election 2012

RNS photo by Gage Skidmore / courtesy Flickr, Jason and Bonnie Grower / Shutters

Rep. Paul Ryan (left) RNS photo by Gage Skidmore/courtesy Flickr, VP Joe Biden,Jason and Bonnie Grower / Shutterstock.com

When Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face off in the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, it will mark the first showdown of its kind between the first Catholics ever to oppose each other on the major party tickets.

A “Catholic Thrilla in Manila” as a Washington Post headline put it, recalling the famous 1975 Ali-Frazier heavyweight bout in the Philippines. Store window signs in the host city of Danville, Ky., prefer the “Thrill in the Ville.”

Whatever it is called, expectations among Catholics are as high as the stakes for both campaigns.

Joseph Cella, who leads Catholic outreach for the Romney-Ryan campaign in Michigan, where the GOP ticket has nearly closed a 10-point gap, said the campaign is organizing debate-watching parties nationwide.

“I don¹t see how Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan could avoid discussing principles of importance to Catholics,” said Cella, a veteran conservative activist.

Sandi Villarreal 10-09-2012
Photo illustration, Ciaran Griffin / Getty Images

Photo illustration, Ciaran Griffin / Getty Images

Editor's Note: Sojourners has launched this new blog series to help shed light on the nation's latest "religious" affiliation. Scroll down to read their stories. Or EMAIL US to share your own.

Which religious tradition do you most closely identify with?

  • Protestant
  • Catholic
  • Mormon
  • Muslim
  • Jewish
  • Orthodox
  • Other Faith
  • Unaffiliated

Given these options — or even if you throw in a few more like Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic — I would choose “Unaffiliated.” That puts me into a category with one-in-five other Americans, and one-in-three millennials, aptly named the “nones.” 

In that vein, I introduce our new blog series: Meet the Nones. Through this series, I hope to encourage discussion, debate, and elucidate the full picture of what it means to be losing your religion in America.

Editor's Note: Would you like to share your story on this topic? Email us HERE.

Sandi Villarreal 10-09-2012
Traditional worship space, Christy Thompson /Shutterstock.com

Traditional worship space, Christy Thompson /Shutterstock.com

One-in-five adults in the United States — and a third of adults under 30 — say they have no religious affiliation. The numbers are out in a new report called “’Nones’ on the Rise,” put out by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That 20 percent of the population is up from 15 percent just five years ago.

But while our church membership rolls may be shrinking, “unaffiliated doesn’t necessarily mean wholly secular,” said senior researcher Cary Funk at the Religion Newswriters Association Conference in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday. 

In fact, two-thirds of the 46 million Americans self-identifying as having no religion also say they believe in God. And 21 percent of them say they pray every day. A large portion of this group — 37 percent — say they consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”

The increase in disaffiliation goes hand-in-hand with an overall lack of trust in American institutions across the board, from the government to the news media, and now, to our houses of worship.

The “nones” overwhelmingly say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power, and 67 percent say they both focus too much on rules and are too involved in politics. 

Sandi Villarreal 10-08-2012
Silenced young people, doglikehorse / Shutterstock.com

Silenced young people, doglikehorse / Shutterstock.com

Young millennials — age 18 to 25 — are more comfortable with an evangelical than Mormon (or atheist or Muslim) president. This, according to part two of the Millennial Values Survey put out by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center.

Nearly six in 10 of those surveyed say they would be comfortable with an evangelical Christian serving as president, while 44 percent would be comfortable with a Mormon.

The numbers line up with those supporting President Barack Obama over Gov. Mitt Romeny at 55 percent to 39 percent — a spread that has actually increased 16 points since March. 

But that won’t necessarily convert into votes. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed are registered to vote, but only half report they are absolutely certain they will cast a vote in November.

The candidates’ religion isn’t the only factor affecting young peoples’ voting patterns. Another issue is a lack of voter engagement in the political process altogether.

“Millennials have a reputation for being the ‘wired’ generation, but when it comes to government, they’re unplugged,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI research director, in the news release Friday. “Across a range of measures, younger millennials indicated that they are disillusioned with the government’s ability to respond to their needs.”

Lisa Sharon Harper 10-08-2012
Voting illustration,  gst / Shutterstock.com

Voting illustration, gst / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This is the third article in Lisa Sharon Harper’s election season blog series, Watch the Vote. You can read the last article here

With 28 days to go until our nation chooses its 45th president, a string of court victories have knocked down Jim-Crow-style barriers to voting that have been erected in states across the nation. But 13 states are still under the oppressive weight of laws designed to suppress the vote.  

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, starting in early 2011, 41 states introduced legislation to restrict voting laws. Nineteen quietly passed 25 laws and two executive actions, some of which require government-issued photo IDs, proof of citizenship, fewer early-voting days, the elimination of Election Day voter registration, created barriers to voter registration drives, and created more obstacles for citizens with past criminal convictions. 

