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Florida Catholic Conference donates large chunks of money for anti-gay ballot measure

It hasn’t received much attention, but a last minute petition campaign for a “Marriage Protection Amendment” managed to secure a spot on Florida’s November ballot, sneaking in by the skin of its teeth on Friday. Given that Florida has already enacted a state-wide “Defense of Marriage Act,” one has to wonder why another push is being made by anti-gay organization s and institutions to keep this issue in the minds of voters.

Oh, wait. I know. It’s because conservative religious voters need a reason to go to the polls this November, seeing as how they are pretty unhappy with their choice of potential GOP nominees. So, sure enough, Florida4marr has secured a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage yet again.

Does anyone else feel like they’re reading the back of a shampoo bottle? Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Over and over again, every election cycle.

The specific language of the ballot measure says, “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”   Sixty percent of Floridians need to vote yes on the amendment in order for it to become law.

Not surprisingly  , the Republican Party of Florida was the largest bank roll for the campaign to get this measure on the ballot. They spent a whopping $300,000 collecting more than 600,000 signatures. But the number two donor? No, not Domino’s Pizza. No, not the Christian Coalition. But the Florida Catholic Conference, which gave nearly $50,000 for the effort. Yes, the same Florida Catholic Conference whose vision statement says they are guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Church.

Of course, I’m sure if Jesus had $50,000 to burn, he wouldn’t have spent it going after gays and lesbians. You know, not when 15% of children under 18 live under the poverty level in the state. Darn that pesky Jesus and his message of economic populism.

Whether this amendment will bring out conservative voters in the Fall remains to be seen, but the gauntlet has once again been thrown. Ironically, Florida’s GOP Governor, Charlie Crist, has asked the Republican Party to stop spending money on this campaign, saying there are more important issues that warrant the money. Maybe somebody should convey that message to the Florida Catholic Conference, since the teachings of Jesus don’t seem to be doing the trick.

Thankfully, the ballot measure has already drawn organized opposition, in the form of the bipartisan “Florida Red and Blue Committee.” They call this ballot measure “dangerous and disingenuous  ,” and are organizing a drive to educate voters on why the amendment is not only unnecessary, but another example of the government bursting into the doors of citizens’ private lives. Check the Florida Red and Blue Committee out. Friend them on Facebook. Do whatever you can, so that come November 2008, organization s like the Florida Catholic Conference can be sent a message that they should feed the poor, clothe the naked, bless the peacemakers, and be good stewards of the Earth, rather than try to control who loves who. Darn that pesky Bible.

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The Great Perplexity for Catholic Voters

New Hampshire polls close in just a few hours, but in the build-up to today’s primary, Manchester’s Catholic Bishop John B. McCormack gave an insightful quote that hints at the proverbial wall that many Catholics all over the country will be beating their heads against in the struggle to determine how to cast their vote. “Some candidates advance proposals that fail to mirror the commitment of the church to the protection of all human life. In many cases, these same candidates advance other policies and proposals that can be supported in light of church teaching. This frequent mixture of laudable and unacceptable positions causes great perplexity,” said Bishop McCormack.

What’s a Catholic to do when (1) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote, (2) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote for the candidate who best espouses the Church’s moral teachings, particularly on respecting life, and (3) no candidate on either side of the political aisle fits into the “perfect” mold of the Church’s moral teachings?

Now that’s a dilemma. Thank God I belong to the United Church of Christ now.

The battle for the Catholic vote will likely rev up in the coming weeks and months, as we get out of primary election mode and into general election hysteria. Who knows what lurks in the hearts (or empty vessels they pretend are hearts!) of political operatives and pollsters this year in terms of nabbing the Catholic vote. One thing is almost for certain: the right is going to argue that Democrats are unsuitable because of issues like abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage. The left is going to argue that Republicans are unsuitable because of issues like poverty, immigration, health care, education, and most importantly, war. Who’s right?

Well, if you look at what the institutiona l Church (i.e. The Catholic Bishops Conference) has said, here’s their take on the number one issue that should inform a Catholic voter’s conscience in 2008 (quoted directly from Faithful Citizenship, released every Presidential Election season by the Bishops):

The right to life and the dignity of the human person.
Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our own society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the unnecessary use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.

Talk about triangulatio n! Did Mark Penn write this for the bishops?

