Peter Steinfels of the New York Times has a very thoughtful critique of the Democraic candidate Faith and Politics Forum in his column today:
On Monday, Ms. O’Brien kept describing the forum as one about “faith and politics,” and Ms. Zahn was backed by a logo with the same phrase. But there was no “and” there. These conversations were about faith. They were about politics. They just weren’t conversations about faith and politics.
Think of questions that could have explored that “and.”
What does the Bible or any other religious source tell you about fighting poverty — and what doesn’t it tell you? Likewise for writing tax legislation or extending health care.
Does your faith dictate any absolute principles, ones you would never compromise, for using military force? For interrogating prisoners? For making peace in the Middle East? For legal provision of abortion? For recognizing gay marriage?
What is your reaction to the claim that religion is “a conversation stopper” that should be kept out of political debates because it appeals to emotionally powerful convictions beyond rational examination?
Do you agree with the large proportion of voters — perhaps half or more — who say they wouldn’t vote for an atheist for president, even one generally qualified for the office?
What do you say to those who fear that even conversations like this one constitute a religious test for the presidency?
Some of these questions were implied Monday, and a number of candidates suggested answers between the lines, insisting on their respect for different views and talking about a spirit or vision rooted in faith, on the one hand, and the political need for consensus and compromise, on the other.
But too much about the complex relationship between faith and politics was left unarticulated. That did nothing to dispel the uncomfortable feeling that Democrats are merely aping the religious form of identity politics that Republicans have successfully practiced.
In a post-forum wrap-up, the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners and a tireless campaigner to get poverty on the nation’s political agenda, told Ms. O’Brien: “We were off to a good start tonight. Finally, a better conversation about faith and values.”
Maybe so. But only a start.
Read it all.
I agree. This was only a start, and some very tough questions remain.