So I just finished watching the Compassion Forum on CNN, a political debate between Democractic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama around issues of the role of faith and religion in public policy. First and foremost, I must say that I cringe at the “necessity” of having this debate because on one level it seems like little more than political pandering to religious, potential voters. I did not find it a fascinating debate like one of the CNN pundits described it. Again, trying to remain unaffiliated (like George Clooney’s character in O Brother, Where Art Thou?) on this blog, I did nevertheless sense that Hillary got the shaft. Asking Hillary about her favorite Bible story while asking Obama what he thinks about torture can hardly result in similarly effective answers. Again, this was not a fascinating discussion, but I will agree with that same pundit who said that it was an interesting insight into the shift that is taking place in the evangelical Christian realm. Not once did we hear a question about homosexuality and the question about abortion came from Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, and not Dr. Frank Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Page instead referenced his denomination’s active involvement in Africa to combat HIV/AIDS, which Senator Obama praised, while highlighting the good work that President Bush has done in this arena as well.
The award for the most aggressive question of the night goes to Rev. Jim Wallis who directly asked Senator Obama to commit to cutting poverty in half by 2010. Of course, Obama played the ever evasive politician and agreed to make this commitment while emphasizing the collaborative nature of such an effort. I have to say that there was much about both candidates’ responses with which I agreed and some that I disagreed. I felt like, in the end, that this forum would have been suitable for the Discovery Channel because it seemed to treat religious folk like another species that needed to be examined in a wildlife series. As usual, the debates following the forum were perhaps more entertaining. I couldn’t help but recognize that the evangelical Christian representative might not have evolved quite as much as I’d like. Dr. Page said in his post-game interview, “I could have helped them [the candidates] on some of their answers because they said they didn’t know.” I find it interesting that whenever the candidates expressed ignorance, it was over questions concerning the mind of God and the mysteries of God’s involvement in the human experience. I guess they should have appealed to Dr. Page’s direct link to the Divine after all.