What this White House race needs is more God talk?

We don't go out of our way, here at GetReligion, to write about articles featured in religion publications and we certainly don't throw a lot of digital ink at the materials sent out by denominational press offices and public-relations companies. But I'm going to make an exception right now and I may do so again in the next week or two. Why? Because religion has played a major role in the election this year (which has become normal, post Roe v. Wade), and there is no sign that this is going to let up. It is also obvious that both parties are pretty nervous about this. Right now, some of the religious groups -- left and right -- are being more candid than the two political parties.

Palms are sweating, at the moment. The Republicans, to court the nervous suburban middle, have to play down the God talk. They have the megachurches, now they need the malls. The Democrats, meanwhile, have to find a way to talk about faith without turning off their base -- the secular elites and the newly empowered anti-Evangelical voters. So John Kerry is not anxious to answer detailed faith questions right now, either.

So I was, as a religion-beat guy, interested when a new press release arrived that started like this:

Today, the Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, leader of the progressive interfaith movement, and Paul Weyrich, father of the religious right, joined their progressive and conservative forces to call on Charles Gibson and Bob Schieffer to raise questions in the Presidential Debates about the influence of the candidates' religion and personal faith in making public policy.

Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance (http://www.interfaithalliance.org), the national political voice of the interfaith movement, and Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation (http://www.freecongress.org), the national think tank for political and cultural conservatism, signed joint letters to Gibson of ABC News and Schieffer of CBS News, moderators of the second and third joint appearances of President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry.

Now you can look at this two ways. You can assume that Gaddy wants Kerry to say something smart, or he wants Bush to say something dumb (or frightening). You can then assume that Weyrich wants Bush to say something poignant, and Kerry to say something hostile (or simply tone-deaf). Whatever. I find it interesting that one or the other thought to put out this joint release. I think we can assume that they both sincerely think the faith issues are close to the moral issues, which are joined at the hip with the cultural issues and all that leads straight to the U.S. Supreme Court (if not the Middle East). Here's a chunk of the letter:

... (We) believe it is imperative that the Commission on Presidential Debates engages the candidates for President of the United States on the subject of religion and personal faith. We believe that it is imperative for the candidates -- unscripted and before a national television audience -- to profess to the nation how religion and their personal faith impacts them both as a human being and as a candidate for the nation's highest public office.

While much has been written in the press concerning religion, many of the stories have focused on using religion as a campaign strategy rather than how the candidates rely on their personal faith as a guiding light to their service in public office to the nation.

Below are suggested questions that we feel might elicit some response that may be helpful to the voters.

* What role should and does your religious faith and values play in creating public policy?

* What active steps have you taken and will you continue to take to show respect for the variety of religious beliefs among your constituents?

* Should a president's use of religious language reflect their own religious tradition, or be more broadly inclusive

And so forth. For sure, I think the veteran CBS reporter should act on this idea -- once he has confirmed that the letter is authentic.

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