The good news is that over the past few months we have seen one court case after another block the enactment of the worst provisions of these new Jim Crow laws. According to a recent Brennan Center study, 10 courts have blocked or blunted restrictive voting laws — and the Department of Justice blocked one more — since Oct. 3.

Jim Wallis 10-04-2012
(L-R, top-bottom) John, Sheila, Ronnie, and James from "The Line."

(L-R, top-bottom) John, Sheila, Ronnie, and James from "The Line."

Many people in America are poor, due to no fault of their own—and their numbers are growing.

If you really know any poor people, you know that to be true. If you don’t, the first sentence of this post runs against the grain of many cultural assumptions in America that tend to blame people for being poor.

On the eve of the first Presidential debate, Sojourners premiered The Line — a film about the new faces of poverty in America. In this powerful documentary from award-winning filmmaker Linda Midgett, those popular judgmental assumptions against poor people clearly and convincingly are debunked.

The Line, which I am asking everyone who reads this column to watch, deftly dismantles many stereotypes about poverty and shows why a growing number of Americans find themselves falling into it. The film does so by telling the personal stories of people who have fallen beneath “the line.”

My 14-year-old son Luke, watched the story of John: a banker from a failed bank who once made a six-figure salary, but who now finds himself a substitute teacher making $12,000 a year while trying to raise his three kids. John painfully talked about what it feels like to have to go to a food bank because he has no other viable choice.

His story caused Luke to ask his mom after the film, “John said he got straight A’s in school, so could that happen to me?”

Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City

Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY — A Mormon blogger accused of apostasy for writing critical web essays about Mormon history, temple worship and contemporary issues, has been given a reprieve — for now.

The church disciplinary council set for today (Sept. 30)  to decide whether to excommunicate David Twede has been postponed "due to scheduling conflicts," Allan Pratt, Twede’s LDS stake president in Florida, said in a statement Thursday. "It will be rescheduled for a later date."

Twede is managing editor of MormonThink.com, where most of his critical pieces, including ones about GOP presidential nominee and fellow Mormon Mitt Romney, have appeared.

On Sept. 16, officials in the church's Hunters Creek Stake in Orlando, Fla., gave Twede a letter, summoning him to a church disciplinary council for "apostasy," which they attributed to his writings.

Daniel Burke 09-30-2012
The Romneys

The Romneys

Mitt Romney angered evangelicals during his first White House run in 2008 by blurring the theological lines between their faith and his Mormonism. Lurching in the other direction, he irked them again by scarcely mentioning religion at all during this year’s GOP primaries.

But Romney has finally found some middle ground, evangelical leaders say, by sidelining theology and stressing the “Judeo-Christian values” that he shares with social conservatives.

“He’s made it very clear not to gloss over the theological differences that his faith has with evangelicals,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council in Washington. “As long as he talks about the shared values of our religious traditions, I think he’s good.”

Romney did exactly that during a Sept. 9 Meet the Press interview, saying that religion inspired him to run for president — without mentioning the word “Mormon.” 

“The Judeo-Christian ethics that I was brought up with -- the sense of obligation to one’s fellow man, an absolute conviction that we are all sons and daughters of the same God and therefore in a human family — is one of the reasons I am doing what I’m doing,” he said.

Conservative Christian leaders are taking the same approach, urging evangelicals to focus on Romney’s policies and principles, not the particulars of his faith.

Christian Piatt 09-28-2012
Think positive illustration: Anson0618 / Shutterstock.com

Think positive illustration: Anson0618 / Shutterstock.com

I’m a fan of TIME Magazine. It offers concise, intelligent summaries and opinions on the news that help keep me up with current events. They had an interesting article in the last few weeks about the factors that seem to affect a political party’s election results in the upcoming cycle. From their findings, it’s the party perceived to be most optimistic about the nation’s future that tends to come out on top. A fascinating bit of psychology, if not necessarily scientifically rigorous in its conclusions.

And then, in the most recent issue, there’s a pages-long piece by Bill Clinton called “The Case for Optimism,” which outlined five reasons to look ahead with hope toward our collective future. Coincidence? Maybe. But the timing of the two pieces, particularly only weeks out from a presidential election, seems more than a little bit opportunistic.

Call me cynical, but never let it be said that I’m above holding the Democrats’ feet to the fire when they pander. Yes, both parties do it, but it seems to me it’s most effective when it’s a little less in-your-face about it. President Obama rode a tide of optimism into the White House four years ago, only to watch his support erode after the reality didn’t live up to the speeches in many cases. But we wanted to hear it, and it worked. So it’s no surprise they’re giving it another go-round.

But are there grounds for such high hopes?

