Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Faith & the Presidential Candidates

Last night (03 June 2007), CNN’s Soledad O’Brien interviewed three (3) Democratic Presidential candidates on the role of faith. The three were Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and former Sen. John Edwards(D-NC).  The live interviews had been sponsored by Sojourners’ Pentecost 2007: Taking the Vision to the Streets event.  For reasons unknown, these were the only candidates invited.  Rep. Dennis Kunich (D-OH) protested this successfully with CNN’s President.  So, at 8 p.m. Paula Zahn interviewed Kucinich, Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), and Sen. Joe Biden(D-DE).  Why did Jim Wallis of Sojourners only arrange for the first 3 candidates to be interviewed as part of his event?  Was it a “top tier” vs. “rest of the pack” division? Or, worse yet, did he arrange to interview the Protestants (Edwards and Clinton are United Methodists and Obama is United Church of Christ) and leave out the Catholics (Dodd, Richardson, Biden, and Kucinich are all Roman Catholic)?  And why didn’t Sojourners, which is supposed to be non-partisan in its work for peace and justice, invite any Republican candidates? (Or were they invited and all turned Wallis down? Perhaps preferring a different kind of event for wearing their faith on their sleaves?) 

UPDATE: See comments section. Pat McCullough gives partial explanations from Sojourners. They clear up some of these questions, but the choice of “front runners” this early remains troubling.

Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) is also a longshot presidential candidate. A Unitarian who hasn’t been in the Senate since 1981(!), Gravel is the only person who refused to be part of any focus on faith, believing this to be a private matter–and, from a Constitutional perspective, he is right.

You can read a transcript of Paula Zahn’s interviews here.  You can watch video of Soledad O’Brien’s interviews here.  Or you can read those interviews as part of the Anderson Cooper 360 program here.

As for the Democratic debates in NH this past weekend, I am waiting for the GOP debates tonight before giving any in-depth analysis of either, except to say that it is clear that WE THE PEOPLE are keeping Iraq on the front burner–as it should have been in ’04.  Iraq is such a mess that I am sure that all the candidates from both parties would love to talk about ANYTHING else–but with all polls showing a majority of the public wants a complete withdrawal by the end of ’07 (and some much faster), they cannot run from the issue–and that’s a good thing.


June 5, 2007 - Posted by | church-state separation, faith, U.S. politics


  1. You raise good questions about who was and wasn’t invited. I am hoping that Sojourners did it this way because of time limitations, and they will give other candidates similar opportunities in the future.

    But, hey, you gotta start somewhere.

    Comment by Jonathan Marlowe | June 5, 2007

  2. A SoJo event with GOP folks is planned in Iowa some time in Sept.

    Comment by bob c | June 5, 2007

  3. On the choice of three… here’s Wallis: “We are excited that the leading candidates will be meeting with faithful voters…” I think your observation regarding Protestants and Catholics is interesting, but I think the accusation is completely unfounded. The three are obviously the front runners (whatever that means this early in the race). To say that Sojourners has a thing against Catholics is, I think, going a little too far. For one thing, their associate editor, Rose Marie Berger, is a Catholic. I imagine that they just didn’t want to crowd the conversation regarding more personal topics?

    On not including Republicans: “Sojourners has extended an invitation to the leading Republican candidates for a September forum in Iowa.” I’m not sure why the delay, but it probably works in favor of the Republicans since more people will be paying attention to elections in September (still not a lot… but probably more).

    Quotes from their Press Release.

    Comment by Pat McCullough | June 5, 2007

  4. I wish WE THE PEOPLE would keep torture on the front burner too.

    Comment by Maiden | June 5, 2007

  5. I had the opportunity to watch the Sojourners’ debate last evening, and I must say that I was greatly disappointed. It seemed as if Obama was the only one to address substantively how his faith would affect his politics. Not to mention that the questions asked by the panel were “soft” to say the least, and Ms. O’brien’s questions were horrendous.

    I sure hope Jim Wallis makes some changes if he and his organization ever hope to attempt this again.

    Comment by Dustin | June 6, 2007

  6. Dustin, I was more impressed with O’Brien than with with Paula Zahn. Zahn knew that her interviewees wanted to talk broadly about their faith, but all she could think to ask about (again) was abortion and gay marriage!

    I thought Edwards made it clear that his faith is the driving force behind his passion to eliminate poverty (Richardson got in a little at this point, too) and Kucinich did well at connecting his faith to his passion for peacemaking and desire for a cabinet-level Department of Peace.

    I was surprised that Hillary Rodham Clinton said that it was “difficult to wear her faith on her sleeve.” That line sounded genuine from Biden and Dodd, raised as Catholics in the Northeast during a generation when Catholicism was still the recipient of much prejudice in the U.S. and taught to “witness with their deeds.” But Hillary comes from the Midwest, spent years in Arkansas, and has been quite open about her faith for years. In fact, many others, both Democrat and Republican, have remarked on it, including the fact that she is the only Democratic candidate for president who is a regular participant in the Senate prayer meetings! I almost wondered if she was trying to reassure New Yorkers that she wasn’t going to run the White House like a revival. But she scored big points in pointing out how her faith helped her keep her family together after Bill’s public infidelity.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 6, 2007

  7. Michael,

    Forgive me, but I was unable to see the Paula Zahn special. I had my DVR set to tape the Sojourners forum, unaware that the Paula Zahn show would also include interviews. So, I was unfortunately unable to see that special.

    However, I guess I still struggle with the Sojourners forum. Maybe it was just my own preconceived notions of what questions should be asked and what I wanted to hear. Yet, it still seemed as if the questions, though being about faith, weren’t as useful to me regarding how any of the three candidates would let that faith, in practical terms, affect their administration. That’s why I was impressed with Obama. Not only did he answer the “faith” question, but he spent his 15 minutes laying out concrete plans.

    Comment by Dustin | June 6, 2007

  8. Well, Dustin, let’s take this as a beginning, then and continue to ask questions. Let’s not let this taper off into warm fuzzies.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 6, 2007

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