Whether it’s McCain, Romney, Giuliani or Huckabee who ends up the eventual GOP nominee, clearly they don’t fit the bill given their records on issues like war, the death penalty, and torture (particularl y Romney, who wouldn’t rule out using waterboardin g as an interrogatio n technique). And that’s not a liberal Massachusett s blogger saying this…that’s the institutiona l Catholic Church.

On the Dem side, it gets trickier. Sure, you can argue (like the right will) that Obama and Clinton support abortion rights and support stem cell research, thus Catholics in good conscience shouldn’t vote for them. But when you peel back the layers of these complex issues, particularly abortion, and start to look at which party’s platform might actually lead to a reduction in abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates because of how it handles issues like economic justice, poverty, health care, and education, the waters get much muddier. That’s because Obama’s and Clinton’s principles seem to line up more with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching than, say, a war hawk, someone who wants to jail clergy for feeding illegal immigrants, those who would execute entire populations of prisoners, and those who would condone torture.

So the great perplexity for Catholic Voters, and Bishop McCormack put it, might just be turning away from the rants and raves of Bill Donohue, Phyllis Schlafly, Deal Hudson and others who would sabotage Catholic Social Teaching to fit their own political sympathies, and looking more deeply at the moral teachings of the Church.

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Mike Huckabee’s cat and mouse game

As the cult of Mike Huckabee continues to grow, both nationally and across the state of Iowa, his cat and mouse game on religion is stepping up. Case in point, this AP article, “Huckabee Bristles at Creationism Query.”

Huckabee has sought time and again to portray himself as a Christian candidate. His advertisemen t in Iowa features big, blocky letters that pan “Christian Candidate” across the screen. He’s received the endorsement from Tim LaHaye, one of the co-authors of the “Left Behind” series (compulsory evangelical lit). His campaign Web site uses the alliterate trifecta of “Faith. Family. Freedom.” And he just recently received the endorsement of Chuck Hurley, an influential conservative activist in Iowa who was backing former Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, before Brownback dropped out of the race.

Yet as The Incredible Huck is continually asked about his faith, he’s playfully getting irritated. Case in point in the news article above; Huckabee is asked whether he thinks creationism should be taught in public schools, and he responds “Why the fascination with my beliefs?”

At the risk of stating the obvious, Mr. Huckabee, the fascination with your beliefs is not only your own doing, but it’s the reason you’re up in Iowa. The more you’re identified as a Christian candidate, the more Mitt Romney looks like he believes that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri. (Oh wait. He does.)

This is why Huckabee can play the cat and mouse game. He can say, “Look, stop focusing on my beliefs,” while still getting the message out there that what he believes is on target with the vast majority of GOP caucus-goers in Iowa. It’s like the reverse of a Catch-22. Whether he makes religion his focal point, or whether he chafes at religion being the focal point, Huckabee benefits.

Which begs the question: If Mitt Romney has millions and millions of dollars to pay political consultants, why the hell did none of them see this coming?

This caucus is Mike Huckabee’s to lose. And as Jet Netwal pointed out earlier on this site, that means we’re all in trouble.

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Peaking inside the religious right’s playbook?

Today marks the beginning of a three-day meeting in Washington labeled the Values Voter Summit, which will likely bring scores of conservative activists and leaders to the Hilton Washington Hotel (where the event is taking place…tip your cleaning people, please). More importantly, perhaps, is that about 50 of the nation’s leading conservative religious folk will gather again to follow up on a September meeting in Salt Lake City where the idea of a third-party presidential candidate supported by the religious right first picked up steam.

All this talk about a third party candidate from the religious right has me thinking: Who do they fear more, Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani? I’d be curious to hear what people think. But for now, let’s look at this article from Paul Weyrich, the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, who lays out his high-school- football-coa ch-chalkboar d-drawing for how a third party candidate can be successful on the right.

Step 1: Major figures from the existing Republican party would publicly need to defect. This is not like when Alec Baldwin said he’d move to Canada after the 2002 elections, or when I quit the Cub Scouts in 5th grade because I didn’t like the uniforms. As Weyrich spells it out, this would include major leaders from the GOP holding a press conference and declaring that the “pro-life” party has lost its way. (In Weyrich’s world, this movement starts with the two Senators from Oklahoma, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Gov. Mitt Romney going AWOL. Now, I have a fondness for Sen. Tom Coburn, one of the Senators from Oklahoma, because he does crossword puzzles during Senate confirmation hearings. But the other three dudes? Come on…why not start a third party with three Ritz crackers? They contain about as much excitement.)