Brian E. Konkol 09-28-2012

According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Similarly, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution declares “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise of; or abridging the freedom of speech…” 

While certain opponents exist, most of us agree that free speech is an essential ingredient for a mature democracy, thus it should be encouraged, protected, and further developed. With these thoughts in mind, while we should indeed celebrate the numerous positive outcomes of free speech in the USA, we should also account for its costs, for even the most worthy of causes – such as free speech – bring an assortment of unintended negative consequences.

As our November Election Day draws closer, we are mindful that a defense of free speech has led to millions of dollars directed toward ads, phone calls, literature distribution, and other activities that seek to sway the electorate. As countless studies have shown, the totality of these campaign strategies holds a significant impact on voter decisions and overall turnout.

Rev. Troy Sims 09-24-2012
Constitution illustration, Onur ERSIN / Shutterstock.com

Constitution illustration, Onur ERSIN / Shutterstock.com

We’ve all heard the rhetoric. “We need to take America back for God!”

Why? Supposedly so we can regain some bygone level of ethics or moral standards. Supposedly, if we don’t, God will get tired of us “rebuking” God and remove God’s hand of protection from us. Supposedly, so God won’t test us or judge us or something.

Yet, as Gregory A. Boyd notes in his important book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, taking America BACK for God assumes we were at one really belonged to God, followed God, listened to God. Boyd goes on to ask, when was this glorious age in the history of the USA?

Let’s start way back. We’ve been taught that many people migrated to North America for religious freedom. So was this glorious time when some of our forebears imprisoned, tormented, and/or hanged many suspected to be witches? Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Jim Wallis 09-19-2012
 Romney speaks to the press in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Tuesday.

Romney speaks to the press in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Tuesday.

The recently revealed video of Gov. Mitt Romney at a fundraising event last May is changing the election conversation. I hope it does, but at an even deeper level than the responses so far.

There are certainly politics there, some necessary factual corrections, and some very deep ironies. But underneath it all is a fundamental question of what our spiritual obligations to one another and, for me, what Jesus' ethic of how to treat our neighbors means for the common good.

Many are speaking to the political implications of Romney's comments, his response, and what electoral implications all this might have. As a religious leader of a non-profit faith-based organization, I will leave election talk to others.

Lisa Sharon Harper 09-18-2012

[Editor's Note: This is the first article in an election season blog series called Watch the Vote.]

In today's hyper-politicized climate, all of the hoo-hah about voter suppression can sound like a bunch of partisan pandering on both sides.

If you're just tuning now, it can easily look like Democrats are whining and crafting conspiracy theories over something that really won't matter in the end, anyway — so why waste your breath?

Or, for the even more cynical, sure, it might matter, but there's nothing we can do about it — so again, why waste our breath?

Here's why. Check this out.

Dave McNeely 09-07-2012
Republican and Democratic platform illustrations, Jeffrey Collingwood / Shutters

Republican and Democratic platform illustrations, Jeffrey Collingwood / Shutterstock.com

On the heels of the Republican National Convention, where the shadow of the Religious Right still ominously looms, it was notable that the Democratic National Convention opened with a debate over the absence of the divine name. It seems that the (original) official platform of the Democratic National Party had completely left God out.

Or, should I say, they completely left "God" out.

Whether God was actually M.I.A. is a profound theological and important question beyond the scope of semantic cameos. Yet the failure to baptize their platform with the faith-filled language of Charlotte, N.C.’s evangelical culture created quite a stir, both within and beyond convention walls.

Leading the charge for the defense of the divine was none other than Paul Ryan, who made the claim that the omission of "God" was "not in keeping with our founding documents."

Apparently, Mr. Ryan was not including the obscure document known as the Constitution, which contains no reference to God.

African-American clergy are joining forces with civil rights groups to push for increased voter registration ahead of the November election, spurred on by new voter laws they say restrict opportunities for minorities to enter the voting booth.

"We must vote because we must counteract the corrupt and diabolical strategies of those who are trying to take away our vote by passing laws to suppress and diminish our voting rights," said the Rev. Julius Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, at a news conference Wednesday (Sept. 5) during his denomination's Annual Session in Atlanta.    

Scruggs, leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and top officials of four other black Baptist groups gathered to rally against the new laws and continue longtime efforts to get blacks registered to vote.    

More than two dozen new voter laws have passed in 19 states since 2011, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Some have been overturned but others remain on the books, such as a voter ID law in New Hampshire and proof of citizenship requirements in Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee. Proponents say they prevent fraud, while opponents say they are reducing access to the polling booth.    

The voting laws — through which some states have reduced early voting or required government-issued identification to enter the polls—  have changed some of the clergy's voter education initiatives.  

Jim Wallis 09-06-2012
Four real people. Four real stories.

Four real people. Four real stories.

Matthew 25 doesn’t say, “As you have done to the middle class you have done to me."

