Religion and the 2008 election: A conversation with Paul Kengor, Fred Barnes and Michael Medved

Currently, here at Grove City College, the Center for Vision and Values is hosting our annual conference. Titled, “Church and State: 2008 – A history of church-state relations and and a look at where the values voter will turn in 2008,” the schedule is filled with scholarly papers regarding church-state relations with special emphasis on how these issues impact politics and policy.

Earlier this evening, I attended a panel discussion that was billed as an interview of the Beltway Boys (Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke) with Center Director, Paul Kengor as host. Unfortunately, Mort Kondracke could not attend due to some health concerns. Filling in ably was conservative talk show host, Michael Medved, who earlier in the day broadcast live from the atrium of our academic building, not far from my office.

In fact, it was Medved who provided some of the more newsworthy comments of the evening. For instance, he disclosed the rumor that Barack Obama is looking at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a running mate. Mayor Bloomberg has switched his party affiliation to Independent from Republican (which was a switch from an earlier Democratic affiliation). This “fusion ticket” might be quite appealing to the middle.  Medved also predicted that Joe Lieberman, while a great friend of John McCain, would not take the Veep spot, even if offered.

Much of the conversation focused on how the religious vote might impact the election. Each candidate was examined in this regard. Specifically, Hillary Clinton is well known to occupy an Evangelical left position on most issues (which we have covered here in the past), McCain has Episcopal roots but has attended a Baptist church for quite awhile up to the present. Regarding social issues, all panelists agreed that McCain would chose conservative judges favorable to social and religious conservatives. This fact will help consolidate religious conservatives behind McCain. However, much conversation focused on Barack Obama’s political problems with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Both Barnes and Medved believe that this issue will dog Obama into the general election should he be the Democratic nominee. Listening to a cursory review of Wright’s actions and positions, I believe they are right. Obama has said his Christianity has been directly influenced by Rev. Wright. Obama is not unaware of his statements and activities. For instance, as Medved noted, Wright has lauded Louis Farrakhan and even traveled with him to meet with Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi when Gadhafi was engaged in terrorism. This is the mentor and church Obama chose to join just 4 years after the Libyan trip and then remained for 20 years, calling Rev. Wright his spiritual advisor.  Medved predicted an Obama candidacy could move the Jewish vote toward the Republicans for the first time in decades.

For political junkies, it was a intriguing evening provided by three astute social conservatives.    

California court says parents must be credentialed to home school

Should home schooling parents have teaching degrees? A California court believes so. The transcript of the court ruling is linked in this Mercury News article.

Apparently, these parents thought they had their kids in an approved private school but the judges in this child abuse case thought otherwise.

My suspicion is that this ruling will not be sustained by higher courts.

Pew Forum releases major study of religion in the US

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a major study of religion in the US today. The LA Times has one news report summarizing the findings. Protestants are declining but overall 8 of 10 people say they are Christians. Lots of other findings at the Pew Forum website…

Year in review: Top Ten Stories from 2007

Since it was so much fun last year, I decided to compile a top ten list of stories of the year on the blog. Since I am the only voter, the list is subjective and regular readers might arrange them differently or think I should have included another story over one of these. The stories are arranged in the order of the interest they seemed to create here on the blog and elsewhere.

1. APA Task Force on sexual orientation – I first reported here that the APA had convened a task force to review APA policy regarding therapeutic responses to sexual orientation. Initial information released from the APA noted that gay advocacy groups sought assistance from the APA in order to negatively evaluate efforts to change sexual orientation. The charge also involves therapeutic responses to individuals who wish to alter behavioral expression of their sexuality. The issue was the subject of a CNN segment involving yours truly, an Associated Press article and was the subject of several posts on the blog. A large coalition of religious groups and interested individuals wrote the APA regarding the religious aspects of the committee’s charge. Efforts to further regulate orientation change efforts spilled over to other professions, notably, the American Academy of Physician Assistants. The APA Task Force will likely be featured as a top story again since the report is expected to be released sometime in 2008.

2. The sexual identity therapy framework – The SIT framework was the subject of national news stories and identified by Stephanie Simon of the LA Times as an important component of changes in therapy for those in conflict over sexual identity. I did numerous posts on the framework in an attempt to distinguish it from other approaches. Mark Yarhouse and I presented aspects of the framework at the American Psychological Association convention, the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference and other local conferences. A revision of the framework and several high level presentations are slated for 2008. 

3. The release of the Exodus outcomes study by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse – After months of speculation, Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse released the results of their longitudinal study of Exodus International participants at the AACC conference in September.  Although the study garnered little national media attention, many blogs, (including this one), and the gay and religiously based news services thoroughly covered the study. With additional data to be collected and reported, this story will most likely reappear in 2008.   

4. Donnie Davies – For a short time in January and February, blogosphere was captivated by the “Rev. Davies” and the “The Bible Says” music video. In a kind of “Where’s Waldo” cyber hunt, numerous bloggers were eager to crack the case and learn find out who Donnie Davies was, where was he hiding, and to learn if his act for real. I did 11 posts on the subject and became acquaited via email with Joey Oglesby, the actor behind the spoof. We even wondered if Mr. Oglesby and Rev. Davies were twins separated at birth because of their uncanny resemblance. Will Donnie do an anniversary reunion tour in January? Stay tuned.

