Monday, August 18, 2008

Shame on You Rick Warren

This weekend, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain joined megachurch pastor Rick Warren on the stage at his Saddleback Church, in California, for what was dubbed a forum on faith.

Warren, who is a bit of a rouge evangelical in that he has repeatedly called for Christians to broaden their limited scope of moral outrages to encompass poverty, climate change, AIDS and African relief, succeeded superbly in creating a venue in which nuanced, penetrating questions were asked and answered. It was like a normal debate, but for adults. While questions of faith were certainly introduced, Warren’s topics ranged over wide and comprehensive policy issues.

Obama was comfortable and at ease, much more so than he’s been in these sorts of impromptu venues in the past. But then he had reason to be. In an odd bit of role reversal this campaign season, it’s the Democrat who is the regular churchgoer who talks openly about his beliefs and quotes Scripture regularly, not the more tight-lipped Republican.

McCain was direct and forceful, but one got the impression, much more so than with his Democratic challenger, that the answers were pandering to a religious audience hungry to be spoon fed exactly what they wanted to hear. Many religious conservatives with whom I speak, including members of my immediate family, are not only not excited about McCain, they are actually hostile toward him.

The fact that both candidates were willing to show up for a joint appearance shows how eager they are for the religious vote, especially that of white evangelical Christians. McCain is bleeding evangelicals, especially when compared to the numbers Bush pulled in during his two elections. But, contrary to what you might assume, Obama is not automatically picking those voters up, except among 20 to 30 year olds. Obama’s campaign is obviously interested in adding older religious voters to their numbers, just as McCain stated that he hoped his appearance with Warren might draw religious youth to his side. The last Democrat to siphon off a large amount of the religious votes was Bill Clinton.

So if the forum was such a success, why am I so angry that it occurred?

You see, I am one of those people Warren mentioned in his closing battery of questions. I am one of those people who think that Obama and McCain had no place being on that stage. Good as it may have been, the Faith Forum was both dangerous and a flagrant violation of this country’s election laws. Oh, both campaigns spun the language to make their actions more palatable, to make their presence fit awkwardly into the shape of law, but it doesn’t change the fact that the event violated the tenets of separation of church and state.

Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time can probably guess that I am a big believer in that separation. Religion and politics has always been a combustible mix. I once heard it best described like this: the church is like ice cream and the state is like sh*t. If you mix them together, the sh*t isn’t affected at all, but the ice cream is ruined forever.

I hate it when I see politicians using churches for stump speeches. Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault. Democrats hit African-American churches, going for the country’s black vote, while Republicans sucker up to Evangelicals, hoping the Religious Right will buy their act hook, line and sinker.

I for one cannot tolerate either one. There is a reason we have a separation of church and state. Not only should every pastor steer clear of politics and stick to the word of God, they should not allow those running for office to use the pulpit as a platform on which to parade their views. That is not what the church is for. Not any church. Including Saddleback.

When we allow politicians to use the pulpit as an engine of their messages, we dilute the authority of the church, we dilute its ability to speak uncompromising truth to power. The church must exist outside the state. It cannot allow its message or its integrity to be watered down by introducing the sort of sh*t endemic to politics.

No matter how illuminating, civil and downright exemplary this weekend’s event was, it had no right taking place.

Shame on Rick Warren for encouraging it and shame on John McCain and Barack Obama for agreeing to it.


Blogger Peter T Chattaway said...

Obama is a regular churchgoer? He used to say he was, back when people accused him of being a Muslim, but then he backtracked and said he hadn't been attending Jeremiah Wright's church often enough to be aware of just how incendiary Jeremiah Wright's sermons were. And then he ended up cutting his ties with Jeremiah Wright's church altogether. So... Has Obama picked a new church since then, one that he actually attends regularly? If so, which church is it? Given how political Obama's choice of church has been in the past, it might be useful to know what sort of church he is choosing to associate with nowadays.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

“but it doesn’t change the fact that the event violated the tenets of separation of church and state.”


