The Common Good

Election Commentary

White Working Class Voters Still Looking for a Candidate, Still Religious

The white working class, a potentially rich bloc of voters for Republicans or Democrats, hasn’t settled on Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute shows.

“These white working class voters are not particularly enamored of either candidate,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director. “In terms of their favorability, they’re both under 50 percent.” Forty-four percent look favorably upon Obama and 45 percent upon Romney.

Released seven weeks before the election, the August survey found Romney with a double-digit lead over Obama among the white working class, which preferred the GOP candidate 48 to 35 percent.

But Cox points out that the gap narrows to statistical insignificance among women voters in this group, and in the Midwest and West, home of several swing states. The upshot for Romney and Obama?

If they want to woo this group, which makes up 36 percent of the nation according to the study, the campaigns may want to consider other findings of the PRRI poll.

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VIDEO: Obama, Romney Answer Faith Leaders' Call to Address Poverty in Election

Christian leaders asked, and the presidential nominees answered. The poverty rate in America is still at a staggering 15 percent and 46.2 million Americans remain in poverty — what is your plan to address the problem?

The Circle of Protection, composed of Christian leaders from across the religious spectrum, released President Barack Obama's and GOP nominee Mitt Romney's video responses today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

(VIDEOS from Obama and Romney after the jump.)

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Conservative Christian Leaders Focus on Romney’s Policies, Not Faith

More than two dozen Christian conservatives are trying to put theological debates about presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormonism to rest by focusing on the policies outlined in the GOP's new national platform.

In a letter delivered Sept. 7 to Romney the leaders acknowledged that some conservatives have “tempered their enthusiasm for sound governing principles by their concern over differences in a candidate’s theological doctrine.”

But, the leaders said, "it is time to remind ourselves that civil government is not about a particular theology but rather about public policy."

Signatories of the letter include the two sons of the late Jerry Falwell, leading Catholic anti-abortion activist Rev. Frank Pavone, and GOP strategist Ralph Reed. Polls repeatedly show that, while most social conservatives favor Romney, nearly a quarter still express discomfort with his Mormon faith. 

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Identity Theft: When Politicians Hijack Jesus’ Name

Gotta say I’m a big fan of this church sign at my father-in-law’s church.

It’s time to STOP:

  1. Using faith, Jesus, and the Bible as a political platform;
  2. Cherry-picking from the Gospel based on what polls well;
  3. Claiming Jesus would be so myopic to identify with either of our major political parties;

...

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6 Suggestions for Christians for Engaging in Politics

With the Republican and Democratic National Conventions having taken place over the last two weeks, we can officially say that we’re entering the election season (i.e., that time when the general public begins to pay attention).

A couple of friends who pastor churches in non-D.C. parts of the country asked me if we feel the need to address politics at The District Church, being in the very belly of the beast (my words, not theirs). Specifically, they were asking: Given the intense polarization and often-unproductive arguing that we see around us, even in the church, about the need to address how we interact with those who disagree with us.

So far, we haven’t needed to. In our church community, we have Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and yes, even people who don’t care about politics; we have Hill staffers, White House staffers, activists, advocates, lobbyists, policy wonks, and more — and we’ve all come together as the body of Christ, recognizing that our allegiance is first to Jesus before any party or even country.

Even so, every four years (or every two, if you pay attention to mid-terms; or all the time, if you’re even more politically engaged), posts about politics pop up with increasing frequency on social media, eliciting often-furious back-and-forths that usually end up doing nothing more than reminding each side how right they are and how stupid the other side is.

So I figured I’d try to offer a few suggestions on how we can engage with one another on matters of politics in healthy ways.

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A Season of Civility in Response to Campaign Incivility

"In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve." – Alexis de Tocqueville

With the Democratic and Republican national conventions behind us, and an increase of political campaigning in front of us, we recognize the timeliness of the above quotation from Alexis de Tocquville. In a democracy the citizens choose their government, thus we indeed receive the government we deserve. As Lisa Sharon Harper recently stated:

"In its purest form, politics is simply how we organize our life together in society…in a Democratic Republic like our own, the [people are] ultimately responsible for the policies, laws, and structures that guide daily life. As we vote for candidates and ballot measures, we shape our society."

With such thoughts in mind, we affirm the collective ability to “shape our society," but we do so not only through the ability to choose our candidates and pass ballot measures, but we also possess the capacity to shape the process of how our leaders and policies are selected. In other words, while many complain about the high quantity and low quality of political campaigns, we are confronted with a harsh reality: In a democracy, we get the political campaigns we deserve. 

