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Politics and Religion – God in the White House

Posted by Julie Willbrand on September 12, 2008

During Debra Mason’s opening Thursday morning in the Reynolds Journalism Institute, she thanked Dan Gilgoff and Cathleen Falsani for being willing to come speak on such short notice after the original two guests “backed out.”  Though they were they replacement speakers for the forum, I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better job discussing the issue at hand.

Dan Gilgoff, the political editor of BeliefNet.com and author of The Jesus Machine, spoke first.  His brainchild, the God-o-meter (say “god-Ah-muh-ter”) is featured on BeliefNet.  Gilgoff discussed the way the 2004 presidential race “really set the stage” for the current one.  When George Bush was elected in 2000 but lost the popular vote, one of the main conclusions drawn was that too many white evangelicals stayed home from the polls.  Thus, the Bush Campaign hired Ralph Reed in 2004.  Reed had birthed the Christian Coalition in the mid-nineties.  As a result of his efforts and use of “church tribes” to sign up voters, it’s estimated that 350,000 of the volunteers that constituted the Bush/Cheney army were evangelicals. 

“When you juxtapose {this} with what John Kerry did, or failed to do, in 2004 in those terms… it’s breath-taking,” Gilgoff said.  The Kerry Campaign only hired a religious outreach director six months before Election Day, and the choice, Mara Vanderslice (who had previously worked for Howard Dean) was a controversial choice.

Gilgoff continued by discussing how the Democratic Party had learned from its mistakes.  He cited the examples of Barak Obama hiring a Catholic director and publishing Christian literature in the South, as well as personally calling BeliefNet, Christian Broadcasting Network, and Christianity Today (“the very publication that John McCain had snubbed the year before”) for interviews.  McCain’s campaign, on the other hand, was beginning to crumble.  Gilgoff shared that in a personal interview with McCain, McCain had stated “this was a Christian nation and a Muslim would be less fit to serve.”  Although the McCain Campaign called back the morning before the interview went live, Gilgoff still remembers it as indicating “not necessarily any antipathy toward religious voters, but more of a clumsiness.”

After Gilgoff came Cathleen Falsani, religious columnist for the Chicago Sun Times.  Her second book, Sin Boldly:  A Field Guide to Faith, was just released this month.  Falsani also writes a blog called “The Dude Abides,” and it is here that we can still access her famous interview with Barack Obama in 2004.  “When he was running at this juncture… we were still really deciding, is it BarACK, BEARack…” she quipped.  

Falsani went on to discuss the interview and how impressed she was with Obama’s straightforward manner and the fact that he came sans groupies to their informal interview over coffee on Michigan Avenue those four and a half years ago. 

She continued by pointing out the current “Jesus-Off” we’re seeing in our country today.  “We have four Christians running, and they’re each pointing saying, ‘You’re not really a Christian or not enough or you don’t know the secret handshake.’  And it’s just really fascinating,” she said.

“And now with the hockey mom on the scene,” she continued, referring to Sarah Palin, “I can’t wait to see how this throws down as we get more information on her.”  This served as a good segway into a Q & A session, which concluded the forum.

Cathleen Falsani looks on while Dan Gilgoff discusses his role as political editor of BeliefNet.com during the "Politics and Religion - God in the White House" futures forum Thursday morning.

Cathleen Falsani looks on while Dan Gilgoff discusses his role as political editor of BeliefNet.com during the "Politics and Religion - God in the White House" futures forum Thursday morning.




One Response to “Politics and Religion – God in the White House”

  1. Daniel Everson said

    Good work. I like the pronunciation notes on “God-o-Meter” and “Barack.”

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