FaithWorld

Could pro-choice Obama reduce the U.S. abortion rate?

Matthew 25 Network logoFinancial fears and campaign-trail mud-slinging have so dominated the U.S. presidential race in recent weeks that several issues worth serious debate have mostly drifted off the public radar screen. Judging by the latest presidential debate, one of them off on the sidelines now is abortion. This has hit my radar screen, though, because some Barack Obama supporters have made what seems to be an incredible claim — that the most pro-choice candidate in the running could actually lower the overall number of abortions in the United States. Huh?

The Matthew 25 Network, which calls itself “pro-life pro-Obama,” says “an Obama administration will do more than a McCain administration for the cause of life, by drastically reducing abortions through giving women and families the support and the tools they need to choose life.”

Over at Beliefnet, editor-in-chief Steve Waldman has two very interesting posts about this. The first one says that Obama supports Medicaid funding for abortion, which obviously would make getting one easier. The Democratic candidate also supports the Freedom of Choice Act, which “would wipe out state laws, including moderate ones that merely require parental notification for teens seeking abortion.” So it looks like total abortions would rise during an Obama administration.

Steve WaldmanBut Waldman’s second post points to a rarely discussed aspect of the abortion issue: “during Democratic administrations (pro-choice administrations) the average annual abortion rate is virtually identical to that under Republican administrations.” There may be something to the Matthew 25 claim, he says, “however, Barack Obama has severely undermined his ability to make such an argument.”

Waldman’s second post is long and thoughtful, so I won’t try to condense it. Read it in full.

Who is the most Christian among U.S. candidates?

Given the faith factor in U.S. politics, it was probably inevitable that someone would come up with a poll asking who is the most Christian among the presidential and vice presidential candidates. The Times in London has done it — and come up with some interesting results so far. After an initial lead by the candidate thought to appeal most to evangelical Christians, the candidate now way out in front is the one who rumours say isn’t a Christian at all.

Articles of Faith blogThe online poll is open until next Wednesday, so click to Ruth Gledhill’s blog Articles of Faith to vote. The poll is a bit confusing — the post starts out asking whether Sarah Palin is a good Christian and then presents a voting table asking you to choose the “better Christian” among the presidential and vice presidential candidates. The winner of a four-horse race should be termed the “best” in the group, but maybe that sounds too judgmental.

Anyway, after voting, let us know here if you think this poll is representative of American voters’ views or skewed by votes from outside the United States.

Has the faith factor fizzled in the U.S. campaign?

Joe Biden and Sarah Palin after vice presidential debate, 3 Oct 2008/Carlos BarriaAfter the 2004 election, the buzz was that religion was a key factor in U.S. election campaigns. It’s come up this year with Barack Obama’s “pastor problem,” speculation about Sarah Palin’s Pentecostal church and several other points. So I thought it was worth getting up in the middle of the night (cable TV had it from 3 a.m. here in Paris) to see what if any role religion played in her debate with Joe Biden.

From that narrow point of view, I could have stayed in bed.

The only interesting point on any of the usually divisive “culture war” issues was the way Palin agreed with Biden that gay and lesbian couples should not be denied legal benefits granted to married heterosexual couples. “No one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties,” she said. Neither supported gay marriage, but that was their stated position already.

With the financial crisis dominating the news these days, there was little chance that these issues would take up much time in the debate. But the fact that Palin didn’t use the wedge issue when it arose was interesting. According to a new study by Beliefnet “moral issues are dramatically less important this year than in previous years – even among the most religiously observant voters.”

Pelosi’s abortion comments provoke Catholic criticism

Catholic leaders in Colorado and elsewhere have been swift to react to comments by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the Church itself had long debated when human life begins.

Nancy Pelosi kisses Pope Benedict’s ring in Washington as President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice look on, 16 April 2008//Larry Downing“… I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition … St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose,” said Pelosi, seen at left kissing Pope Benedict’s ring during his visit to Washington in April.

In Denver, the venue for this week’s Democratic party national convention due to annoint Barack Obama as its presidential nominee on Thursday, Archbishop Charles Chaput and his Auxiliary Bishop James Conley said in a statement on Monday that Catholic teaching on the subject was unequivocal — abortion is gravely evil — and that “Catholics who make excuses for it … fool only themselves.” Similar comments came from Washington D.C. Archbishop Donald Wuerl.

Did Saddleback “faith quiz” cross church-state divide?

John McCain, Rick Warren and Barack Obama at Saddleback Civil Forum, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryDid Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum with John McCain and Barack Obama violate the separation of church and state? Was it right for a pastor to ask U.S. presidential candidates about their belief in Jesus Christ or their worst moral failures? Will the success of the Saddleback Civil Forum mean that major televised interviews or debates about faith will become a regular fixture in American political campaigns?

I didn’t think questions like this got enough of an airing in U.S. media before Saturday’s event. The fact that Warren made it such an interesting evening made me think the fundamental question — should there be a televised “faith quiz” at all? — would be crowded out of the public debate. The initial reactions angled on the winner/loser question or the “cone of silence” issue seemed to bear this out. But some commentators and blogs are now zeroing in on the deeper question.

Obama and Warren, 17 August 2008//Mark AveryIn the New York Times, columnist Willian Kristol (Showdown at Saddleback) applauded the event and said: “Rick Warren should moderate one of the fall presidential debates.” That says a lot about the quality of the usual televised debates but little about the church-state question. Ruth Ann Dailey’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put her answer about the church-state question right in the headline: At Saddleback, the wall stands firm.

Are U.S. atheists from Venus and Mormons from Mars?

Barack Obama, 15 June 2008/John GressIs the Democratic Party really “Godless” and are Republicans really righteous?

Far from it, though there are findings from the monumental U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life which could be used perhaps to make such arguments. You can see our main story on the survey here and the survey itself, which was released on Monday, here.

On partisan affiliation for example, the survey found that Mormons were the most staunchly Republican religious group in America with 65 percent of those polled indentifying with or leaning towards that party.

Obama’s oratory and American civil religion

Senator Barack Obama at the College of Southern Nevada, 27 May 2008/Steve MarcusThere’s been so much emphasis on Barack Obama’s “pastor problems” and his quitting his church that a key religion element in his campaign gets overshadowed. Obama isn’t just a polished speaker. He’s shown he’s fluent in the language of American civil religion, the non- denominational set of beliefs that has been a source of inspiration for great U.S. orators like Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy.

Andrea Useem has posted an interesting analysis of Obama’s oratory on her Religion Writer blog. Taking his speech in St. Paul at the end of the primaries as an example, she noted that he didn’t make any direct references to God. “But in speaking about hopes and aspirations as a defining political force, he somehow tapped that vein of civil religion, implying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that the greatest campaigns are those based on the inner human spirit.”

By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s “message of grit and sweat and labor obviously resonates with the ‘hard work’ ideal of America, but at the same time, that message may be too leaded, too rooted, to soar into the realm of inspiring political rhetoric.”