RIDING THE THIRD RAIL: Rev. Jesse Jackson says politics isn’t enough.
With one day left until the election, the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has the presidential candidates “deadlocked.” But no matter who wins, Christians must stay engaged in the political process, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said last week at Columbia University. Our faith demands it.
“It is not the politics of the two parties that take us far; it is the protest and conscientious objection of the third rail that takes us far,” Jackson said October 25 during a conversation about “Politics, Religion, and the Presidential Race. (The other two participants were The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel and Columbia University visiting religion scholar Obery Hendricks.)
Hearkening back to his own historic 1988 presidential run and to his work during the civil rights movement, Jackson said, “Change comes from the third rail. … We must discuss what was not discussed on the agenda, and that means we must not be so co-opted by politics … or so absorbed by it to lose the distinction.” In fact, President Obama was a student at Columbia when Jackson debated Water Mondale and Gary Hart, Jackson said, and Obama concluded from the debate that a black man could become president.
“Part of our movement has been to raise the issues not raised,” he said. “Those are issues of the inconvenient, issues of conscience.” Difficult questions have made past presidents better, Jackson explained, and if this president is reelected, as Jackson hopes, supporters must not “let him down” by failing to raise “the right questions of conscience so as to give him the right options from which to make choices.”
Asked what role spirituality can play in politics, Jackson said, “You can be spiritual but have no moral mandate and substance. … Those of us who are Christians have a leader who is spiritual with a concrete agenda.” That agenda is to love the Lord our God and treat our neighbors as ourselves, he said. ‘The Spirit gives a mandate to do something, … It means feed the hungry. It means care for those whose backs are against the wall. You can be spiritual and not do anything. You cannot be a Christian without doing that.”
Jesus was born under death warrant from a regime that was trying to stop the rise of leadership in an “occupied zone,” Jackson said. His mission was not about the middle class, but about preaching the good news to the poor and challenging religious complicity with Rome and its oppressive tendencies. “Our morality is measured by how we treat not the middle of these, but the least of these,” Jackson said. “I was hungry and you fed me, not I was not hungry and you gave me a vacation.”
Jackson complained that when the moderator of the vice presidential debate asked candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan how their shared Catholic faith informs their positions on abortion, both men gave political answers to a religious question. “They gave an American answer to a Christianity question and the moderator accepted it and didn’t delve deeper,” Jackson said.
Likewise, concern for Obama’s reelection has meant that some questions of conscience that could lead to his greatness are not being raised by his supporters, Jackson said. Questions must be disciplined, not hostile, though, if they are to be heard. “To me, that is the progressive tension,” he said. “How do we raise the right questions to our friends?”
What do you think?
If your candidate wins, will you keep riding the third rail?
DUEL IN DENVER: Pres. Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney face off for their first debate.
Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney meet in Denver tonight for the first of three debates, but both candidates have declined invitations from the NAACP and other black organizations to participate in a forum about issues of concern to African Americans, The Charlotte Post reported.
Instead, they “will be making their cases with particular attention to white working-class voters,” according to Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. His organization’s recent Race, Class, and Culture Survey found that Romney’s “considerable lead over Obama” among these voters is skewed by high numbers in “the enduringly conservative South (62 percent vs. 22 percent),” but elsewhere working-class whites are “fairly evenly divided.”
Whether it is a sad irony or just a political reality that the first black president can’t or won’t appeal to black voters, I don’t know, but race isn’t the only off-limits topic this year. God talk also appears to be on the back burner (and presumably will be at the debates), according to sources that spoke to NPR.
President Obama is talking more golden rule than Christ’s disciple this time around, the article said, and Gov. Romney is playing down his Mormon identity. The economy has taken precendence over faith for many voters, Jones told NPR. The result, he and other sources said, is that the “2012 election is more like the days before George W. Bush — when candidates wore religion lightly, not on their sleeves.”
So what exactly do the candidates hope to accomplish?
Gov. Romney will be “angling for a breakout performance” in order to close the president’s lead in key battleground states, the Associated Press reported, while President Obama is “determined to avoid any campaign-altering mistakes” that could cost him a second term.
It’s all about the horse race people.
Ah well, the first round kicks off at 9:00 pm EDT and will include six segments, three of which will focus on the economy. The other three will be about health care, the role of government and governing, AP reported. Here’s to hoping the candidates say something worth hearing.
For a round-up of how you can watch and/or participate via social media, check out The Huffington Post’s debate roundup.
What do you think?
