Saddleback Civil Forum

Live blog – commentary on the Saddleback Civil Forum.

Does Evil
Exist?

While this
question may not get as much attention in the media as ones on abortion,
education, or national security etc, the difference in the answers between
Obama and McCain is remarkably telling theologically and speaks volumes to a
fundamental difference between their world views.Much attention has been given to the
influence of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on Barack Obama’s thought. This
connection was evident tonight in Obama’s answer to Rev. Warren’s question
about the existence of evil. Obama has a sober understanding of the
presence of evil in the world and our responsibility to combat it.The same can be said for McCain, who stated
in an equally unequivocal manner than evil exists and we must fight it.The theological gulf that separates the
candidates is in how they view this fight.
McCain forcefully stated evil must be defeated.In contrast, Obama asserted that humanity
does not have the power to eradicate evil, only God does.With these two statements, the candidates
positioned themselves on opposite sides of one of the major debates to occur in
modern Christian theology.The rise of
Christian Realism, of which Niebuhr is considered the foremost theologian,
occurred in part in response to the belief that evil can be defeated and the
world perfected.Niebuhr considered such
a view a particularly dangerous form of hubris.
To say that humanity has the power to eradicate evil is in essence to
render the work of Christ unnecessary.
While humans can be agents of reconciliation in the world, it is well
accepted doctrine that we cannot bridge the gulf to God on our own.The finite cannot reach the infinite; only
the infinite can span that chasm.That is
precisely what the incarnation is.It is
in Christ that the final act of reconciliation is completed and evil meets its
end.To declare that we can defeat evil
is to claim for ourselves a power only God possesses.It is that thinking that leads us head on
into wars with an unwavering certainty in our righteousness and might.Obama also stressed a need for humility
worthy of the author of the Epistle to the Philippians 2:3-4 – “Do
nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as
better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to
the interests of others.”
(Thanks to VA state Senator Creigh Deeds
for recalling this verse to our minds earlier this evening at a rally in
Staunton and stressing that this is the attitude which should draw people into
public service.)We are sinful beings
and we must acknowledge this and act with humility because even if our
intentions are good, our actions may not be right.

Incidentally,
Obama has spoken to the impression Niebuhr’s thought has had on him,
stating: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in
the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our
belief that we can eliminate these things. But we shouldn’t use that as an
excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away the sense that we have to make
these efforts knowing they are hard and not swinging from naive idealism to
bitter realism.”

The Supreme
Court

Obama stated
that one of the areas he has disagreed with Chief Justice Roberts is over the
separation of powers. He believes that one of the duties of the Supreme
Court is to hold up against the other branches of power and that Justice
Roberts has given too much power to the Presidency. I was impressed by
this answer because few people, especially ones seeking the most powerful
office in the world, say they would like less power. But our governmental
system is specifically set up so that no one person can amass too much
authority. Many people, including myself, are often frustrated by how
slow Congress can move, but to some extent that is an intentional design of the
founders; discussion, debate and compromise are mandated because the founders
did not want one person empowered to make the decisions for a nation. As
I mentioned in my previous
post
, they knew that humans are fallible and for that reason believed that
power must be widely distributed.

McCain listed
the four Justices considered to be the most liberal as ones he would not have
appointed and stressed the importance of the court in shaping many important
issues in the country.

Abortion, Stem Cell Research, and Gay
Marriage

It is
remarkable that McCain is much closer to Obama on these issues than traditional
partisan divides would suggest.The
starkest difference is, of course, that McCain is pro-life and Obama is
pro-choice.However, a notable aspect of
Obama’s response on abortion is not his affirmation of the traditional
Democratic stance of upholding Roe v.
Wade
, but his assertion that we should be working to reduce the abortion
rate in this country and giving women real options.Both candidates acknowledge the moral
dimension of stem cell research and the difficulty surrounding this issue.They also believe that there is value to this
research and that it should be pursued responsibly.Both candidates defined marriage as between a
man and a woman, but believe that it is an issue that should be decided by
states and oppose a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.

What is worth dying for? and Why are you running for President?

Both
candidates responded that freedom is worth dying for.This response called to this writer’s mind
the verse from Galatians 5, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and
sisters;* only do not use your freedom as an opportunity
for self-indulgence,* but through love become slaves to one
another.”It is because of this verse
that I am addressing the questions of what is worth dying for and why Obama and
McCain are running for President together.
In answer to the latter question, Obama said that he is running to make
sure that everyone in America has an equal shot at life.He is driven by the belief that we are
responsible for one another and that when even one person is disadvantaged
everyone’s life is impoverished.McCain
responded that he is running because he wants to inspire a generation to serve
a cause greater than themselves.He
stressed his common refrain that throughout his life he has always put his
country first and he wants people to come together to build a stronger
country.Both are laudable reasons.There does seem to be a fundamental
difference in orientation, however.
Where McCain is stressing that a stronger country will benefit the lives
of all, Obama is saying that it is by pursuing the common good and working to
improve the lives of everyone that the country is made stronger.The difference is between a nominal freedom
that claims opportunity for every individual and a freedom that is found only
when we submit ourselves and our ambitions in service to the other.Some may say that this distinction is
splitting hairs, but I believe that it gets to the heart of the difference
between these candidates and the political parties they represent.

The issues above are ones that stood out to
this author and are not representative of all the topics covered by the
forum.The responses of the candidates
tonight are certain to generate an ample amount of conversation and we at
Faithful Democrats look forward to continuing this dialogue.

About Rachel Johnson

Rachel Johnson is an Associate with the Eleison Group, a consulting firm that specializes in faith-based outreach for Democrats and progressives. She also serves as Programs Director for the American Values Network, a faith-based non-profit advocacy group. Prior to Eleison, Rachel worked as Mississippi field director for Common Good Strategies doing faith outreach for Democratic candidates. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and a MAR in Theology from Yale Divinity School. The daughter of two ministers, Rachel is an active member and deacon in her church in Washington, D.C.


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