Faith and Politics

Is Democratic Optimism Grounded in Reality?

Think positive illustration: Anson0618 /

Think positive illustration: Anson0618 /

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?

American Cardinal Raymond Burke Sparks Controversy, Exerts Influence

RNS photo by David Gibson

Cardinal Raymond Burke has been named the Vatican's top legal authority. RNS photo by David Gibson

When some American Catholics worry that the hierarchy is tilting toward the Republican Party, or taking the church back to the 19th century (or earlier), they often point to Cardinal Raymond Burke as Exhibit A.

That’s understandable, because love him or loathe him — and few are on the fence  Burke’s many pronouncements on politics and the culture wars have given both fans and critics plenty of ammunition for their respective views. 

Back when he was archbishop of St. Louis in 2004, for instance, Burke touched off a fierce debate by declaring that Catholic politicians such as John Kerry who support abortion rights should be denied Communion. Voters who supported them were in grave peril too, he added.

Burke doubled down on those views after Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to a top Vatican job in 2008, saying that under President Obama the Democratic party “risks transforming itself definitively into a ‘party of death’.” In 2009, Burke fueled another controversy when he said that the late Sen. Edward Kennedy should have been denied a church funeral for his support of abortion rights and gay rights.

Why Voting Matters

At its best, Christian faith provides a moral compass for advancing the common good. At worst, Christianity can be hijacked by partisan political agendas that divide and destroy. Sojourners encourages you to develop a robust and well-informed conscience around elections, measuring candidates and their platforms against Christian ethics and values. While we must be careful about translating scripture directly into public policy positions, there are principles and suggested approaches on a range of issues that can provide a critical framework to shape our perspective on public policy.

As we have since 2004, Sojourners has published an issues guide of principles and policies for Christian voters. We encourage you to use this guide to educate yourself on these issues. This can inform you as you write letters to candidates or to your local newspaper, call radio talk shows, and ask candidates at forums or town hall meetings questions based on these principles. Think and pray about whom, you would entrust with the responsibility to lead your community, state, and nation. 

Download FREE Voting Guide

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Obama Surges Ahead Among Catholic Voters

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Congregants pray during Catholic mass in Kansas City, Mo. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

President Obama’s support among Catholic voters has surged since June, according to a new poll, despite a summer that included the Catholic bishops’ religious freedom campaign and the naming of Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as the GOP's vice-presidential candidate.

On June 17, Obama held a slight edge over Mitt Romney among Catholics (49-47 percent), according to the Pew Research Center. Since then, Obama has surged ahead, and now leads 54-39 percent, according to a Pew poll conducted on Sept. 16.

Among all registered voters, Obama leads Romney 51-42 percent, according to Pew.

Obama and Romney are essentially tied among white Catholics, which some pollsters call the ultimate swing group. 

On Sept. 24 Romney unveiled his Catholics for Romney Coalition, which includes numerous politicians, beer magnate Pete Coors and Princeton University intellectual Robert P. George. The Obama campaign also has a Catholic coalition

Obama Speaks Out Against Modern Slavery

President Obama speaking to the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday:

I want to discuss an issue that relates to each of these challenges. It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.

Now, I do not use that word, "slavery" lightly.  It evokes obviously one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s history. But around the world, there’s no denying the awful reality. When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape — that is slavery. When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.

When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.  When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.

Why Our Presidential Candidates Need a Manicure

Manicure, Galina Mikhalishina /

Manicure, Galina Mikhalishina /

I was groomed in a Latino home where nail salons were viewed as rites of passage for becoming a senorita — growing young lady. Sometimes when I’m looking for some TLC, I head to my local nail salon in East Harlem. I could go to a more upscale salon, but here at Pretty Nail Salon, is where I want to be — connected to a neighborhood of ladies who have utilized storefront nail salons, beauty parlors, and hair-braiding places as makeshift therapeutic spaces where counsel and support is just as paramount to looking beautiful.

I have also discovered that nail salons are burgeoning places of policy concerns. Pretty Nail Salon has provided me with an informal education on how social policy affects the everyday day lives of working class folks. Our presidential candidates could also benefit from an appointment at Pretty Nail Salon, to listen to the local narratives and deepen their understanding of how social policy is affecting the lives of the urban poor and working class. 

Obama at the U.N.: A New Religion Doctrine

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

President Obama on Tuesday gave a forceful speech at the United Nations, in which he challenged much of the world's assumptions about free speech and religion.

Here are five points from his address, which together, add up to as close to an Obama Doctrine on Religion as we've seen:

1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerable

The idea that the U.S. protects even vile speech, so ingrained in American culture, seems counterintuitive to much of the world. It’s an especially tough concept when speech targets a religion, but Obama argued that restrictions on speech too often become weapons to suppress religion – especially the rights of religious minorities.

Mormon Blogger Faces Excommunication Over Temples, not Romney

 RNS photo by Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

The Salt Lake Temple worship site. RNS photo by Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

A Mormon blogger who has written critical web essays about Mormon history, temple worship and contemporary issues — including about GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — is facing church discipline for “apostasy.”

Initially, the Florida blogger, David Twede, managing editor of, told news media Sept. 21 that the threatened church action was due to his comments about Romney. Later that day, he denied any political link. Then, on Saturday, he returned to “a feeling in (his) gut” that his Romney remarks triggered the possible discipline.

Twede did get a letter from his Mormon leaders in Orlando, summoning him to a disciplinary council Sept. 30 for “apostasy,” which they attributed to Twede’s writings.

In recent days, the blogger has blasted Romney as part of his critique of Mormonism, its beliefs about the nature of God and its temple ceremonies.

But, Twede told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday, his LDS leaders never brought up Romney, a Mormon, in their exchange with him. Though not supporting the Republican nominee, Twede apologized to Romney, saying, “I didn’t mean for (the story) to go this way.”

Watch the Vote: #925NVRD

Editor's Note: This is the second article in Lisa Sharon Harper’s election season blog series, Watch the Vote. Read the first HERE.

A few folks got a brilliant idea and brought a bunch of organizations together to declare September 25, 2012 as the first ever National Voter Registration Day! Aka, for the Twitterverse, #925NVRD. Woot, woot!

Maybe, like me, you’ve moved since the last election. Or maybe you’ve just turned 18. Or maybe, somehow, you managed to sleep through the last two elections. Don’t know how you did it, and I’m not judging, but brother, son, sister, daughter, today is the day to get right with the Lord. In times like these no one can afford to sit back and watch this one like a reality show on Bravo TV. Exercise your dominion; register to vote today!

Taking America Back for God?

Constitution illustration, Onur ERSIN /

Constitution illustration, Onur ERSIN /

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?