5. The Cameron Eastern Psychological Association presentation – In March, Paul and Kirk Cameron released a series of news spots claiming that data from Canada, Norway and Denmark supported their contention that gays die between 20-30 younger than straights. In reviewing their study, first presented as a poster session at the Eastern Psychological Association annual meeting, I disputed key assumptions underlying their claims. In addition, Danish epidemiologist, Morten Frisch reviewed the study here on the blog finding it inadequate. Paul and Kirk Cameron provided rebuttals to criticisms and a nine-part series resulted.

6. New Warriors Training Adventure and the Mankind Project – A post regarding the suicide of Michael Scinto in an October issue of the Houston Press led to a series of posts about the Mankind Project and New Warriors Training Adventure. I received numerous emails from men who attest to benefit and those who believe NWTA was harmful and coercive. One irony about NWTA is that public proponents of reparative therapy and gay affirmative therapy both recommend NWTA to clients to enhance masculinity. Reparative therapists believe NWTA may lead to reduced same-sex attraction and gay therapists believe NWTA can enhance security in a gay identity. I remain curious about the mechanisms inherent in NWTA and other such programs to effect either benefit or harm. With the Scinto trial schedule for later in 2008, this story will remain of interest through the next year.

7. Montel Williams show on reparative therapy – The Montel Williams show purporting to examine reparative therapy was a lightning rod for controversy. On the show, psychiatrist Alicia Salzar falsely claimed that science has shown that 96% of people attempting to change orientation cannot do so and experience harm. Her claim was based on a study, the authors of which acknowledged cannot be used to make such a claim. The unwillingness of the show to retract the statement led to a ethics complaint against Dr. Salzar, filed by Exodus International. 

8. Pro-life/abortion related stories – The most viewed post on the blog consisted of an interview with Grove City College colleague and historian Paul Kengor regarding the religious beliefs of Hillary Clinton.  Other such interviews have been immensely popular with readers as well. Another APA task force, this one on abortion and mental health issues, stimulated grassroots activism, reported here in November. 

9. Emergence of the ex-ex-gay movement – At this year’s Exodus conference, a group of people once involved in ex-gay efforts had a parallel conference to discuss their efforts to recover from their experiences. Perhaps, the newest ex-ex-gay, James Stabile is a 19 year old young man from Dallas who encountered evangelists from the Heartland World Ministry Church in early September. Recorded on film and broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network, it appeared that Mr. Stabile was dramatically converted and even reported change in homosexuality. Later it was learned that Mr. Stabile had not changed and was back home with his parents after a stay at ex-gay residential program, Pure Life Ministry.

10. Richard Cohen – An early 2007 debacle on John Stewart’s Daily Show led Mr. Cohen to pledge on my blog that he would do no additional media appearances. He ended his email with a fundraising appeal. In response to this appearance, Exodus issued a statement distancing the organization from Cohen’s work, and NARTH and PFOX quietly removed references to Mr. Cohen from their websites. Cohen made something of a comeback however, with You Tube videos including his family, and a new edition of one of his books with Evangelical publisher, Intervarsity Press. Then, later, I looked into the Unification Church connections of Mr. Cohen’s assistant director and former board member, Hilde Wiemann. Both Cohen and Wiemann initially denied these connections but they were clear enough that cult expert, Steve Hassan, briefly placed the International Healing Foundation back on his list of Unification Church connected groups. Eventually, Mrs. Wiemann acknowledged, in contrast to the initial claims, that she had been involved in the church and had only recently left it. After her repudiation of Moon, Mr. Hassan then again removed the IHF from his list of Unification connected groups.    

Well, that was quite a year. I suppose one could make a case for other stories, e.g., the Omaha websites advocating violence, the quick emergence and then retreat of Michael Glatze as an ex-gay spokesman, Ted Haggard’s three week therapy, the wide stance of Larry Craig, the Surgeon General nominee James Holsinger, Stephen Bennett’s public division with Exodus, Al Mohler’s comments on biology and homosexuality, the retirement of I Do Exist, and my musical comeback and resultant #1 Internet hit.

Now cast your opinion – What would your top ten list for this blog look like for 2007?

Godspeed to all and a Happy New Year!

I-35 Light the Highway campaign featured on CNN tonight

CNN’s Gary Tuchman previews a segment to air tonight about the I-35 revival campaign called Light the Highway. I discussed that project in relationship to the James Stabile story. Joe Oden of the Heartland School of Ministry in Dallas tells me that James Stabile’s situation did not come up in the interviews.

Tuchman interviews Cindy Jacobs who is not clear, according to Tuchman, about whether Isaiah 35:8 refers to the Texas to Minnesota Interstate.

The woman who came up with the concept of “Light the Highway” is a Texas minister named Cindy Jacobs.

She says she can’t be sure Interstate 35 really is what is mentioned in the Bible but says she received a revelation to start this campaign after “once again reading Isaiah, Chapter 35.”

Jacobs also points out that perhaps there is a link between the area near this highway and tragedies that have happened in history, such as the bridge collapse on I-35 in Minneapolis last August and the assassination of JFK 44 years ago near I-35 in Dallas. That’s why prayer certainly can’t hurt, she adds.

Sounds like must see TV, tonight at 10pm eastern time on CNN. See video of the segment here.