Do presidential debates inform voters or have they become obsolete?
Following a whirlwind of Republican speeches and surprises in Tampa, the Democrats launch their national convention tonight in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a lineup that includes a musical performance by Ledisi, a tribute to President Jimmy Carter, a speech from First Lady Michelle Obama (along with appearances by her brother Craig Robinson and sister-in-law Maya Soetoro-ng), San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivering the first keynote from a Hispanic, an appearance by African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie, and a benediction by Jena Lee Nardella, founder and executive director of Blood: Water Mission.
In a roundup on people praying at the convention, CNN’s religion editor Dan Gilgoff says Nardella is important because she “represents the young evangelical demographic that the Obama campaign is targeting in this election, knowing that older evangelicals are largely locked up for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.” Gilgoff says McKenzie, who prays the invocation on Wednesday, is significant because she is an Obama campaign co-chair and “the first woman elected bishop in the AME Church, the country’s oldest black religious denomination.”
Before the convention even got underway, “thousands of Christians converged in Charlotte on Sunday to repent and pray for revival in the face of what they see as a ‘national crisis,'” The Christian Post reported.
But did they pray for more prose and less poetry?
In an Associated Press op-ed, veteran reporter Michael Oreskes says Romney has the easier task this election season. “He gets to campaign in poetry. But Obama must now explain the governing prose of the last four years,” said Oreskes. Need proof? “The last president to win re-election with unemployment over 8 percent was Franklin D. Roosevelt,” he said.
As to tonight’s historic keynoter Julian Castro, in 2010, he reportedly told The New York Times that affirmative action helped pave the way for the success he and his twin brother ( a Texas state representative) have enjoyed. “Joaquin and I got into Stanford because of affirmative action. I scored 1,210 on my SATs, which was lower than the median matriculating student … But I did fine in college and in law school. So did Joaquin.”
Speaking of inclusion, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told CBN News that the convention “is going to be the most inclusive, participatory, open-to-the-public affair of any presidential nominating convention in history.”
But will it be friendly to conservtive Democrats?
CBN asked Shultz if the DNC’s new party platform affirming same-sex marriage might alienate them. “Applying the law equally — whether you’re talking about marriage or anything else — is not a political issue. It’s a values issue,” said Schultz. She went on to say that religious institutions’ treatment of marriage is “a separate issue.”
What do you think?
What do you want to hear from the Democrats this week?
Correction: The Jimmy Carter video was not a tribute, but videotaped remarks by the former president. PBS commentators reported that Carter was not invited to speak in person at the convention.
Romney Ignores Black Voters
CALCULATED RISK: Can Mitt Romney win if he ignores Black voters? (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Now that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has dropped out of the race, an Obama/Romney contest is all but inevitable. With that inevitability come questions about how the candidates are doing with black voters.
In an article published today,The Daily Beast reported that there are no African-Americans in the “top ranks” of the Romney campaign and his most prominent black endorsement to date may be from Aubrey Fenton, a former Burlington County New Jersey freeholder. The article also said that the two black Republicans in Congress (Tim Scott and Allan West) have yet to endorse the Republican front-runner.
“Romney, running against the first black president, has no chance of winning most African-American voters. But neglecting to court them at all sends the wrong message to swing voters, said political players and observers. Romney’s problem, they said, isn’t that blacks aren’t buying his message but that he hasn’t bothered to sell it to them,” the article said.
Romney Refuses to Address Mormon Race History
Romney may also have a Mormon problem when it comes to African Americans. Last week, at a Wisconsin town hall meeting, there was a “tense moment” between Romney and a Ron Paul supporter who questioned him about his views of inter-racial marriage based on teachings in the Book of Mormon, ABC News reported.
Referring to a passage that links black skin with a Canaanite curse, 28-year-old Bret Hatch asked Romney if he believes it is “a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black?” “No,” Romney “responded sternly,” according to ABC News, before turning away from Hatch.
And today, in a strongly worded article at blackamericaweb.com, Michael H. Cottman asks where the “tough questions” from black Republicans are on this issue.
“They should hold Romney’s feet to the fire instead of giving him a free pass. Many blacks view the Mormon church as racist and the African-Americans who make up only one percent of the six million Mormans in the United States are hard-pressed to convince critics otherwise,” said Cottman.