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A Call to Transform Politics

Someone asked me recently what I thought of something “as a member of the Christian Left.” My insides tightened and screeched into a ball. It was as if Freddy Krueger had run his sharpened fingernails across the black board in history class. Christian Left? Left of what? When did I sign that membership card? 

Maybe it’s the title of my last book, Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, which was co-written with a Tea-Partier who is also an evangelical Christian. The book does frame me as the one on the left, but if you read my chapters you’ll see that is not my mind or my heart.

In times like these, when politicians are sweating to sway voters to their side, or frame their opponents as the polar opposite—the enemy—it is tempting to begin to define ourselves and each other through the frame of politics. We place each other in convenient little political boxes—boxes not made by scripture or the church, but by politicians and the media. 

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The Politics of Poverty

I’ll be honest … I’m a coward. During the political season I find myself avoiding certain conversations that I do care about. Mind you, I do have opinions. My wife would say I have an opinion on everything. Faith and social issues are extremely important to me, and I have spent a lot of years studying and following the trends and their impact on people I care a lot about. I am especially focused on issues that affect the poor, mentally ill, unemployed, addicted, and homeless. Topics of Medicare, unemployment benefits, the death penalty, gun control, abortion, gay marriage, state and federal budget and deficits, immigration, and foreign policy all matter to me. I do have opinions! (And I vote!)

Yet during the final months of America’s presidential street fight, I tend to lay low. I know that one simple conversation with almost anyone can turn volatile and unleash the beast within them. If educated congressmen, presidential candidates, governors, and even local representatives can be as nasty and polarized as they have publicly shown, there is little reason to honestly discuss an issue, since the potential for alienation and misrepresentation is at an all-time high. No one seems to be listening, having crystallized their presuppositions with a crafty skill of spinning any topic into their agenda. Ironically, our children are watching adult leaders model behavior we wouldn’t let them get away with. 

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Caring for the Poor is Government's Biblical Role

There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: how big, how small should it be? Some famously have said government should be shrunk so small that it "could be drowned in a bathtub."

But I want to suggest that what size the government should be is the wrong question. A more useful discussion would be about the purposes of government and whether ours is fulfilling them. So let's look at what the Bible says.

The words of Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans are perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government. Paul says those purposes are twofold: to restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior. Civil authority is designed to be "God's servant for your good" (13:4). Today we might say "the common good" is to be the focus and goal of government.

So the purpose of government, according to Paul, is to protect and promote. Protect from the evil and promote the good, and we are even instructed to pay taxes for those purposes. So to disparage government per se  to see government as the central problem in society — is simply not a biblical position.

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Baptist Leader Stands His Political Ground Amidst Akin Furor

ST. LOUIS — Don Hinkle stands out among the serious, conservative men of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Not that Hinkle isn't conservative or serious. He is both. But Hinkle prefers bow ties, which — along with his white, furry mustache and thatch of white hair — give him a sort of plump Mark Twain air.

Late last week, a church-state watchdog group in Washington filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service accusing Hinkle, who is also his organization's director of public policy, with violating federal tax law by intervening in two campaigns for public office.

Those were the Republican primary campaigns of U.S. Rep. Todd Akin for U.S. Senate, and Ed Martin for Missouri attorney general.

The 500,000-member Missouri Baptist Convention is the state arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, with about 16 million members.

In his column in the May edition of the Pathway, the state convention's newsjournal, Hinkle wrote that while he did not want an American theocracy, "when it comes to public policy, Southern Baptists must be motivated by love for our fellow citizens, believing that God's way is the best way."

For that reason, Hinkle continued, "I personally support candidates like U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican who wants to challenge Democrat Claire McCaskill for her U.S. Senate seat, and Republican Ed Martin, the St. Louis attorney who is running for state attorney general."

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Cardinal Dolan, Sister Simone Campbell, To Bless the Democratic Convention

In a move that could recast the reigning political narrative about the Catholic bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has accepted an invitation to deliver the closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention, a week after he gives a similar blessing to the Republicans in Tampa, Fla.

From the start, Dolan, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made it clear that he would be willing to pray at the Democratic convention. There were doubts, however, that the Democrats would invite Dolan.

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan Asks Candidates to Sign Civility Pledge

NEW YORK — Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who sparked controversy by agreeing to deliver the closing blessing at the Republican convention in Tampa this week, on Monday drew further attention to his political role by asking both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to sign a “civility pledge” promoted by a leading conservative Catholic activist.

