Sunday night's "Compassion Forum" on CNN has the potential to rise above the dreadful televised debates of late, but only if Clinton and Obama speak from their hearts and leave the religious rhetoric behind. People of genuine faith know how easy it is to learn the lingo without living the life, and they know that speaking from the heart reveals the content of the heart, whether for good or for bad.
Sweet Jesus! What has gotten into the Democratic Party when it comes to issues of faith?...These forums [along with the Sojourners forum last June] should not be casually overlooked and blown off, because they represent a significant shift in attitude from previous Democratic presidential campaigns. Democrats, in the words of Sen. Joseph Biden after the Sojourners forum, acted more like agnostics --- other would say atheists --- when it came to issues of faith.
As Martin points out, Democrats have historically avoided faith-related issues to their peril.
But what is, and what isn't, a faith-related issue? Martin writes that the forum topics will include poverty, AIDS, climate change and human rights. Many would say that immigration, the economy, healthcare, and the like are also faith-related issues. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to name an issue that someone, somewhere doesn't consider to be faith-related.
All well and good, but there are two glaring omissions on the forum list. As Martin points out, it's past the time for Democrats to face the issues of abortion and gay marriage head-on. In We the Purple, I contend that the focus on these two hot-button issues is used to distract the electorate from political inaction. On the Democratic side, though, the focus is too often on attacking Republicans for opposing a woman's right to choose and being homophobic than on taking into consideration the very real concerns about those two issues that people in their own camp have expressed. Martin further writes:
If the Democratic Party is serious about fostering a relationship with the faith community, they are going to have to come to grips with the fact that there are Democrats of faith who are pro-life and against gay marriage, but who are in agreement on other social issues such as the response to the rapid rise of HIV/AIDS and eradicating poverty...What is clear is that in the political realm, there must be an understanding of the secular and theological worlds. And there are clear examples when folks who operate in the secular world want to apply their standards to those in the theological world, and vice versa.
The Democratic candidates' understanding of the theological world should be clear to everyone on Sunday night. Listen carefully for all those Christian buzzwords --- and judge for yourself whether they sound "learned" --- or "lived."