Step 2: A third party effort would require a multi-millio naire prepared to spend his own money for a Presidential campaign. Let’s bold the obvious there — clearly Weyrich thinks only men have millions of dollars. But really, where oh where will the religious right find a multi-millio naire candidate with money bleeding out of his ass, AND who hasn’t been indicted yet on any fraudulent charges….if only there was a wealthy former governor of Massachusett s running for President….

Step 3: A third party would require the defection of a major media outlet. does not count; no, this major media outlet has to have more than 45 people reading or watching it. Who does Weyrich suggest? Fox News Channel and/or the Wall Street Journal. Hmm, not very original.

In short, Weyrich’s point is pretty simple: third party candidates need a miracle to win. But the best thing about the religious right is that, well, they tend to believe in miracles. That, coupled with the fact that I suspect the religious right would rather see a Hillary Clinton presidency (or a Barack Obama presidency, John Edwards presidency, etc.) than a Rudy Giuliani presidency, makes a third-party possibility pretty real. Why?

That answer is easy, and it doesn’t require a game plan from Paul Weyrich. If the religious right can prevent Giuliani from winning (even if, in the short term, they lose), they can assert what they’ve been saying since 1980: that Republicans can’t win without them. Nothing will give them more influence in future elections than that very sentiment. And, for them, that may be worth five Hillary Clintons.

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The religious right’s threat of a third-party candidacy

Here’s a poll: How many of you think all the major GOP presidential candidates are sweating buckets right now that leaders of the religious right suggested they may back a third-party Presidential candidate in 2008, due to less than enthusiastic support for the current crop of candidates?

Giuliani’s camp fought back by pumping the media with stories about how the GOP has “to have a candidate that can run in all 50 states,” and arguing that he’s the only Republican contender who can do so.

McCain’s camp arranged for him to give an interview to Beliefnet, where he slandered Islam and suggested that he’d only be comfortable with a Christian president.

Thompson’s been trying to thwart attention from his religion to his tax proposal, in hopes of convincing the religious right to vote with their pocketbooks instead of their bibles.

Huckabee issued a statement saying that a third-party backed candidate would hand Hillary Clinton the election.

And this past weekend, the Boston Globe reported that Romney is doubling his efforts to lure the support of the religious right, by asking Rev. James Dobson of Focus on the Family (the media’s anointed leader of the religious right) to take a second look at his candidacy.

At that’s just the news from the past few days. My god, I don’t even know if the children of Elm Street were this afraid when they went to sleep!

The truth is that Huckabee is probably right. A third-party candidate would handicap the race for Democrats, splintering the coalition of the willing comprised of social conservative s and fiscal conservative s. All of the leading GOP candidates know this, and my guess is that all of them have the head of James Dobson on a dartboard in their war rooms. Imagine having to kiss Dobson’s ass just so he doesn’t pull behind a rogue candidacy?

It’s kind of like the last season of The West Wing playing out in real time. Remember how Alan Alda’s character had to placate the religious right?

Though Tuesday’s Republican debate in Dearborn, Michigan is meant to focus on economic issues, I’ll be curious how the candidates work in some religious right talking points to kabash the growing story line that the moral majority is magnificentl y dissatisfied with this bunch. Stay tuned.

(Note: For those who may be interested, I hold a soft spot in my heart for Dearborn, MI. It’s where I tried out for Jeopardy back in 2005. I didn’t make it, but I can hardly hold that against Dearborn. I blame it on Jeopardy’s penchant for asking too many damn opera questions.)

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Catholics and pro-choice candidates, 2.0

Proving that he’s not just a one-hit wonder, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has issued a public statement saying that he would deny Presidential Candidate Rudy Giuliani Communion if Giuliani were to approach his altar. Archbishop Burke made the same comments about John Kerry in 2004.

