- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all got personal last night during a forum focused on something much less commonly mentioned on the campaign trail: their religious faith.

During a wide-ranging discussion, each Democrat took the stage to discuss their views on religion, values and poverty. But the three front-runners for their party’s 2008 nomination also fielded questions much more personal in nature about their sins and prayer habits.

Mrs. Clinton, a senator from New York, told the audience of 1,300 that her faith helped her survive her husband’s infidelity when he was in the White House.

“I’m not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith,” the former first lady said.

“I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right regardless of what the world thought,” she said, to sustained applause. “And that’s all one can expect or hope for.”

She added that her “extended faith family” acted as “prayer warriors for me.”

When asked his biggest sin, Mr. Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, said there were too many to name.

“If I have a day where I haven’t sinned multiple times, I would be amazed,” he said.

The 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee also said God helped him in dark times, saying, “My faith came roaring back” when his family faced crisis and still “gives me strength to keep going.”

He needed his faith when he lost his son and during his wife’s ongoing battle against cancer. Elizabeth Edwards received loud applause as she was seated before the forum.

Mr. Obama, a senator from Illinois, gave the most political answers of the trio, and the forum gave him a chance to clarify what some have said is an inconsistency in his position about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

When asked whether God takes sides in a war, Mr. Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln as saying that “we shouldn’t ask whose side God is on, but whether we’re on His side.” He added there is evil in the world — as seen in the September 11 terrorist attacks — and said he sees it in the detention camp in Guantanamo and in the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

On Israel, Mr. Obama said Palestinians “have to recognize Israel’s right to exist; they have to renounce violence and terrorism as a tool to achieve their political ends; they have to abide by agreements.”

He said “faith can inform what we do” both internationally and domestically.

“Faith can say, forgive someone who has treated us unjustly. Faith can say that, regardless of what’s happened in the past, there’s a brighter future ahead,” he said.

All three candidates were able to highlight their favored domestic policies. Poverty “is the cause of my life,” Mr. Edwards said, noting his work to help organize unions and to raise the minimum wage.

Mr. Edwards promised to drive the poverty issue during the 2008 race “so that everyone is required to talk about it, because I think it is the great moral issue of our time.”

But outside the debate hall, a protester used chalk to scrawl the words: “Would Jesus live in a 26,000-ft. house?” a reference to the large Edwards family home.

Mrs. Clinton discussed health care as a moral issue and said she wants abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”

“The pro-life and the pro-choice communities have not really been willing to find a common ground, and that is a great failing on all of our parts,” she said, offering to work with the religious leaders to bring those groups together.

Mr. Obama took much longer in his answers, so was asked fewer questions because each candidate was slotted 15 minutes. He said that as president, he would “restore that sense that we are in this together” as a starting point and make investments in veterans and early childhood education by pairing nurses with at-risk teenage moms.

Mrs. Clinton was asked whether she has a moral responsibility for her October 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq war.

“Every vote I take carries with it a moral responsibility,” she responded. “It is always a challenge to try to arrive at what you think is the right thing to do. Sometimes it turns out that you’re right, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

The candidates — interviewed individually during the live televised forum — also shared views on hot-button social issues such as abortion, homosexual unions and evolution.

“Finally, a better conversation about faith and values,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, a debate organizer and author of “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.”

Mr. Wallis said that while religious people are “the ultimate swing vote,” his group was more concerned about issues than endorsements. He cited the example of Martin Luther King’s getting candidates to “endorse a movement” by avoiding personal or partisan endorsements himself.

“The people of God should never be in the pocket of any political party or candidate,” he said.

The forum was televised on CNN and hosted by Sojourners, a Christian social justice network, as part of its “Pentecost 2007: Taking the Vision to the Streets” conference. The group will invite the three poll-leading Republican candidates in the fall for a similar discussion.

Mr. Obama announced last week the creation of a group called “People of Faith for Barack” and he will speak at the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference in southeastern Virginia this morning.

Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for the Obama campaign, noted that the Illinois senator’s speech last year to the same conference set the tone for how much he talks about his own religion on the campaign trail.

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