What are the tenets of separation of church and state?

1:16 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...


If, by that question, you are implying that the separation of Church and State, at least the modern interpretation of it, is unconstitutional, derived from the First Amendment which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” but does not itself appear in the Constitution (first appearing in a 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson), then, as you can see, I am well aware of that.

It doesn’t change the fact that it has come to take on the weight of law though the years, as evoked on numerous occasions by the U.S. Supreme Court. Beyond that, it simply makes a lot of sense and is a beautiful concept that protects the Church as much if not more than the State.

The wall of separation between Church and State protects the Church by not allowing the State to tell it how to practice its beliefs. It ensures the State does not erect a nationalized religion at the expense of those with other beliefs. It guarantees that one religion does not gain an upper hand over another in the public square or require those of differing beliefs to participate. It allows the individual or group to worship as they see fit, but does not allow them to spread that privilege to others who do not desire it. It does not allow religious belief to influence scientific education. It makes certain that religious belief cannot be used as a litmus test for office.

And, in terms of the election, it ensures that, while the church can take positions on policy and issues, it cannot endorse any particular candidate.

I realize Warren and Saddleback did neither. I get that. But for me, even if it gets in under the letter of the law, it is, nonetheless, a dangerous compromise.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Then I reject your premise. The original intent of the law was to keep government out of religion, not keep religion out of government. I have used this quote from Obama before, but I think it still applies here.

“But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Sen. Barack Obama, “Call to Reneal Speech” June 28, 2006

6:29 PM  
Anonymous POD said...

The age-old debate on the separation of church and state definitely goes beyond my realm of expertise, and it from whatever persective you see of it, theological or whatnot... it is definitely, "above my paygrade."

Thanks Obama, for giving us the defining catchphrase of your candidacy...

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...


Please tell me what specific law was broken. Or is this just typical knee jerk reaction of liberals to cry separation of church and state.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Not the letter. Just the spirit. That's my whole point.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

"The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so."
Ronald Reagan

“The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of the statutes is to discover the meaning of those who made it”
James Wilson, signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and member of the first Supreme Court.

The following quotes are all from Thomas Jefferson
“[N]o power over the freedom of religion . . . [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution” Kentucky Resolution, 1798
“In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government.” Second Inaugural Address, 1805
“[O]ur excellent Constitution . . . has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary.” Letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808
“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions . . . or exercises.” Letter to Samuel Millar, 1808
The church and its members are free to participate is politics in any way they see fit. Below is a ruling from Reynolds vs. US, a Supreme Court ruling from 1878 regarding separation of church and state.
“Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it [Jefferson's letter] may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the Amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere [religious] opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.”

2:03 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Oh the irony of using Thomas Jefferson to argue AGAINST a separation of church and state!

2:06 PM  
Blogger CNEIL said...

The ice cream analogy is interesting, but I'd like to you to deal with this problem.

I don't think that scientists should be allowed to combine DNA from animals and humans to create mutant creatures. No scientist should ever create a half-man half-goat creature or any other type of grotesque monster.

In fact, I live in a democracy and I believe in this so strongly that I will only vote for politicians who want to pass an anti-mutant creation law.

The first set of convictions that lead me to this conclusion stem directly from religious thinking: God made man to be a certain way, the Old Testament forbids sexual relationships between man and animal (even in a lab, I guess), the anti-Christ in Revelation is described as having man-beastlike characteristics, etc.

The other half of the reasons that lead me to this conclusion are purely legal and pragmatic: Would a man-beast be considered a man or a beast? If they are considered men, would the state have to pay them welfare? Could they marry? If I own a business, would I have to tax their income?

If I am a politician participating in a debate or making decisions, should I simply ignore my religious reasons and focus on the pragmatic? Should politicians not address theological issues when asked to do so by the voters?

This isn't as far fetched as it sounds.

4:51 AM  

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