Think Burke’s alone in his testiness toward Giuliani? For now. But watch Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln (NE), Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker (OR), Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston (SC), and Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte (NC).   All of these cats — following the lead of Burke — signed a letter in 2004 saying they too would have refused Kerry Communion. You can bet they’ll be jumping at the chance to offer Giuliani the same treatment. (In fact, one might say that if they don’t offer Giuliani the same treatment, you’d have to question whether they were just being partisan in 2004 and trying to pack the pews for Bush and the GOP.)

This is the wrong battle for Bishops to be waging, and my only hope is that some of the more reasonable minds in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) push back on this. The Bishops will meet November 12-15 in Baltimore, MD to issue their document Faithful Citizenship, a set of guidelines and principles issued every four years providing Catholics with the myriad of issues they should be called to focus on.

Make no mistake, there is a large and influential group of Catholics — these bishops perhaps among them — who will again in 2008 try to boil the Catholic vote down to four issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cells, and euthanasia. THEY ARE WRONG. Every Faithful Citizenship document that has come out since the Bishops began issuing it has NEVER boiled the Catholic vote down to these four issues. Instead, Faithful Citizenship suggests to Catholics that when they enter into the voting booth, they should be thinking about which candidate will bring about an end to the war quicker, which candidate will help alleviate poverty more, which candidate will provide better leadership on health care, which candidate will work with the internationa l community respectfully and move away from a doctrine of preemptive war, which candidate will responsibly and justly address immigration policies, and the myriad of other issues that benefit the common good.

So while I enjoy seeing Giuliani squirm his way around these issues, this debate is bad for everyone. Archbishop Burke, and any other Bishop willing to boil Catholic Social Teaching down to four issues, chips away at the social justice roots of the Catholic Church by playing this Communion game.

And during times like these, those social justice roots are exactly what Catholics should be thinking about when they enter the voting booth — not whether someone is worthy or unworthy of Communion. Indeed, does anyone think that Jesus would refuse bread to someone? If they do, they should probably go back and read the New Testament again.

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A crumbling Christian right?

Another campaign week goes by, and more evidence is emerging that the Christian right is flailing as it heads into 2008.

I wrote last week about a disappointin g gathering in Florida that attracted only 100 or so conservative Christian organizers (not including the plants from Americans United), and the general disorganizat ion of the once supreme Christian right, who are still searching for their Mr. Right four months ahead of Iowa. Need more proof that the Christian right has lost its Christian version of chutzpah?

  • Check out the public tiff this week between former GOP Presidential candidate Gary Bauer (and founder of American Values) and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, over whether Fred Thompson is religious enough to be President. Dobson went so far as to say that his impression of Thompson was that he wasn’t a Christian, prompting Bauer to fire back that Dobson was hurting the entire Christian movement with his comments. Round one.
  • Just this past weekend, a gathering of influential Christian right leaders gathered in Salt Lake City (Rev. Dobson among them), and let it be known that if a pro-choice candidate heads the Republican ticket (*cough* Giuliani *cough*), they’ll likely back a third-party candidate. Round two.
  • Conservative Catholics, not wanting to miss a beat, have formed a Web site, sagainstrudy .com, to (in their own words…I can’t write stuff as good as this): “empower faithful Catholics at the local level to educate their fellow parishoners about Rudy Giuliani’s abysmal record on non-negotiab le “Culture of Life” issues (e.g., abortion, embryonic stem cell research) and traditional marriage.”   (Note: If I had written that, you can bet that I would have spelled parishioners right!) Round three.
  • And check out the continued stories coming forward – in both secular and religious press – that show Americans more uncomfortabl e voting for someone who is a Mormon (25 percent, according to this article) than voting for a candidate who is Jewish (11 percent), evangelical  (16 percent), or Catholic (7 percent). Sure, this is ignorance at play, but it still has to influence the level of Christian right support that Romney will be able to pick up. Can a Mormon unite a base that really wants an evangelical Christian? It’s hard to say. Round four.

To keep the boxing metaphor running, I don’t think a knockout blow has been delivered to the Christian right. But clearly they are disorganized  , petrified of any of the top-three Democrats, and totally unfocused heading into 2008.

Is it a result of putting all their eggs in one basket with President Bush, while failing to focus on his successor? Is it the result of the death of leaders like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy, and the falls from grace that folks like Ted Haggard and Ralph Reed have taken?

Or is it that, FINALLY, after years of shoving gay marriage, stem cells and abortion down peoples’ throats, folks are ready for a more spiritually mature movement that focuses on poverty, human rights, the environment, and war, as opposed to wedge issues and rhetoric that just create more division in this country?