What it records Jesus saying is, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” Chances are that will never be the central message of political conventions during election years.

But every four years for the last 40 years (even before we were called Sojourners), our community has done what we can to lift up the issue of poverty during presidential elections. While political party platforms have changed, our commitment to the least of these has not.

So it is with that spirit, this election year, that I am proud to present a new short film called The Line.

Written and directed by Emmy-award winning producer Linda Midgett, it chronicles the very real stories of four real people struggling with real poverty in America today.

You’ll meet a banker in the suburban Midwest who used to earn six-figures a year and now, after the economic collapse, must go to a food bank to feed his three kids; a fisherman on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana who has watched his livelihood and his culture wash away in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and a devastating off-shore oil spill; a blue collar guy in North Carolina who worked hard his whole life but lost his job, became homeless, and started over as a restaurant bus boy; and a single mom in Chicago who battles daily to ensure that her son is safe, healthy, and has the opportunity to go to college.

the Web Editors 09-06-2012

From Huffington Post:

Chuck Norris has offered a dire warning to America, claiming that U.S. citizens face "1,000 years of darkness" if President Obama is reelected for a second term in November.

In a two-minute video posted on his official YouTube channel, which also includes work-out tutorials and promotional appearances for "The Expendables 2," Norris and his wife Gena warn of a "growing concern" that the America we know can be lost forever if Obama is reelected.

“If we look to history, our great country and freedom are under attack,” Norris says. “We’re at a tipping point and, quite possibly, our country as we know it may be lost forever if we don’t change the course in which our country is headed.”

Gena then cites the statistic that in 2008 more than 30 million Evangelical Christians stayed home on Voting Day and Obama won.



Eugene Cho 09-06-2012

I’ve attempted to catch some of the Republican National Convention last week and this week’s Democratic National Convention. Some of it has been educational, others infuriating, others confusing, and still, others very inspiring.  

I am listening and watching as I want to be more deeply educated and informed so I can steward the privilege of voting with care, prayer, and discernment. But thus far (and I know that the DNC has just gotten underway), one clear observation for me from both the RNC and DNC has been the amazing voices, words, leadership, and speeches from…the women.

The three that obviously stood out for me were the speeches delivered by Ann Romney, Condoleezza Rice, and Michelle Obama. Ann’s speech was heartfelt and compelling. Condoleezza’s speech was inspiring and dare I say it…”presidential.” And wow, Michelle Obama’s speech was simply riveting. I found myself in tears on couple occasions during the FLOTUS’ speech.

As I soaked in the inspiring speeches from these women, I was mindful of the incredulous fact that the 19th Amendment to the American constitution — allowing women to vote — only took place in 1920. Just 92 years ago and with that, America became just the 27th country to support “universal suffrage.”

Without any offense intended to others — especially the male speakers — their speeches were the clear highlights. I don’t care what others will do or say during the DNC from here on out, no one is going to top the speech delivered by Michelle Obama.

But this isn’t my attempt to say that women are better than men, more articulate than men, more intelligent than men, or any other nonsensical comparisons. Rather, I want to simply communicate how incomplete the conventions would have been without their voices, words, challenges, and exhortations.

Imagine if only men were allowed to speak.

[Editor's Note: David Niose is president of the American Humanist Association and vice president of the Secular Coalition for America, a group that lobbies on behalf of nontheist and secular Americans. In his new book, “Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans,” he charts the development and growth of the religious right and what he sees as the increasingly organized response from Americans who are committed to the separation of church and state. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.]

Q: You write about the 1912 presidential election as one in which all four candidates were sympathetic to evolution, science and religious skepticism. Today, a presidential candidate favors evolution at his or her peril. What’s changed?

A: What has changed is the environment of politics, particularly the level of political discourse. Thanks to the rise of the religious right, many candidates today actually emphasize their anti-intellectualism as a selling point to voters. Conservative Christians have always been part of the voter pool, of course, but only in recent decades have they been organizing and flexing their muscle as a voting bloc. Many candidates get mileage by pandering to conservative religion, by openly rejecting science and emphasizing their biblical literalist views.

Bob Smietana 09-04-2012

There aren't any white Protestants on the presidential ballot this year — a first in American history.

Instead, the race features two Catholic candidates for vice president, and a Mormon Republican and African-American mainline Protestant for president.

Perhaps lucky for all of them, voters care more about issues such as social justice or gay marriage than they do about denominational brands.

That's particularly true for Republican Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan, who hope to woo evangelical voters that share their values rather than their theology.

It's a situation that probably would have baffled famous evangelicals such as the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who used the issue of abortion in the 1970s and 1980s to turn evangelicals into a powerhouse voting bloc among Republicans.

"If you had told Jerry Falwell back in 1980 that by 2012 that there would not be a white Protestant on the ticket — he would have died right there," said Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.