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A quick and dirty religio-presidential forum

By Alexander Carpenter

Before Monday’s Sojourners/CNN Presidential Forum on Faith, Values and Poverty, the Times suggested:
The event is a relatively rare opportunity for the Democratic candidates to talk about the role faith plays in their political lives, and their appearances signals that the votes of at least some politically active Christians may be up for grabs in 2008.

After watching it, I thought that the Sojourners’ show on faith, values and poverty turned out quick and dirty.
Quick: fifteen minutes per presidential candidate goes by really fast, especially if you’re Sen. Barack Obama talking about poverty, Sen. Hillary Clinton telling a story about the Congo, or Edwards listing all the work he and his wife have done for the poor and taking people to help with relief work along the Gulf Coast.
Dirty: this forum muddied the waters, the unnaturally old, white, pristine Robertson/Falwell/Dobson fluids of filtered Christianity. In this forum we got to hear more nuance (but we do need so much more) on issues like abortion, faith journey (private faith works too), and moral values that prioritize the American poor.
Dan Gilgoff writes in US News and World Report:
But the prospect of presidential candidates discussing such a personal issue as their religious lives on national television could make for a delicate evening, particularly as secular voters are becoming one of the fastest-growing Democratic voter blocs.

Turns out less delicate than superficial, which may bother more than the secular-minded. While some may raise warnings of church and state mixing a bit much on the left now, I’d say that after this debate the courthouses and ID-free textbooks are pretty safe. But I worry about faith. As Pastor Jim Gertmenian, of the Plymouth Center for Progressive Christian Faith commented:
. . .not to be cynical, but it sounded as though the hour was peppered with phrases that the candidates had been prompted to use: “Lord and Savior,” “prayer warriors,” etc. Maybe those were more natural than I’m giving them credit for, but I hope that Dems will go to these issues in ways that go deeper than just pop religious language.

Even progressive religion risks being watered down when mixed with the hyper will-to-power of presidential politics. I’ll grant that several of the candidates dropped buzz words, but they also noted the a deeper life of faith than most Americans recognize as compatible with social justice activism.  That said, as the progressive Christian movement grows, we need to pay careful attention to that wise Tillichian definition of religion as “the state of ultimate concern.” In that we should express widely our faithful concern for all. That’s what I think was the best part of the Forum, the revelation to conservative America that Christians have more than just two morals. While, on the other hand we must show that we have more than just buzz words too. That the ultimate lies beyond the easy phrases of speech writers, and our leaders — whether president or preacher, liberal or conservative — they can no longer just drop God, but must reinterpret the “dirtiness” of religious experience for our common good.
Props to Marcel for posting on this as well. I’ve posted all the video from the forum here.

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