President Obama Will Use Mormon Issue Against Romney
Cottman also said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is predicting that the Obama campaign will use Romney’s Mormon faith against him in the presidential campaign, but President Obama may have his own problems with African Americans. Some, including Thy Black Man staff writer Dr. Boyce Watkins, are asking where Obama’s Black campaign workers are and why African Americans haven’t received more government contracts from the Democratic National Convention, given the fact that an overwhelming majority of them voted for the president in 2008.
“If we can’t figure out exactly and specifically how large numbers of African Americans are benefiting from the success of elected officials that we support, then we may want to reconsider whether or not we are wasting our votes,” said Watkins.
Black Mormons Defend Church
As to the Black Mormon issue, last year New York Times religion columnist Mark Oppenheimer met with a group of some 300 black Mormons who defended their faith. He also talked to Harvard scholar Max Perry Mueller, who was writing a dissertation on African-Americans and the Mormon church at the time. Mueller told Oppenheimber that “the church has ‘made a very sincere effort’ to welcome blacks, but that so far few American-born blacks have joined the church.” He also said “‘the idea that Mormons’ were until recently ‘exceptionally exclusionary or racist is probably unfair'” given the racist histories of other religious groups.
Christians Used ‘Curse of Cain’ to Justify Slavery
For more on that, Wikipedia’s article on the “Curse and mark of Cain” is a place to start. It refers to a 1998 Los Angeles Times article that reminds readers that the Mormon church was not alone in connecting the curse of Cain with black skin.
“In the past, Mormons as well as other churches believed that Africans were descendants of the biblical personages Cain and Ham, who, according to the Bible, displeased God and were cursed. … Over time, the curses on Ham and Cain came to be associated with black skin and were used as a justification for slavery–and, in the case of the Mormon church, one rationale for denying its priesthood to blacks.”
What do you think?
Should Mitt Romney address his church’s racist past? And, how would you feel about the Obama campaign using Romney’s faith against him in the campaign?
‘I Regret Casting Doubt’
NOT ABOUT FAITH: Franklin Graham says he's sorry for questioning President Barack Obama's religious beliefs. (Photo: Newscom)
After a group of black Christian leaders published an NAACP-backed open letter to the Rev. Franklin Graham, the evangelist apologized for questioning President Obama’s faith during a recent appearance on MSNBC, Religion News Service reported yesterday.
“I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama,” Graham is quoted as saying. “I apologize to him and to any I have offended for not better articulating my reason for not supporting him in this election — for his faith has nothing to do with my consideration of him as a candidate.”
In the 15-minute panel discussion on the “Morning Joe” show, Graham, who is president of the Samaratin’s Purse relief organization and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, declined to affirm the president’s Christian faith, but heartily affirmed that of Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
“We can disagree about what it means to be a Christian engaged in politics, but Christians should not bear false witness,” the open letter to Graham said. “We are also concerned that Rev. Graham’s comments can be used to encourage racism. We urge him to be mindful of the unprecedented verbal attacks on President Obama based on his race and be careful not to allow his own voice to be used to help drive such hateful words.”
The letter also warned that “statements like Rev. Graham’s have potentially dangerous consequences domestically and internationally.” Signatories included leaders from predominantly African American denominations and members of the NAACP Religious Affairs Committee.
President’s Faith Council ‘Has Gone Dark’
In related news, less than a week after members of the president’s first Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships participated in a press call that was designed to defend the president’s faith, Politico reported that “three years into his presidency, Obama’s marquee council of faith advisers has gone dark.”
“The president’s first Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships delivered a 163-page report in March 2010 and then disbanded. The second council has waited more than a year for a full slate of appointees and has yet to meet. And the hottest issue — whether religious groups that receive public money can discriminate in hiring — remains unresolved more than three years after Obama promised to address it,” the article said.
On last week’s press call, the Rev. Joel Hunter and Melissa Rogers, both of whom served on the president’s first advisory council, conceded to UrbanFaith that the Obama administration had “stumbled” in its recent communications with religious people and groups, particularly in regard to a controversial contraception mandate that was included in the Affordable Care Act. No mention was made on that call about delays in assembling his second advisory council.
“President Obama continues to expand and strengthen faith-based initiatives and the faith-based advisory council is an important part of that effort,” Joshua DuBois, director of the faith-based office, said in a written statement to Politico. “Advising the president on our ongoing partnership with faith-based groups and other nonprofits around the country is critical and we are committed to ensuring they have as much impact as possible. It is a big country with significant religious diversity, and we are very thoughtful about our approach.”
What do you think?
Are these two leaders, President Obama and the Rev. Franklin Graham stumbling badly or is the press amplifying minor missteps?