- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Beer, bowling, baby-kissing and back-slapping have dominated the last-ditch appeals to Pennsylvania voters by the two Democratic presidential candidates before today’s primary. But it may be a wing and a prayer (literally) that determines who pulls it out.

According to the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Christians in the Keystone State (you know, the ones who “cling to religion”), make up 72 percent of the adult population. People of other faiths make up 18 percent. So there is no doubt that religion matters in Pennsylvania — as it does it most of America.

It’s also one reason Sen. Barack Obama has taken a hit and lost some support. His Pennsylvania voters “cling to religion” comments don’t sit well with the faithful and they shouldn’t. When prompted to explain the “gaffe” during last week’s debate, Mr. Obama offered: “I’m a person of faith and have done more than most other campaigns in reaching out specifically to people of faith.” Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Methodist, couldn’t pass up making her point on the matter: “I think that is a fundamental, sort of, misunderstanding of the role of religion and faith in times that are good and times that are bad.”

Our founders and former presidents understood the role faith plays with the American people and in public life. Lyndon B. Johnson declared: “The men who have guided the destiny of the United States have found the strength for their tasks by going on their knees.”

Pundits insist, and I agree, that the connections the candidates make with religious voters is crucial (pandering aside). A majority of the nation’s evangelicals and conservatives were drawn to George W. Bush in 2000 (78 percent) because they admired the role his faith played in his life and how a vote for him would ensure that religious freedom would be protected, strict constitutionalist judges would be appointed and a place at the table for all people of faith would be created. It is also why Sen. John McCain struggles with support from the same group today. Some evangelicals are not convinced of his convictions.

“The most important thing is I’m a Christian,” Mr. McCain told reporters, as The Washington Times’ Andrea Billups reported last week. Mr. McCain is right not to get into the nitty gritty of what he believes, how and why. It should suffice to know that he is a Christian. There is no religious test for public office (see the Constitution). What does matter is how those convictions translate into policy. Our 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, made this acknowledgment: “There are a good many problems before the American people today, and before me as President, but I expect to find the solution to those problems in the proportion that I am faithful in the study of the Word of God.” It is encouraging for Americans to know that our leader has a moral compass to guide him in “good times and bad.” It is also relevant to discern how their public record reflects their personal beliefs. The profession of faith alone does not a president make.

For Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, we do know, for example that neither would protect the rights of the unborn (Mr. Obama even went so far as to oppose the Supreme Court’s ban on partial abortion). While “McCain keeps faith out of politics,” as The Times suggested, we do know what he has done as a senator to preserve life of the unborn, protect religious liberty and emphasize the importance of the White House Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives (WHOFBCI). “Success with faith-based organizations is one of the accomplishments that President Bush has achieved that probably hasn’t gotten as much credit as it’s due,” Mr. McCain has said. Mrs. Clinton found: “no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles.” Despite (or in spite of) his faith, Mr. Obama is not sure whether he would keep the WHOFBCI. He told “Christianity Today”: “You know what I’d like to do is I’d like to see how it is operating… I want to see how moneys have been allocated through that office before I make a firm commitment in terms of sustaining practices that may not have worked as well as they should have.”

Here is a glimpse of “how well” this office — an office that encourages fatherhood, healthy marriage, abstinence education, mentoring children of prisoners, prisoner re-entry, assistance for the homeless and mentally-ill (tenets of every faith) — has worked:

• More than 70,000 children whose parents are behind bars have been matched with mentors since 2003 (Mentoring Children of Prisoners Initiative).

• To date, nearly 200,000 recovering addicts have been served in a range of clinical and supportive services, including those offered by faith-based providers; many of them partnering with the government for the first time. (Access To Recovery Initiative).

• Nearly $900 million for community-based health centers (a 77 percent increase over 2001 levels) to increase the number of low-income individuals receiving medical care from their neighborhood clinics; faith-based centers won $70 million in 2006 alone.

Ronald Reagan once said what voters must consider: “America was founded by people who believe• that God was their rock and safety. I recognize we must be cautious in claiming that God is on our side, but I think it’s all right to keep asking if we’re on his side.”

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