Monday, August 18, 2008

A Question of Faith

It’s often said that Sunday is one of the most segregated times in America because of how we practice our religious faith. I’m not certain that still exists, but it was interesting to test this theory watching the Saddleback Civil Forum hosted by Pastor Rick Warren in California on Sunday, August 17, 2008. The audience while not balanced lacked a sufficient number of Africa Americans and other people of color in my opinion.

Evangelicals who have played a significant role in past presidential campaigns are literally up for grabs. There is less “faith” in the Republican brand then in the past and this has opened up a potential swing group for Democrats. The advent of the mega churches like those of Pastor Warren have on several occasions wreaked havoc on traditional Black churches and their connection to the faith based electorate.

The forum which aired on CNN is a testament to the overall tenor of this presidential campaign which continues to discount race as a subtext that no one wants to see and let alone are willing to discuss honestly and openly. I was not in the room but it was evident by the cut-a-ways (pictures of the audience) the lack of people of color invited to discuss this issue of faith.

Faith, as I know it has no color. No group has a monopoly on its practice or interpretation. The politicization of faith on both sides has created a number of amen corners which causes me to pause. The founders of the country knew this well with the decision to separate church and state.

This separation has come under attack from several corners. Faith is intended to be a moral guidance. The subject matters clergy and the faithful are dealing with are broad and complex. It includes questions about sacred institutions (marriage), international incidents (genocide), health (aids), environmental issues (global warming), medical technology (stem cells) and criminal structures (the death penalty). Add into this heated mixture the question of abortion and you have the makings of a volatile electorate subgroup that can and has had its say on politics during the last eight years.

Pastor Warren must be commended on being the first to have the two presidential nominees on the same stage. His questions were definitely not those we have heard from journalist.

They included the following: Define what does rich mean in today’s society? Is there evil in the world and what do we do about it? When does life begin? What is your greatest moral failure? There are no simple answers to any of these daunting questions, even for the savviest politician.

Barrack Performance

His appearance at this event was precarious. The decision to appear before the group did not frighten him as it has for several past democratic nominees. The Illinois Senator has spoken candidly about faith and its ramifications on his life.

The Highs

1. Answer to moral failure, “youthful transgressions.” These are well documented in his book and serves as a playbook for future politicians who may have experimented with drugs and alcohol(Just ask W).

2. “You’re rich if you sell a million plus books (a dig at Pastor Warren who like Obama has made money off of writings). Defining one as rich if they make $250,000. This figure for the average American would seem plausible.

3. Sitting in the room was a plus. He came he answered, he didn’t necessarily conquer but in this election there will be no solid voting blocks. The key from my perspective is limiting those who may disagree with you to 80 per cent plurality.

The Lows

1. Inability to be precise and say what you mean. It’s a charge that continues to haunt the candidate. He sounds too much like a college professor. He did this at large rallies in the early going of the campaign and came off as a “deep thinker.”

2. Nuancing the issue of abortion. Evangelicals don’t necessarily agree with this concept. I better way is to toss it back at those who want every unwanted pregnancy to come to term. ( i.e. Can we agree if we practiced birth control there would be no need have this conversation? Or Commit to financial resources where every child in an impoverished areas will have the same life as you.)

John McCain

McCain is like many GOP members before him, placating this group but delivering little. It’s amazing to me the attention given to Obama’s religious observances and how few questions are asked of McCain about faith. Here are some questions that may be worth knowing. What church does he belong to? How often does he attend service? Does he have a spiritual advisor?

I know the McCain camp has often told those who’ve inquired about this are greeted with “it’s a private matter.” So to open up honestly in a public forum was new and for me a chance to get some insight.

The Highs

1. Answering questions with definitive yes and no’s. McCain’s military background of “yes sir, no sir” served him well. It was also a stark contrast to Obama. The no equivocation on the issue of abortion (“Life begins at conception”) was a delight to those in attendance.

2. The ability to steer the conversation to McCain talking points. “Drill off-shore now.” “Let me tell you about my time in captivity.” Easily this is the muscle of the McCain campaign and it resonates. The offshore drilling issue has many converts including Obama, Representative Nancy Pelosi and Paris Hilton. The Vietnam War stuff pulls at your heart. It’s a narrative where there is no comeback.

The Lows

1. You’re rich if you make 5 million dollars. Oh really!!! The good senator would know since he and his wife I believe qualify. I’m going to guess a few of their close friends would also qualify.

2. “The cone of silence.” Supposedly, McCain was kept in a room where he couldn’t here the questions asked of Obama. Eerily, his answers seemed more rehearsed and targeted to buttress the early statements. It’s been reported he was in car on the way to the facility when the Illinois Senator was on stage. I do believe McCain was coached prior to the event. Pastor Warren did give each candidate some of the questions. So it’s logical to think people in the campaign devised a strategy to answer them.

(Sidebar) – The last time McCain was hit with a question he wasn’t prepared for was on the issue of whether insurance companies should pay for viagra for men, but not for birth control pills. A lot of uhs and hmm’s.


It was an interesting discussion. The moderator however failed to follow-up with questions to probe deeper into the candidate’s answers. Remember this is a pastor who hears peoples problems, desires, and there ability to connect with their faith. I guess expecting a follow-up would be too much.

Just wondering out loud, would the questions been different if T.D Jakes had moderated?

Lastly, I will continue to beat the drum that politics is not the domain of white men over 50 years old. The upcoming presidential debates which feature white males only will bear this out. I’m tired of people questioning my fairness because there is a black candidate. Let’s start asking that same question of my colleagues, who are in the majority.

I’m less than a week from heading to Denver and on Wednesday we may know who Sen. Barrack Obama’s has chosen for a running mate. Can't wait and hope you’ll be watching too.



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