Religious Leaders on Left/Right Plan Forum
On Friday, the Republican presidential candidates will audition at a “Values Voter Summit” in Washington for the role of “candidate most likely to win the blessing of Christian conservatives” by hitting hard on the hot-button issues of abortion and homosexuality. Meanwhile, a broad alliance of religious leaders, some of them also conservative Christians, is trying to persuade the candidates that the faith and values agenda is larger than those issues. They are inviting Republican and Democratic candidates to speak at back-to-back “Compassion Forums” on Nov. 26 in Greenville, South Carolina, an early primary state. They want to ask the candidates where they stand on climate change, torture, poverty in the United States and abroad, and genocide in Darfur – as well as abortion. Backing the event is an unusual left/right alliance of evangelical, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders who only recently would have made very strange bedfellows indeed: including Dr. Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Convention; Dr. Paul R. Corts, President, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the liberal group Sojourners and author of “God’s Politics;” Dr. Syeed Sayeed, general secretary of Islamic Society of North America; Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Bishop Vashti McKenzie, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The organizers, a relatively new Washington group called Faith in Public Life, say they have interest from top candidates, although none have confirmed yet. They say they are negotiating with a network to broadcast it, that John Meacham, managing editor of Newsweek, will moderate, and that churches and Christian colleges will organize viewing parties. It is one of a growing number of efforts under way among religious leaders to declare a ceasefire in the culture wars and focus on issues they can all agree on. Earlier this month, Third Way, a liberal think tank, issued a paper signed by several prominent evangelicals calling for new approaches to polarizing issues, such as reducing abortion by making birth control more widely available and expanding tax credits for adoption.