The archbishop of New York wrote to Romney and Obama, as well as their running mates, Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, asking them to sign the “Civility in America” pledge developed by Carl Anderson, head of the powerful Knights of Columbus and a man with long-standing ties to the Republican Party.

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s GOP Convention Blessing Prompts Debate

The news that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the nation’s most prominent Catholic prelate, will deliver the closing blessing to the Republican National Convention in Florida next week was seen as a huge coup for Mitt Romney, the party's presumptive nominee. But the move has also prompted a sharp debate within the church over the increasingly close ties between leading bishops and the GOP.

“The cozy relationship between a sizable portion of U.S. bishops and the Republican Party should be cause for concern, and not just among progressive Catholics,” Michael O’Loughlin wrote in a post on the website of America magazine, a leading Catholic weekly published by the Jesuits.

“Cardinal Dolan’s appearance in Tampa will damage the church’s ability to be a moral and legitimate voice for voiceless, as those who view the Catholic Church as being a shill for the GOP have just a bit more evidence to prove their case,” O'Loughlin concluded.

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Romney Says Tax Returns Would Publicize Private Mormon Tithing

Mitt Romney says in a new interview that one of the reasons he’s distressed about disclosing his tax returns is that everyone sees how much money he and his wife, Ann, have donated to his Mormon church, and that’s a number he wants to keep private.

“Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given,” Romney tells Parade magazine in an edition due out on Aug. 26. “This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.”

Romney has released his 2010 tax returns in his White House campaign and, so far, a summary of last year’s tax information. But despite pressure from Republican opponents in the primaries and President Obama’s re-election campaign, Romney has refused to disclose more.

While it may not be a major reason, Romney says disclosing his charitable donations isn’t something he wants to do.

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The Shrill Are Shouting: So What?

Shrill voices, backed by vast ad spending, are trying to turn Americans against each other. And not just in vocal and behavioral disagreement, but to a depth of fear and hatred that could turn violent with little provocation.

Is it working?

To judge by the shrill echoes of shrill voices, the right wing is arming for battle, with God on their side, the flag as their shield, and the future of a white Christian nation at stake. Foolhardy politicians egg them on, and the greedy rich seem to believe that they can turn this hatred on and off to suit their quest for tax breaks.

Do the shrill represent any force larger than their own passions? Will the common-sense middle prove more durable and extensive than zealots want to believe?

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Paul Ryan, Joe Biden: A Tale of Two Catholics

The 2012 presidential campaign could bear a new subtitle: A Tale of Two Catholics.

For the first time in U.S. history, both sides of the ballot include Roman Catholics: Democrats’ Vice President Joe Biden, and Republicans' newly named vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Ryan, 42, still belongs to the Catholic parish, St. John Vianney in Janesville, Wis., where he was an altar boy. Biden, 69, the first Catholic vice president in U.S. history, attends Mass at St. Patrick’s Parish and St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church, both in Wilmington, De.

Biden and Ryan both cite their faith as a formative influence, but neither is known as a standard-bearer for the Catholic hierarchy’s chief political causes: abortion and gay marriage. In fact, the two candidates are — politically at least — nearly polar opposites.

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Sister Simone Campbell Visits Bill O'Reilly, Talks Budget

Sister Simone Campbell sat down with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly to discuss her organization's push for a faithful budget.

Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, recently invited presidential candidate Mitt Romney to join the Nuns on the Bus in some of their charitable work with the poor. 

 

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Watch Live: Romney Announces Paul Ryan as VP Pick

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential pick early Saturday morning. Romney is set to officially announce the Wisconsin representative at 9 a.m. in Norfolk, Va.

Romney made the announcement via his smartphone app, and his website refers to the duo as the "A" team, saying: "This is the team to beat. This is the team that can restore greatness in America. This is the team that can fix America."

 

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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Mitt Romney Ad Says President Obama Launched ‘War on Religion’

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused Democratic President Barack Obama of launching a “war on religion” in a television ad released on Aug. 9.

“President Obama used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith,” the ad’s announcer states.

The ad pans to a shot of Romney on his recent visit to Poland saying, "In 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul II, spoke words that would bring down an empire. Be not afraid."

It concludes, “When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?”

