Friday, August 03, 2007

Why Gaddy is Right and Robinson is Wrong

Chuck Currie has posted a blog defending Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson's endorsement of Barak Obama. After Welton Gaddy, Executive Director of the Interfaith Alliance, criticized Robinson's endorsement of a political candidate, Currie wrote a blog entitled "Why Gene Robinson is Right and Welton Gaddy is Wrong."

Currie recently endorsed Barak Obama himself and was questioned about it on Welton Gaddy's radio program. Here's a quote from Currie's blog:

Welton invited me to come on his show right after I made my endorsement and asked me to explain why I was supporting Obama and what I thought the role of churches should be in politics. He told listeners that my answer was one of the best he had ever heard (you can listen to the show here).

Few people in America have earned my respect the way Welton Gaddy has. He is a tremendous champion of the separation of church and state and a strong voice for the progressive religious community. But if he is suggesting that religious leaders cannot as individuals engage in the political process he is simply wrong.

Religious leaders should be (and are under the law) free as individuals to become involved in all aspects of public life but must do so without bringing our churches along for the ride. I understand and appreciate Welton's concerns but disagree with his conclusions.
Currie is needlessly obfuscating Gaddy's point by insinuating that "he is suggesting that religious leaders cannot as individuals engage in the political process." That is not what he or any other leader among church/state separationists is suggesting.

What we are suggesting is that no person of faith should undermine the integrity of their faith by subjecting it to the compromising influences of secular politics.

There's no point in denying that endorsing candidates is about exercising influence in electoral politics. Currie and Robinson are free to line up as private citizens beside actors, musicians, union bosses, CEO's and others whose celebrity politicians hope to use to boost their standing among voters. No one, however, would take notice of them if they were merely standing there as private citizens. Their ability to exert influence comes from their identification with and position in the church.

I've been engaged in political activities as a private citizen for decades but I don't do endorsements. I've attended campaign meetings. I've written checks to candidates. I've passed out flyers, mailed brochures, and made phone calls for candidates. When I engage in partisan political activities I never volunteer information about myself or my vocation. If someone knows my vocation and mentions it in that setting, I always make it clear that I am acting outside my responsibilities as a minister. The focus should be on the candidate and the positions he/she holds on issues pertinent to the campaign -- not on myself or my ability to lend credibility to his/her campaign. Endorsements call attention to the endorser as much as to the politician.

If Robinson and Currie were engaged with Obama's campaign merely as private citizens, they would not be making headlines and doing radio interviews. By making endorsements both of them are making statements about themselves as much as about Obama. In the end, what they are saying is that it is alright for preachers to peddle their influence on behalf of politicians.

10 comments:

Jim Paslay said...

Bruce,

Would you have had the same response if Robinson had endorsed a Republican? It seems that you and AU only go after conservative Republicans who engage in the political process.

When I see the AU go after the Democratic candidates who love to politic in the black churches all the time, then maybe I will sit up and take notice. Otherwise you lose all credibility.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

This was good enough that I linked to it and commented on on my blog.

Chuck said...

Your opinion is a valid one and I respected it until your last line when you crossed over into making personal attacks against me and the good bishop. People ought to be able to disagree with your take on public theology without having comments like these made. To charge that I’m willing to “peddle my influence” is offensive. Save your fire for the Religious Right and others who actually don’t share your overall agenda. Right now you sound more like an orthodox believer who is upset that someone has challenged their theology than the progressive Christian whose views and ministry I’ve come to respect.

Rev. Chuck Currie

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...

Chuck,

Sorry if the metaphor about "peddling influence" appears a little sharper than what I meant to convey.

Perhaps it would have been better said if I had written something like "They are saying it's alright to swap their influence for the benefit of politicians."

I'm concerned about the "swapping" of influence from faith to politics.

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...

Jim,

There are times when I think you write comments without reading my blog.

This is one of them.

Asinus Gravis said...

Bruce, I'm seeing a lot of confusion on this issue in the comments made.

First, The "Chicago Sun-Times story does not say who initiated the "conference call with reporters." It is unlikely that Robinson supplied the headline identifying his denominational position; and he did not write the article that gave such an identification. He made it clear that he was endorsing as an individual, according to the article. Do you suppose he did it at his church and in full regalia?

Second, The Trial article did NOT say that Robinson identified himself in any official capacity. It is the author of the article that supplied that. Nor did the article say that O'Bama's campaign identified Robinson as a Bishop of any church. Gaddy was not quoted as saying that Robinson spoke on behalf of his "house of worship or denomination." Nor did it claim that O'Bama's campaign did that either. So what is it that Gaddy is supposed to be right about that Robinson is wrong about?

Third, in your comments you say, "no person of faith should undermine the integrity of their faith by subjecting it to the compromising influences of secular politics." That basically says that a person of faith must completely stay away from politics in every form or fashion. That is because "secular politics" [as opposed to denominational politics?] essentially involves making compromises. But then you go on, inconsistently, to describe your involvement in the business of secular politics. Or did you intend to say that the integrity of your faith had already been compromised?

Fourth, I can't help but be curious how it is that you write checks for candidates or campaigns without volunteering information about yourself. Don't you sign the checks? Isn't your name on the checks?

Fifth, your claim that a political endorsement [only those?] calls attention equally to the endorser and the candidate. I do not think that is true at all. If a very well known person were to write a favorable comment for the dust jacket of my book, it damned sure calls more attention to the book than it does to the well known person. If I speak up in a county party convention to endorse a well known candidate for President of the U.S. it does not cause even a ripple in the convention, but if enough of us nobodies do it the candidacy of the person is benefited.

Bill Jones said...

Bruce,
I just want to ask you to - as much as possible - please identify the names that you reference. I know I've seen the name "Chuck Currie" before but not enough to recall his position or organization. Keep in mind that (1) few of your readers are familiar with every name in the news; and (2) even if you've ID'd them before, some of us may have failed to read your blog the day you ID'd them. (I still don't know who Chuck Currie is.)
A brief identification - position and organization, at the least - gives us needed context. Thanks.

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...

Bill,

Chuck Currie is one of the more prominent UCC bloggers.

Here's a link to his bio.

John Henson said...

Thanks for your thoughts here. I am a regular reader of Currie's blog and enjoy his perspective, but I've been uncomfortable with the endorsement of a candidate on his blog, assuming he is doing the same from the pulpit.

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...

John,

In fairness to Chuck, he says he's not endorsing Obama from the pulpit. I trust that he isn't.

I'm not comfortable with his endorsing Obama from his weblog which prominently mentions his position with his church.