Marc Ambinder of Atlantic Monthly (my favorite magazine by the way), has a very interesting and detailed take on last night's forum on faith with Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. Here are highlights:
Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards are all Christians, and at first glance, their Christianity seems similar. None offered a novel way to mediate between personal religious beliefs and a secular democracy; each seemed to suggest that their faith influenced them enormously, and yet their policies would not reflect any particular faith tradition or set of beliefs. (Edwards coined a new word: "faith beliefs" -- to try and make a point about religious diversity.)
Still, the forum allowed the candidates to draw out their differences. Edwards spoke about his life and faith journey; how his Lord sustained him through tragedy; how his Lord walks with him daily. Edwards was the only candidate to talk about Jesus in such a personal context. (One would assume that Edwards was a Southern Baptist; he was raised into that church but later became a Methodist).
Obama did not use the occasion to speak at length about the intersection between faith and reason; he’s done that before. Asked about whether God takes sides in war; he said no -- quoting Abraham Lincoln, he said that the duty of a country was to act as Godly as possible in the conduct of war. Obama did not discuss the content of his beliefs. He instead focused his answers on policy and left it for the audience to assume that his faith influenced his actions. At one point, he praised evangelical conservatives for agreeing with liberals that the state has an obligation to offer educational opportunities to convicts who've served their sentences. And he said that it was not at all improper for religious beliefs to "express themselves through our government."
Hillary, reared and remaining a Midwestern Methodist, mastered the format. She was supremely confident, handling a question about her husband's infidelities without so much as a flinch or an extra blink. She was self-deprecating, admitting that she often prayed for "trivial" things -- "Oh lord, why can't you help me lose weight." She was humble; speaking of the turbulent last three years of her husband's presidency, she said was "not sure I would have survived through it without my faith." She was deft; questioned about a middle ground on abortion, she launched into a four minute disquisition on how pro-lifers and pro-choicers could -- no, really, had to -- work together. David Kuo, the former Bush administration official who’s now a professional bass fisherman and Washington editor of beliefnet.com, pointed out to me after the event that Clinton had effortlessly weaved evangelical code words into her answers. She spoke of her prayer warriors; of witnessing; of MYF – Methodist youth forums.
Read it all. This is consistent with the reporting that I saw last night. While I thought that Edwards really missed the ball on the evolution question, I think most audience members left the forum last night with a firm understanding that these three Democrats really are people of faith--and each had a life story about a Faith journey that sounded genuine and real
By they way, if you are interested in the full transcript, here it is.
And, here are some video highlights of the forum from Sojourners.