Faith and Politics

What Was Really Said at the Debate?

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The presidential candidates at the Colorado debate. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Last night millions of Americans watched the first Presidential debate of the 2012 election season. During the 90-minute debate, there were significant policy discussions about a range of issues, deep disagreements between the two candidates, and even a threat to Big Bird’s job security.

Yet despite all the arguing there was much left unsaid by President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.


Pastors to Challenge IRS on Political Endorsements — and They'll Likely Win

LOS ANGELES — In a matter of days, some 1,400 American pastors are planning to break the law.

And they’re likely to get away with it.

As part of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” on Oct. 7, religious leaders across the country will endorse political candidates — an act that flies in the face of Internal Revenue Service rules about what tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, can and cannot do.

The IRS says tax-exempt organizations, or what they refer to as a 501(c)(3), are prohibited from participating in partisan campaigning for or against political candidates. Yet, despite what’s in the rules, the agency continues to struggle to do anything about those who defy the law.

Though the regulation has been in place since 1954, in 2009, the U.S. District Court of Minnesota ruled the IRS no longer had the appropriate staff to investigate places of worship after a reorganization changed who in the agency had the authority to launch investigations.

New procedures for conducting church audits have been pending since 2009, which has left the IRS virtually impotent in conducting any kind of new investigations. The IRS did not respond to questions seeking comment.

Who Didn’t Win the Presidential Debate?

(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?”

Judge Dismisses Pa. Suit Over `Year of the Bible’

Mikael Damkier / Shutterstock

10-11 years boy reading the holy bible. Mikael Damkier / Shutterstock

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A federal judge on Oct. 1 dismissed a lawsuit filed by an atheist group that challenged a "Year of the Bible" resolution passed early this year by Pennsylvania lawmakers.

Yet U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher C. Conner also questioned whether the resolution should have been adopted at all. The nonbinding resolution, introduced by state Rep. Rick Saccone, urges Pennsylvanians to read the Bible during 2012.

The judge dismissed the suit by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation after concluding that House members have "absolute legislative immunity" in passing such measures.

Conner emphasized, however, that his decision to grant immunity "should not be viewed as judicial endorsement for this resolution. It most certainly is not."

Nietzsche Dissects American Political Discourse

Political icon image, Gary Hathaway /

Political icon image, Gary Hathaway /

What if I told you that the political discourse in America has proven for decades what PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ phenomenon has proven recently? What do I mean? It is simply this: people can indeed get tirelessly excited about something that sounds good without understanding its contents. 

Like every election year, 2012 seems to have its own particular set of buzzwords and slogans. From “the forgotten 47 percent” to “you did build that,” those on the left and the right are each trying to infuse the political discourse with their own partisan lingo. But it’s time somebody put a stop to the hype and asks the sensible question: “What is the real meaning behind all of this?”

Truth is, both political parties have been directing their resources to highlight their differences more than anything else. They are platforms defined by contrast, not by real facts. This should lead us to raise the question that is usually unasked (and therefore unanswered) amid the consistent heat of the American political climate: “If the government is designed ultimately for the good of the people, is the political discourse today reflective of that goal?”

To this question, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche answers, “No.” 

The Unworthy Table

Communion image, Suzanne Tucker /

Communion image, Suzanne Tucker /

I love food. I love food even more when it's shared with people. Some of my fondest memories with friends and family happened while sharing food. My husband and I shared our first date over a meal, and we got engaged over a meal. There's something about sitting around a table partaking in sustenance for our bodies that also fills our soul and our hearts. That's probably why I love communion so much.  

So I was struck by Paul’s anger over food in 1 Corinthians 11. Granted, Paul comes off angry in other letters as well, but this one I decided to linger on for awhile because of verse 27: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord."    

Paul's letter is directed to a community in Corinth that was made up of the poor, the working class, and the rich. They lived together, shared communion with each other, and sought to be a community that reflected Christ. Now, this doesn’t seem too different from what we do at church today. But unlike how we celebrate communion — as it’s own “event” during service — for the 1st century Christians, communion was part of a real meal. 

So what could be so "unworthy" about this shared meal?  

Ku Klux Clowns

I started my Tennessee sabbatical with a story about three peace activists who recently shut down the Y12 bomb plant here in Oak Ridge with a stunning protest, armed only with a bible and flowers

I figure I’ll end my sabbatical with another great story of East Tennessee mischief.

This is the story of one of my favorite flash-mob actions, which happened right here in Knoxville. And this year marks its five-year anniversary.

It all happened on May 26, 2007. 

Word had begun to spread that a group of white supremacists — including members of the KKK — were converging here in Knoxville, Tenn., for a rally in a park downtown. It was on the news and in the papers.

Many locals were pretty upset by the public display of racism and hatred. Even though many of the folks connected to the hate-group were coming from other states, they had obtained a permit to gather and publicly proclaim their hate-filled message of White Power.

 But they had no idea what was coming.

A group of locals had decided neither to cower away in fear nor to fight fire with fire....Instead they decided to meet hatred with humor.

Disciplinary Hearing Delayed for Mormon Blogger

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, 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.

Romney Courts Evangelicals With `Judeo-Christian’ Values

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.

What My Catholic Faith Has Taught Me

I’m Catholic. My father comes from a working class Irish Catholic family; my mom is from a large Catholic family of German and Lithuanian decent. My brothers, sister, and I all attended Catholic school and growing up we attended Friday fish fries during Lent and church polka fests in the summer. I’m an active member of a Catholic church in St. Paul. And soon, my wife and I will celebrate the baptism of our daughter into the Catholic Church.

I’m also voting no on the anti-marriage and voter restriction amendments.

Some have asked how I can embrace a faith whose leadership has taken such a hard line against gay and lesbian equality, and which is painfully quiet on the threat to limit voting rights. I understand why people ask this question. For me, my decision to vote no is not in spite of my Catholic faith, it’s because of it.

When I was 10 my parents divorced. A couple years later my mom came out to my family as lesbian. By then she no longer felt welcome at church and stopped going to mass, though she has remained a deeply spiritual person. This one case of social exclusion is deeply meaningful to me, but is nothing compared to political decision by church leadership to spend millions of dollars to limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota. By doing so church leaders seek to permanently exclude gays and lesbians from the civil rights and benefits straight couples enjoy.

But here’s the thing: I’m still getting my daughter baptized. And I’m still Catholic. And I’m still voting no on both amendments in November.