that’s him), head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

The Greek vote counts, too.

Evangelical pollsters: Obama’s got it

The evangelical polling outfit The Barna Group says today that the presidential race is “Obama’s to lose.”

Barna finds, based on a new survey, that Obama’s lead among likely voters — 50% to 35% — will be hard for McCain to overcome. Enthusiasm for Obama is much greater among too many groups.

a5e59e18ae084e199aeac123c100918e.jpgMany Christian groups, with the exception of the most hard-core evangelicals, are moving toward Obama, the survey found.

The Christian breakdown is a bit complicated because the Barna Group has very stringent requirements to count someone as an evangelical. Here are their definitions:

“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”

Non-evangelical born again Christians meet the born again criteria described above, but not the evangelical criteria. Notional Christians are thjose who consider themselves to be Christian but do not meet the not born again criteria.

Got that?

And here is how evangelicals, “non-evangelical born agains” and “notional Christians” are leaning:

The Barna research indicates that the Christian community in the U.S. has largely shifted its loyalty to the Democratic nominee in this year’s race. In the 2004 election, 81% of evangelicals voted for the Republican incumbent George W. Bush. Currently, 78% of the likely voters who are evangelical expect to vote for Sen. McCain. Evangelicals represent 8% of the adult population and just 9% of all likely voters.

But the big news in the faith realm is the sizeable defection from Republican circles of the much larger non-evangelical born again and the notional Christian segments. The non-evangelical born again adults constitute 37% of the likely voters in November, and the notional Christians are expected to be 39% of the likely voters. Among the non-evangelical born again adults, 52% supported President Bush in 2004; yet, only 38% are currently supporting Sen. McCain, while 48% are siding with Sen. Obama. Although notional Christians voted for John Kerry in 2004 by an 11-point margin, that gap has more than doubled to 26 points in this year’s election. Protestants and Catholics have moved toward the Democratic challenger in equal proportions since 2004.

The bottom line (I think): Many of those Christians who are generally considered to be evangelical — in the broadest sense — are leaning Democratic.

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?

The fall-out from McCain vs. Hagee (and Parsley)

I’ve come across some interesting reactions to John McCain’s disavowal of an endorsement by televangelist John Hagee.

Hagee, of course, was first criticized for calling the Roman Catholic Church “the great whore” (for which he apologized) and for linking the Catholic Church to Hitler’s “final solution” for the Jews (a comment he said was misunderstood).

237hageeflag.jpgMcCain, though, broke ranks after it came out that Hagee (that’s him) also said that God sent Hitler to chase the Jews back to Israel (those who survived, apparently).

The Washington Post says that McCain’s rejections of Hagee and the Rev. Rod Parsley, another televangelist with a vast following, may hurt his support from evangelicals.

The Post notes:

Parsley said in a statement that he does not fault McCain, and he blamed the fallout on unidentified “political hit squads.”

Parsley has growing clout among evangelical Christians, a group he calls the “largest special interest group in America.” The pastor has said that he was divinely placed in Ohio to help influence presidential elections, telling a Christian magazine that he believes “in the geographic locating abilities of the Holy Spirit.”

Meanwhile, a Mother Jones blog says that Jewish groups are willing to forgive Hagee’s Hitler comment because of his strong support for Israel.

Blogger Justin Elliott says he asked the American Jewish Committee, the ADL and AIPAC if they would “finally take Hagee to task for his outrageous comments and for seeing Jews primarily in terms of their role in his eschatology?”

“The short answer is no,” he writes.