Kerry campaign muzzles religion outreach director as New York Times columnist urges religion talk

David Brooks is supposedly The New York Times op-ed page's conservative columnist in a sea of more left-leaning writers. But in today's column, he notes, "Bush has had the worst year of any president since Nixon in 1973 or L.B.J. in 1968." So why isn't John Kerry dominating the polls?

"One big reason," says Brooks, is that Kerry's campaign is too secular:

Clinton seems to understand, as many Democrats do not, that a politician's faith isn't just about litmus test issues like abortion or gay marriage. Many people just want to know that their leader, like them, is in the fellowship of believers. Their president doesn't have to be a saint, but he does have to be a pilgrim. He does have to be engaged, as they are, in a personal voyage toward God. … If Democrats are not seen as religious, they will be seen as secular Ivy League liberals, and they will lose. John Kerry doesn't seem to get this. Many of the people running the Democratic Party don't get it either.

Instead, he says, Democrats are busy shoring up their base—the secular left, which is united "more than anything else [by] a strong antipathy to pro-lifers and fundamentalists." The secularist ranks are growing, so it makes some political sense to do this, Brooks says. But "just as Republicans have to appeal to religious conservatives but move beyond them, Democrats have to appeal to the secular left but also build a bridge to religious moderates."

Brooks seems to have missed Friday's Washington Times story by Julia Duin, which reports that Kerry's advisers—including Catholic priests—are telling him to stop talking about religion.

Jesuit priest Robert Drinan told Duin that "he has advised the campaign to clamp down on religious rhetoric and 'keep cool on the Communion thing. … The mood now is to shut up about it.'"

Duin also reports that Mara Vanderslice, the Kerry campaign's director of religion outreach, has been "sidelined" and her advice ignored.

"Every time something with religious language got sent up the flagpole, it got sent back down, stripped of religious language," an unnamed Kerry staffer says.

At least part of Vanderslice's isolation is due to a press release from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Last week, the Catholic League's William Donohue said she seemed more like "a person looking for a job working for Fidel Castro, not John Kerry." Donohue particularly pressed the point that Vanderslice was present at the December 2000 Seattle demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund—protests which turned violent—and 2002 protests against the IMF and the World Bank. Donohue also said she spoke at rallies organized by the radical AIDS and gay rights organization ACT-UP.

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But while Donohue says, "Vanderslice was raised without any faith and didn't become an evangelical Christian until she attended Earlham College, a Quaker school known for its adherence to pacifism," he doesn't note that it looks like her evangelical faith stuck with her. In 1998, she was an intern with the evangelical community and magazine Sojourners, and later became outreach coordinator for the anti-debt Jubilee USA Network.

"I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist; I'm really grateful for the openness that tradition gave me," Vanderslice wrote for Sojourners in 2002 (here's a photo). "When I later learned about Jesus and studied the scriptures in college, I could feel that I came to know myself as a Christian through my own study and prayer. I am now active in the United Church of Christ and plan to go into ministry some time."

She most recently wrote an article for Sojourners about religion and secularism in the Democratic Party.

"I was so inspired to see a candidate who was willing to stand up for the things I believed in that I decided to leave my job," she said about joining the campaign. "I passionately wanted to galvanize the faith community around the candidate that had captured my heart and imagination." But it wasn't easy. As she tried to convince campaign staff that a "secular image" was bad for votes, she said, "I was quickly dubbed the 'church lady'."

But she's not talking about the Kerry campaign— Vanderslice, now 29, became religious outreach coordinator for the Howard Dean campaign. And when Dean said he'd talk about religion only in the South, and referred to Job as his favorite book in the New Testament, he "came across as insensitive and out of touch," she laments. Kerry, she says, has a better chance at being authentic when he talks about faith.

"If Kerry continues to use religious language appropriately … and embraces the millions of religious Americans that are the base of his supporters, he might just change some assumptions about the 'secular' Democratic Party, and in the process, pick up a crucial constituency that could tip the balance of the election," she said.

Ultimately, I can't separate my Christianity from my values or my values from my politics. For me, being engaged in politics is an expression of my deepest held religious beliefs—it is about actualizing a collective commitment to protect the integrity of God's creation, it's about meeting the needs of the "least of these," and about our nation being a generous and trustworthy leader in the world. There are certainly positions taken by leading Democrats with which many Christians won't agree—and many Christians are appalled by what they see as the exploitation of religion for political gain on the part of the Republican Party. The bottom line in applying our beliefs in the political arena is making an across-the-board assessment of who best represents the values we hold most dear.
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(Weblog hasn't had time to listen to Vanderslice's 2002 comments on the G8 Summit and debt relief, but here's audio and video.)

Vanderslice's comments hardly seem those of an extremist, and she should not be attacked for trying to bring a religious perspective to the rallies she spoke at, regardless of what else happened there. Donohue, who crowed over Vanderslice's silencing, risks sounding like the Pharisees who criticized Jesus for the company he kept. But even those Pharisees didn't criticize Jesus for the company his company kept.

Now, Democratic Party adviser Amy Sullivan told The Washington Times, the Kerry campaign has withdrawn plans to create a "people of faith" area of the campaign website , and has "no one in their communications shop who is conversant in religion." That hardly seems like good news, even if you're a religiously conservative Republican.

