Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Faith Leaders For....

Yesterday, I participated in a conference call by the Edwards campaign for faith leaders. The call focused on Senator Edwards commitment to the poor, and other moral issues, from the war in Iraq, the environment, and yes, sexual justice issues, were never mentioned. There were only a few minutes on the call for questions, and it didn't seem the time to bring up anything new into the mix.

Religious leaders are being courted heavily by the campaigns for their endorsement. It's as if we are right up there with rock stars, hollywood celebrities, and people with deep pockets. Last week, Bishop Gene Robinson came out for Senator Obama to much press attention.

Frankly, I'm not ready to endorse anyone (a viable pro-choice, pro-sexuality education, pro-marriage equality candidate who is also against the War and committed to domestic issues like health care has yet to emerge) -- and I'm not sure it is appropriate for well known religious leaders to do so. The Interfaith Alliance scolded Bishop Robinson for his endorsement. Sure, each of us an individuals can endorse candidates, but the fact is, that as the head of a religious institution or in my case, an organization, it's a bit disingenuous to say, "Now I'm just talking for myself here" and not expect people to see the institution behind us.

I also wonder how sincere this effort to develop "Faith Leaders for Candidate X" really is -- or for that matter, whether we shouldn't be skeptical about how often candidate's faith is coming into the campaign. I actually applauded Mitt Romney for refusing to get into a discussion of Mormonism last week on the air. Perhaps we all need to be reminded about Article VI of the Constitution: "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust."

Tell me what you think.


ElhananWinchester said...

I lurk about on several progressive religious sites and yours is one I check often. Good Work! Chuck Currie's is another. Now, I am with you, though, on the problem of religious LEADERS endorsing specific candidates. A religious leader is in the public arena because of that person's position. And you can't step away from that position simply by saying, "I'm speaking as a private citizen, now." Saying it doesn't make it so.
I think religious leaders can be involved in speaking to specific issues. That is also where progressive religious leaders can offer the most important witness. Not only will we offer an alternative to the Religious Right, BUT, we will call the Center and the Left to accountability. When we endorse a candidate, we shift from the issue to that person. All of a sudden, as a leader, I've got to defend Obama or Clinton.
Dang, I think I better write a guest editorial somewhere.

Bruce Prescott said...

Rev. Deborah,

Thanks for this post. I agree entirely with your observations.

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more, Deb. I too was invited to be on the call yesterday and I thought about it, and then decided to get work done instead. At a certain level, religious leaders stop being "private citizens"because they are known by the public because of the position that they hold. The only reason that the candidates would even want their "private endorsement" is because of their very "public" position.

I feel that there are simply things that I don't get to do because there is no way for me to divorce my public position from my private persona. I don't endorse candidates. I don't walk precincts. I might give small donations to candidates that I support, but that's about all I feel comfortable with. Thanks for raising this in a thoughtful way.

Picky Eater said...

My perspective is not that of a faith leader, but rather as a faithful progressive.

I understand and appreciate your concerns about the downsides of faith leaders making endorsements.

However, I do think that electoral politics is one arena where we put our faith into action. Right-wing religious leaders -- who are anti-choice, anti-sexuality education, anti-gay, and pro-war -- largely have no qualms about involving themselves in electoral politics under the guise of "personal endorsement" rather than Church or organizational endorsement.

And when progressive faith leaders hesitate to do so (or are ignored by the MSM when they do so) the general public gets the current unhealthily skewed picture of what it means to be "Christian" or "faithful" in America today. The word "Christian" is now taken by many to be synonymous with anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-corporate, and pro-war. Faithful progressives are all but invisible in the media, as you well know.

For balance if nothing else, I welcome the involvement of progressive faith leaders not just in issue advocacy, but electoral politics as well.

Pensieve said...

Have you checked out Dennis Kuchinich?

I'm on the fence as to whether religious groups/leaders should be endorsing candidates. It's something I'll have to think on.

Anonymous said...

Charlie Rose had a interesting interview last night on PBS about Billy Grahm and his politics. Grahm was very close to 11 presidents (can that be right!?) both Democrats and Republicans. It was interesting on the subject of religious leaders' political role.