Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Public Opinion on Obama Shifting

The New York Times is reporting that Obama's poll numbers have been dropping recently. Check out the article here.

Interview with J. Brent Walker

Excerpts from an interview with Rev. J. Brent Walker, an ordained minister and reputable lawyer who is Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Check out their website and enjoy!

Q: What are your views on the separation of church and state? How were these views formed?
A: The separation of church and state is good for both. The institutional and functional separation between the two is called for by our Baptist heritage and required by the religion clauses in the First Amendment: No Establishment and Free Exercise. Neither church nor state should try to control or interfere with the work or mission of the other. This is especially important in a religiously diverse culture that we find in the United States. Government must remain neutral towards religion.

Q: What role do you think religion will play/is playing in the upcoming Presidential election?
A:The separation of church does not require segregation of religion from politics or strip the public square of religious discourse. Learning about a candidate’s faith helps voters get to know who they are, understand what makes them tick and examine what their moral code is like. A free and fluid discussion in the public square about a candidate’s religious convictions is not out of bounds and can enrich the public discourse during elections. But it’s vitally important that the discussion about religious conviction always be tied directly to a candidate’s position on public policy or his or her leadership style. Otherwise, an examination of a candidate’s religion is little more than spiritual voyeurism and violates the spirit if not the letter of Article VI of the Constitution that bans a religious test for public office.

Q: Should political candidates be allowed to speak in churches, or is that mixing church and state? Why or why not?
A: Political candidates can speak in churches if all candidates are invited and the church is clear that it is not endorsing or opposing candidates. Candidates should be allowed to worship and speak in churches (without all being invited) if they avoid making a political speech and the church makes it clear that it does not endorse or oppose candidates. Even within these guidelines, the appearance of a candidate may be divisive and vitiate the churches prophetic witness. As a result, the church may find it wise not to permit candidates to speak.

Q: Should religious authorities endorse political candidates? Why or why not?
A: Religious leaders, speaking for themselves and not for the church or entity they represent, may endorse political candidates without threatening the tax exempt status of the church. Again, leaders may choose not to do so for fear of creating the impression that their church is also endorsing.

Q: Is the media coverage of the Rev. Wright controversy appropriate? What should the media be doing differently? Should Sen. Obama be judged based on his pastor?
A: The question of where one worships and whose preaching someone has sat under in the past are not completely irrelevant. However, I think the firestorm created by the statements in sermons by Senator Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, has gone way too far. Senator Obama has stated clearly his disagreement with the sometimes inflammatory remarks that Dr. Wright has made. However, to make Obama suffer a political penalty for refusing to repudiate Dr. Wright himself – one who served as his spiritual leader for years, married Obama and his wife and baptized his children is to expect too much. The same goes for present and former pastors of Senators Clinton and McCain.

Q: Should religious officials/institutions be permitted to endorse political candidates?
A: Religious officials, when speaking for themselves, may endorse political candidates. Religious institutions (section 501(c)(3) nonprofits) may endorse candidates, but not without threatening their tax exempt status. In any case, the practice of endorsing candidates by officials and institutions will often be divisive and corrosive of the churches’ witness.

Q: Politicians often invoke God in their speeches, especially in the South. In places like Texas, there aren't a lot of people who would object. Does that make it acceptable?
A: Candidates do not have to check their religious convictions at the door. It is appropriate for them to talk about their faith, and use religious language in their speeches. But I bristle when it appears that God is being used (or abused) to advance a political agenda. Candidates should be careful in their use of religious language and understand that they are seeking to serve all the citizens, religious and non-religious alike, and not just those who share a common religious heritage.

Q: Many social justice issues, particularly gay marriage, are often approached in the political arena with religious arguments. Is this appropriate, considering our country's separation of church and state? Should any/all mainly religious morals be imposed on the general public?
A: The separation of church and state does not divorce religious ethics from influencing public policy. However, I offer three notes of caution: (1) the theological principle of humility should temper any public debate driven by religious conviction, (2) as mentioned above, God talk should not be used to curry favor or garner votes, and (3) the resulting policy outcome, under the Constitution, must have a secular purpose and not have the primary effect of advancing religion.

More Rev. Wright

Roland Martin, a CNN contributor who is working on his masters in Christian communications has had a lot to say about the Rev. Wright controversy. Here he lays out a plan for how Sen. Obama can move forward and win the votes he needs to win the Democratic Nomination and the Presidency. Martin advocates taking back control of the situation by going on the offensive (not just in this arena, but in the campaign as a whole). The bottom line? If the Obama campaign can bring the focus away from the Rev. Wright situation, it won't turn into this year's "Swiftboat."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More from Rev. Wright

Howard Kurtz continues his conversations on Rev. Jeremiah Wright in today's Washington Post. Check it out here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

He's back!

Rev. Wright has returned. Read Howard Kurtz's take on it here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Pennsylvania Primary

Early exit polls are showing a strong religious showing in the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary, the majority of whom voted for Senator Hillary Clinton. Check out CNN's coverage.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

He's here!

The Pope's visit is stirring up more talk of religion and politics. Check out CNN's analysis.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Obama defends relationship with Rev. Wright

In an appearance on The View at the end of last month, Sen. Barack Obama defended his relationship with his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who's controversial statements concerning race, religion, and patriotism have been making waves. Obama attended Wright's church for twenty years, and the reverend married him to his wife Michelle and baptized his daughters.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Roland Martin: Democrats get religion

CNN contributor Roland Martin just posted an article on about Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, "getting religion" on religion.
Democrats, in the words of Sen. Joseph Biden after the Sojourners forum, acted more like agnostics --­ other would say atheists --­ when it came to issues of faith.

For nearly 30 years, Republicans successfully used wedge issues like abortion and homosexuality to rally their base to those social causes and elect candidates who were willing to go to the mat when they came up. Their outreach efforts were strong, consistent and they delivered time and time again. And as long as Democrats were willing to ignore the ever-increasing concerns of people who tied their faith with public policy, the GOP would continue to clean up at the ballot box.

Martin makes the case for Democrats to pay attention to their faith-based voters, or suffer the consequences on election day.