FaithWorld

U.S. Catholic Democrats and the “party of death” charge

Catholic Democrats logoWith the charge about the “party of death” still ringing in its ears, a group called Catholic Democrats has issued a Q&A on abortion setting out its case that faithful Roman Catholics can vote for Barack Obama despite his consistent pro-choice record. Catholic Democrats makes the same argument as the Matthew 25 network, i.e. that Democratic policies would actually reduce the abortion rate, which spiked under Republicans in the 1980s, fell during the Clinton administration and have leveled off — and may have begun rising again — in the Bush administration.

Archbishop Raymond Burke/Archdiocese of St. LouisFormer St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who is now prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, told an Italian newspaper two weeks ago that the Democrats risked becoming the “party of death” for their support for abortion rights. Other U.S. bishops have criticised two prominent Catholic Democrats — vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi — for suggesting the Catholic Church was anything but totally against abortion.

Catholic Democrats cites the bishops’ own guidebook, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” to stress that Catholics should not be one-issue voters and could vote for a candidate if his overall platform is morally good, despite a pro-choice plank that the Church regards as intrinsically evil. “If the only difference between two candidates is that one is pro-life and the other is pro-choice, then a pro-life voter should obviously vote for a pro-life candidate,” Catholic Democrats says. “However, elections are never so clear cut. Republican and Democratic candidates differ on many issues: healthcare, the war, the economy.”

The “Faithful Citizenship” guidelines do say that “as Catholics we are not single-issue voters” (item 42) and that “there may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons” (item 35). They also say “that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching” (item 37).

Even though it leans heavily towards a “no” answer, “Faithful Citizenship” seems to leave a door open for the interpretation that Catholic Democrats and the Matthew 25 network favour. Nor do the bishops seem to have a clear view of how to end abortion.

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.

“Religulous” — a film call to atheist arms

Maher and director Larry Charles pose during Toronto International Film Festival, 7 Sept 2008/Mark BlinchComedian and talk-show host Bill Maher has issued the latest “call to atheist arms” in his recently released documentary “Religulous.”

He wants his fellow non-believers and doubters to “come out of the closet” to counter what he views as religion’s dangerous influence on the world. To do so, he preaches to the converted in “Religulous”, a scathing documentary that skewers Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The film is part of the “neo-atheist” backlash to the rising influence of religion in public life, following a path recently blazed by a trio of best-selling books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Dawkins, a renowned Oxford biologist, has also presented a documentary critical of religion called “Root of all Evil?” on British television.

Monthly church attenders swing Obama’s way

Americans who attend church once or twice a month have become a sought after “swing vote” — and they are swinging to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the run-up to the Nov 4. presidential election.

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That is one of the key findings of a new survey conducted by Public Religion Research on behalf of Faith in Public Life, a non-partisan resource center.

It found that, based on religious service attendance, the biggest shift in candidate preferences between 2004 and 2008 was among those who went once or twice a month. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry got 49 percent of their vote in 2004 while Obama is now pulling 60 percent.

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.

New book on Republicans adds to U.S. “culture war” debate

Grand New PartyA new book on the U.S. Republican Party sets out an agenda that its authors argue will help weld working class voters — who have bounced between political allegiances over the decades — to the party as the foundation for the next conservative majority.

Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, by Ross Douthat, a senior editor at The Atlantic, and Reihan Salam, an associate editor at the same magazine, is already making some waves.

What readers of this blog may find most interesting is some of its comments on religious conservatives, a key Republican Party base, and its contribution to the growing debate about America’s “culture wars.”

Interesting faith conference at Lipscomb University

Barack Obama, 15 June 2008/John GressOne of the themes at the annual “Christian Scholars Conference” at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, is “faith and politics in the current political climate” — subjects that readers of this blog will know we often touch on.

The conference, which kicked off on Thursday and ends on Saturday, features an impressive academic line-up. A link to the abstracts can be found here.

Keri Thompson of the University of Texas has what looks like an intriguing presentation on “Progressive Christianity in Election 2008: The Rhetorical Strategies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”

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.