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New $6.5 Million GOP Campaign Targets Jewish Voters

Michael Goldstein voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and supports gay marriage and an assault weapons ban. Before moving to New Jersey 11 years ago to raise a family, the Brooklyn native fit right in with other lifelong Democrats in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

But Goldstein now says he has buyer’s remorse. And last week the 48-year-old East Brunswick man became the face and voice of a national campaign aimed at converting fellow Jews who voted for Obama four years ago into supporters of Republican Mitt Romney.

In a video on the Republican Jewish Coalition website, Goldstein talks about his disappointment in Obama’s handling of the economy and U.S. relations with Israel.

“I was a big Obama supporter. I really believed in him and believed in what he stood for,” Goldstein says in the video. But, he continues, “when he gave the speech about the ’67 borders, it was nothing that had come up in his campaign originally. That really changed my mind about him.” 

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What Was Romney Like as a Mormon Bishop?

Though Mitt Romney talks little about his faith on the campaign trail, he grew up in the Mormon Church and spent years as a top church leader in Massachusetts. From 1986 to 1994, he was president of the Boston stake, an entity similar to a Catholic diocese. Before that, Romney was bishop, similar to a lay pastor, of congregations in Belmont and Cambridge. Each job included both organizational work and counseling.

After leaving the stake president position, Romney taught Sunday school for a year, then oversaw the church’s programs for teenagers for around two years. Romney continues to tithe — giving 10 percent of his income to his church. In accordance with Mormon teachings, he does not drink alcohol, tea or coffee. He attends church services when he can. Romney's campaign did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

As a church leader, Romney ran the church with businesslike efficiency.

“He was very serious about doing an excellent job about things and he didn’t suffer fools,” said Helen Claire Sievers, executive director for the Harvard-affiliated WorldTeach, who was active in the church when Romney was stake president.

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Pro-Life or Pro-Choice? Many Are Saying Both

The influence of clergy in swaying their congregants' attitudes about moral issues like abortion and contraception access is dwindling, according to a new study. 

The Religion, Values, and Experiences: Black and Hispanic American Attitudes on Abortion and Reproductive Issues survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, shows that there continues to be a disconnect in personal, moral belief and feelings about public policy. 

"What they're hearing at church is not the big mover on attitudes of legality of abortion," Robert Jones, PRRI CEO, said. 

While 51 percent of black Americans believe abortion is morally wrong, 67 percent say it should be legal in all or most cases. 

"I really think that freedom of choice is probably one of the most precious components of what it means to be a Christian. Blacks have been quite possessive and reflective of this fact," said Dr. Stacy Floyd-Thomas, associate professor of Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University's Divinity School. "… You do have the majority saying that they might see it as a sin or they are against it, but you still have the right."

Both groups believe it is possible to disagree with church teaching and be a good Catholic or good Christian. Jones pointed to the growing trend of personal versus external focus. Previous surveys have shown that attitudes about religion are mostly influenced by people's own beliefs and behaviors rather than institutional doctrine. 

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Survey: Black, Hispanic Americans Say Economy Critical Issue in Election

A new poll released today shows an overwhelming percentage of black and Hispanic voters favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in the upcoming presidential election — 87 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Both groups say the economy is a critical issue in the election.

The Religion, Values, and Experiences: Black and Hispanic American Attitudes on Abortion and Reproductive Issues survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, also showed that two-thirds of black Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 46 percent of Hispanic Americans agreed. 

Both black and Hispanic Americans (81 and 79 percent, respectively), say contraception is morally acceptable and support expanding access to it. Further 61 percent of black Americans and 64 percent of Hispanic Americans say religiously affiliated institutions should provide contraception at no cost to their employees. 

For more on the survey, stay tuned to the God's Politics blog for continued coverage. 

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Obama, Romney on Colorado Massacre

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney cancelled campaign events Friday in the wake of the unfolding tragedy in Aurora, Colo., where a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater early today, killing at least a dozen people (members of the military among them, according to news reports), and wounding dozens of others. Both men made statements reacting to the massacre.
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Bachmann's Muslim Brotherhood Claims Draw Fierce Fire

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Accusations by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., that an Islamist group has infiltrated the U.S. government are drawing fierce criticism from fellow lawmakers and religious groups.

Bachmann and four other GOP legislators have sent letters to five government agencies citing "serious security concerns" about what Bachmann has called a "deep penetration in the halls of our United States government" by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bachmann also accused Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Rep. Anthony Weiner's wife, of having family connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., defended Abedin. "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit, and they need to stop now," he said in a Senate speech on Wednesday.

Bachmann's letters cite a report by Frank Gaffney, a conservative who has accused President Obama of "embracing the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood."

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