That might be the ultimate question, and one that may not be answered until November 2008.

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John McCain: Islam is “basically” an honorable religion

Proving yet again that age is no barrier in having the flexibility to stick your foot in your mouth, Sen. John McCain gave an interview to m in which he asserted that the number one issue people should make in deciding on who to vote for as President should be whether the candidate will “carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind.”

I find that comment laughable on at least a dozen different levels. Is McCain talking about the Judeo Christian value of preemptive warfare? Or that Judeo Christian value of dismantling social welfare? Or the Judeo Christian value of tax cuts for wealthy corporations  ? Or the Judeo Christian value of anonymous CIA interrogatio n centers where inmates are withheld sleep and forced to listen to loud screaming music for hours on end? Or the Judeo Christian value of privatizing social security and rewriting bankruptcy laws to benefit credit card companies over middle class citizens? Please; this nation may be run by “Christians, ” but the principles of Christianity are so far removed from today’s social policy and political debate - especially on the GOP side - that Jesus must have taken up smoking to cope.

But McCain’s interview with m is more troubling than just that. McCain lets it loose that he would be “uncomfortab le” with a Muslim president, that the U.S. Constitution established our country as a Christian nation, and that Islam is “basically” an honorable religion. “Basically”?   Talk about a qualifier. Do you suppose McCain “basically” loves his daughter? Or that he “basically” enjoys his marriage? Or that terrorism is “basically” a bad thing? That’s the type of word you add when you really want to convey something without having to say it. (”John McCain’s ‘basically‘ a good candidate. He’s not running ‘that‘ bad of a campaign…”)

I’m not sure if this interview is an attempt to pander to the religious right, since none of the nine GOP candidates have really captured the hearts, minds and crucifixes of this constituency . But this interview is a far cry from the John McCain of 2000, who wasn’t afraid to point out that overzealous Christians were agents of intolerance.   Perhaps they are just “basically” agents of intolerance, until you need their votes to win. Then, as McCain deftly points out, they become the number one priority in the country.

My, what a difference eight years makes, John McCain. And while he’s upgrading himself from 2000 McCain to 2008 McCain, maybe he should go back and give the U.S. Constitution a quick glance, because unless history is entirely wrong, the Constitution doesn’t mention anything about establishing a Christian nation. At least not yet.

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And they call this a rebound?

What do you call 104 Christians hanging out in a Florida trailer?

Apparently the new face of the burgeoning Christian right movement.

Headed into the 2008 election season, Christian conservative s are weary. Their movement has lost iconic leaders and the Republican presidential field is uninspiring. But they may have found hope in a trailer on the campus of Bell Shoals Baptist Church.

Even this weekend’s summit had its disappointme nts. Organizers had hoped up to 350 people would attend, laying the groundwork for a new Florida activist network.

But only 104, nearly all from Florida, had registered by Friday. A workshop on the basics of grassroots activism drew a handful of people — and one was a spy, an activist for Americans United for Separation of Church and State researching the opposition.

“There will be peaks and valleys, but I don’t know if people understand the depth and breadth of our movement,” said Gary Cass, former executive director at Kennedy’s Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, which closed after the South Florida preacher fell ill.

“…I don’t know if people understand the depth and breadth of our movement.” Probably not the most sensible quote to give at a gathering that disappoints by over 200 people, and pretty much includes only people within the Tampa metro-area. That said, and as a senior fellow from the Pew Forum is quoted in the article, the Christian right movement has had its obituary written several times since its inception in the 1970s. And, as luck would have it, Florida conservative s are itching to get an anti-gay marriage amendment on the state’s 2008 ballot, which seems to be a tried and true tactic to drum up Republican votes since before I was legally old enough to cast a ballot. (For those interested, that was 1996. I voted for Clinton, and up until 2002, he was the only person I ever voted for that won. Gov. Ed Rendell broke the losing streak…)

At any rate, it bodes well for Democrats if one of the major talking points emerging (er, thriving?) going into the 2008 elections is that Christians are uninspired by their flock of Republican candidates. State ballot measures attacking gay marriage may bring out the hard-liners, but they’ll never make up for the lack of original ideas and momentum on the GOP side.

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