I was sadly disappointed, for the most part, in the Sojourners sponsored CNN event Faith Guiding Our Votes, broadcast on a special edition of The Situation Room last evening. I can't imagine Sojourners was that pleased with it either.
For the most part, the questions asked by Soledad O'Brien, the moderator of the event, still represented a narrow-minded, deeply personal understanding of what it means to be a person of faith. I was astounded to see her lead off the event with a question posed to John Edwards: "Do you believe in creationism or evolutionism?" When Edwards answered immediately: "I believe in evolutionism," O'Brien followed up by asking: "So does that mean everyone who believes the world was created in six days is wrong? And their pastors are wrong?"
O'Brien's closing question for Edwards was downright salacious: "What is the greatest sin you ever committed?"
Barack Obama was offered the most relevant questions--in terms of faith and politics--when O'Brien asked about the war on terror and Israel/Palestine. Even there, however, the trajectory of her questions were sensationalist rather than searching: "Does God take a side on the War on Terror? In other words," O'Brien follows up, "Is God on the side of the U.S. troops?"
Obama raised the level of the evening's discussion by drawing on communal understandings of faith and responsibility, quoting from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln several times.
When Hillary Clinton took the seat, O'Brien sank to an all time low. Without hesitating, O'Brien immediately asked Clinton "Did your faith help you through the difficult time of your husband's infidelity?" Soon after, O'Brien giggles after asking Clinton an equally personal question: "It's just us girls talking." What?!
These questions have absolutely no bearing on Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency. And, like Edwards' "worst sin" question, they were questions borne out of an utter lack of sophistication on issues of faith. I couldn't help but think of Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter in each of these instances--the public shaming of individuals in the name of religion.
What was most discouraging about it, I think, is the overprivatized notion of faith--that matters of faith are only deeply personal and have no public purpose. To my great disappointment, questions of faith were not expanded in last night's forum, despite Jim Wallis's persistent effort to reintroduce the issue of poverty each time the microphone was handed to him.
I had expected that Sojourners would have had more say over the entire selection of questions posed to each candidate--especially when each person was only given a total of fifteen minutes to speak. Unfortunately, they didn't. And in my view, the intersection of faith and politics was muddied all the more.
Here is CNN's summary of the event.