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Politics & Religion- God in the White House

Posted by Laura Kebede on September 11, 2008

The small room in Reynolds Journalism Institute was quickly filled with people as well as excitement for such an important topic in the 2008 Presidential Election.  Not only were the chairs occupied to capacity, the floor and the sides and window sills were brimming with people representing more than one generation.

Dan Gilgoff, editor of the beliefnet blog God-O-Meter (http://blog.beliefnet.com/godometer/) and author of The Jesus Machine spoke first to the intimate crowd.  He compared the 2004 Bush campaign’s strategy of boldly reaching out and appealing to the 4 million white Evangelicals that stayed home during the 2000 presidential election and John Kerry’s lack of foresight in this area.  For the first time in a long time, faith played a major role in closing the gap and determining the outcome of a presidential election.  Bush managed to gain a record-breaking 70% of the white Evangelical vote.  He even was able to take 55% of the Catholic vote from his former alter boy opponent.  

Gilgoff went on to say that this year, the Democrats have learned their lesson and the Republicans are taking their long-time Evangelical partners for granted.  When Obama’s campaign was launched last year, among the first hires were religious outreach directors aimed at establishing grassroots much like the Bush campaign in 2000.  McCain on the other hand, has repeatedly refused to speak openly about his faith with big Christian outlets such as Christianity Today and Dr. James Dobson, claiming that is a very personal matter. 

Cathleen Falsani (falsani.blogspot.com) was also rejected by John McCain to talk about his faith.  At the time, she was compiling religious profiles of celebrities and politicians in a way that they could be open and honest about their values and beliefs.  As she was communicating back and forth with the McCain campaign, three of his staff repeatedly pleaded with him to take the interview but he refused saying again that it was too personal to talk about.  “I’ve never said this publicly before…” Falsani told the crowd.

One of the profiles in her book, The God Factor was Barack Obama who was then running for Illinois’ senator.  She said that most other politicians she featured brought several campaign advisors with them to the interview.  But Obama came by himself and met her in a coffee shop on March 27, 2004, took off his jacket, loosened his tie and threw his arm around the chair and said “Ask me whatever you want”.   She went on to say that there were no hesitations in his answers and he frequently went back to previous questions to clarify himself and his beliefs.

Though scrutiny has come to both sides of the fence and how candidates appeal more to the “lowest common denominator” rather than take a stand on issues important to the faithful, both campaigns know that faith can have a large impact in the battleground states and the undecided voters.  The Republicans have tried to balance their ticket with the addition of Sarah Palin and the Democrats (according to the God-O-Meter) have begun to attract the black Christian community.

Both speakers mentioned how religion sections in newspapers have lost fervor and have begun disappearing from print.  Yet, with the developments of online media, colleagues of Falsani and Gilgoff have a larger voice and are better able to inform their readers about the influence of religion in the government and in turn, their daily lives.

Gilgoff and Falsani address the questions of the crowded room in the new Reynolds Journalism Institute building. Courtesy of Taylor Combs

Gilgoff and Falsani address the questions of the crowded room in the new Reynolds Journalism Institute building. Courtesy of Taylor Combs

2 Responses to “Politics & Religion- God in the White House”

  1. pacer521 said

    very good written piece. I see what you mean — but this is a very sensitive issue and will take a big role in the elections. Great blogging

    pacer521
    http://culturedecoded.wordpress.com/

  2. Bianca Aaron said

    Awesome job Laura!!!! I’m so proud of you! 🙂

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