Faith and Politics

The Christian Response to Religious Extremism

Most people, Christian or not, know the story of the Good Samaritan. In it, a man, who is presumably an Israelite, is mugged on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A priest passes by without stopping. So does a Levite. But then a Samaritan — someone who belongs to a radically different socioeconomic and cultural group than the Israelite — stops to help. This is Jesus’ vision for us as we answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

So it should shock us, surprise us, and sadden us, when we hear about tragedies like the shooting at the Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For the victims of such attacks — whether they are Sikh, Muslim, Hindu — are our neighbors too.


Michael Gerson: Conservatism and the Common Good

My friend Mike Gerson wrote a significant column in the Washington Post today, titled "An Ideology Without Promise." It takes a deeper look at the now infamous Romney video and addresses the crisis that we all have to face now. I recommend reading Mike’s column. He says in part:

This crisis has a number of causes, including the collapse of working-class families, the flight of blue-collar jobs and the decay of working-class neighborhoods, which used to offer stronger networks of mentors outside the home. Perverse incentives in some government programs may have contributed to these changes, but this does not mean that shifting incentives can easily undo the damage. Removing a knife from a patient does not automatically return him to health. Whatever the economic and cultural causes, the current problem is dysfunctional institutions, which routinely betray children and young adults. Restoring a semblance of equal opportunity — promoting family commitment, educational attainment and economic advancement — will take tremendous effort and creative policy.

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.

Charities Struggle with Hurricane Isaac Cleanup

NEW ORLEANS — Faith-based ministries and local charities that are ramping up relief efforts after Hurricane Isaac say it's already clear that recovery will proceed without the national outpouring of money and volunteers triggered by Hurricane Katrina.

"From our point of view, the biggest challenge with this disaster will be getting attention and money," said Gordon Wadge, president of the New Orleans chapter of Catholic Charities.    

"This is going to be on the local community — with a few national folks who follow us closely and who will rally to us."    

That's a stark contrast to the conditions relief directors saw in 2005, after nationally televised images of human misery from Katrina burned themselves into the national psyche. Within weeks, faith-based ministries and secular relief groups promised to funnel millions of dollars into New Orleans over five years.  

Is the Catholic Hierarchy Moving Toward the GOP?

RNS photo courtesy Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Some question the Catholic bishops' alignment with the Republican Party. RNS photo courtesy Archdiocese of Philadelphia

A series of recent developments are renewing questions about the Catholic bishops' alignment with the Republican Party, with much of the attention focusing on comments by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who said he “certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion.”

In a wide-ranging interview published Sept. 14, Chaput also echoed the views of a number of prominent bishops when he praised Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan for trying to address the “immoral” practice of deficit spending through his libertarian-inflected budget proposals.

"Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it,” Chaput told National Catholic Reporter.

“But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can’t make as a Catholic.”

Chaput stressed that he is a registered independent “because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another.” But he said that the Democratic Party’s positions on abortion rights, gay rights, and religious freedom “cause me a great deal of uneasiness.”

He added that economic issues are “prudential judgments” open to a variety of legitimate approaches. Abortion, on the other hand, is “intrinsically evil” and must always be opposed.

That is a talking point voiced by many Catholic conservatives, including Ryan himself. Last Friday, Ryan told the Christian Broadcasting Network that opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and support for religious freedom, are all “non-negotiables” for a Catholic politician while “on other issues, of economics and such like that, that’s a matter of prudential judgment.”

All Politics (Should Be) Local

A local Parisian restaurant.

You can tell from its menu whether a restaurant expects to serve tourists, locals or regulars.

At a tourist-centered eatery like those near Times Square, the menu typically is huge: many pages, difficult to scan, sometimes difficult even to hold. There's something for everyone and it's designed to please customers who are strangers.

A restaurant catering to locals will have a much leaner menu, maybe just four or five items in each category. They will all be of a certain type—no words like "Asian fusion" to disguise lack of focus. If the joint is Korean, it will serve Korean. 

A third and much rarer type is the restaurant that offers just one multi-course meal each night. Regulars go expecting to be served the chef's whim of the day, not handed a long menu.

When customers are strangers, the owner must imagine what will please a patchwork of German tourists, Chinese tourists, families from Iowa, young techies on the prowl, and marketers in town for a convention.

The better an owner knows the customers, the more focused the menu can be. If not the actual customer, at least the type of person who will come in.

Voting isn't all that different. When politics is local, candidates tend to know their people or at least know their interests, worries and hopes. This is the level at which democracy tends to work best. Leaders know their people, people know their leaders, and known interests are at stake.

The Ethical Opportunity of a Video

 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.

Watch the Vote: What's at Stake?

[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.

The Myth of Mitt Romney’s Evangelical Problem

RNS photo by Katherine Cresto via Flickr

Mitt Romney speaks to crowd in Nashua, NH. RNS photo by Katherine Cresto via Flickr


Mitt Romney has an evangelical problem. Or so we’ve been told by everyone from The New Yorker to The Huffington Post to The Daily Beast. The national media have perpetuated this narrative throughout the election season, and political pundits aplenty have assumed its reliability in their columns and commentary.

But there’s one glaring problem with the storyline: It’s not true.

“Evangelicals say they want a presidential candidate who shares their religious beliefs and they still hold that Romney’s religion is different from their own,” says Robert Jones, CEO of the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute. “And yet as early as May 2012, shortly after it became clear that Romney was the presumptive nominee,Romney held a 45-point lead over Obama" among evangelicals.

We’ve been told that evangelicals were so skeptical of Romney’s Mormon faith they might not be able to pull the lever for him in the voting booth. But according to Jones’ research, as more white evangelical voters have realized that he is Mormon, his favorability among them has actually risen.

Members of Destroyed Joplin Mosque Face Uncertain Future

 RNS photo by Kellie Kotraba/Columbia FAVS

Tattered prayer rugs are among the remains of what was once a mosque in Joplin, Mo. RNS photo by Kellie Kotraba/Columbia FAVS

When the mosque in Joplin, Mo., on the outskirts of town burned to the ground on Aug. 6, the imam’s 4-year-old son knew what to do.

He wanted to build another.

After all, that’s what his family had done with their home after it was destroyed by the tornado that tore through the town a little more than a year earlier.

The imam's family has a new home, but the wait for a new mosque is going to take a while.

A little more than a month after the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque was destroyed by fire, the local Muslim community is moving forward with support from the interfaith community.

But progress is slow.