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Religion & politics:

  • New group targets religious conservatives | A new independent-expenditure group, backed by the John Templeton Foundation, is targeting what political analysts regard as President Bush's electoral ace in the hole — religious conservative voters (The Washington Times)
  • Lawmaker's take on Moon fete is crowning oddity | The most disturbing thing is not that U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D.-Ill.) attended an elaborate coronation ceremony in Washington for the controversial Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his wife (Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune)
  • Bush pushes his social agenda | For the most part, the president talked up his social agenda, focusing on his proposals to promote marriage and his efforts to channel federal funds to religious organizations that provide social services (Los Angeles Times)
  • Evangelicals urged to vote and 'shape public policy' | America's 50 million evangelicals have received a call "to shape public policy" and expand the role of religion in public life, according to a document produced by the National Association of Evangelicals (The Washington Times)
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  • Politics and the church | Bush woos the faithful with a religious fervor (San Francisco Chronicle)
  • God help us: a holy war for the White House | What's interesting about the current moment in American history is therefore not that it's particularly religious. It is that religion has become such a partisan affair. (Andrew Sullivan, The Sunday Times, London, sub. req'd.)

European politics & religion:

  • UN 'must listen' to church heads | Religious leaders and non-governmental bodies should be given a voice at United Nations Security Council deliberations, Rowan Williams has said (BBC)
  • God goes to Brussels | Tomorrow has been declared Politics Sunday - not a reference to the power struggles within the Anglican communion, but an initiative by Christian groupings within the main political parties who want to see congregations play a more active part in public life (Jonathan Bartley, The Guardian, London)

Pope criticizes godless EU Constitution:

  • Pope criticizes EU decision | Pope John Paul II used his noon appearance at his window Sunday to criticize the EU's failure to include a reference to Christianity in its new constitution (UPI)
  • Vicar thanks God for EU results | An anti-EU vicar has held a special Sunday service, in which he thanked God for the European election results (BBC)

War & terrorism:

  • Ex-Iraq hostage says he relied on faith | The Egyptian truck driver who was held hostage in Iraq for more than two weeks said Monday the only time he felt fear was at the beginning of the ordeal, and he relied on his Christian faith to see him through (Associated Press)
  • Priests risking their lives in Colombia | Brushes with death are becoming common for priests in Colombia's civil war. Going beyond their normal duties of baptizing babies, celebrating Mass and hearing confession, they intervene to secure freedom for hostages, escort civilians to safety through combat zones and broker temporary truces (Associated Press)
  • S. Korean hostage in Iraq wins more time | Militants threatening to behead a South Korean hostage in Iraq unless Seoul pulls troops out of the country have agreed to give more time for talks on his fate, an Iraqi mediator told Reuters Tuesday (Reuters)
  • Cleric issues 'SOS' on terror | Military efforts to end an 18-year campaign of terror in northern Uganda are not working, and a new multinational effort is urgently needed, Ugandan Roman Catholic Archbishop John Baptist Odama said last week (The Washington Times)
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  • Supreme Court allows priest abuse suit | The Supreme Court on Monday allowed a lawsuit to proceed that accuses the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of transferring a child molester from Wisconsin to work as a Roman Catholic priest in California (Associated Press)
  • Australian church apologizes for cover-up as nine are arrested in child-sex inquiry | The Anglican Church in Australia has been engulfed by a child sex abuse scandal that has caused the resignation of the Archbishop of Adelaide and prompted the church to apologise for covering up the abuse for half a century (The Independent, London)
  • Priest who criticized Boston church scandal dies | The Rev. Robert Bullock, who sharply criticized Boston's Archdiocese for dragging its heels in tackling a church sex abuse scandal and urged its cardinal to resign, died over the weekend, his parish said on Monday (Reuters)

Sexual ethics:

  • California high court hears from 'Friends' | Free-speech groups want the California Supreme Court to overturn an appellate ruling that allowed a writers' assistant for the TV comedy "Friends" to pursue a sexual harassment claim because of bawdy banter between the show's writers (The Washington Times)
  • In praise of chastity | The debate over sex education has become so polarized that it is hard for people on the left to say that education about the advantages of abstinence is important for teenagers (Natasha Walter, The Guardian, London)

Life ethics:

  • Kerry voices support for stem cell funding | Democratic presidential hopeful John F. Kerry, taking aim at President Bush's science policy, promised Monday that he would overturn a ban on federal funding of new stem cell lines, saying that as president he would be guided by "science … not ideology" (The Washington Post)
  • Kerry, Nobel winners slam Bush on science | The Bush administration has failed the cause of science by subjugating it to politics, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry said yesterday as he promised to free scientists to pursue their research (The Washington Times)
  • Robots to lead stem cell research | A £16.5 million robotic laboratory is to be built for turning human embryo cells into treatments, notably for diabetes and Parkinson's disease (The Telegraph, London)
  • Estimates on HIV called too high | New data cut rates for many nations (The Boston Globe)
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  • Living wills reform 'does not legalize euthanasia' | Living wills allowing Alzheimer's sufferers and other mentally incapacitated patients to forbid doctors to intervene to save their lives will not open the door to legalised euthanasia, the Government insisted yesterday (The Independent, London)


  • Babies that live after abortions are left to die | Midwives have revealed that babies are being born alive after botched abortions by doctors and allowed to die without receiving life-saving medical treatment (The Sunday Times, London, sub. req'd)
  • Also: Botched abortion babies 'left to die' (Sky News, U.K.)
  • Study of post-abortion depression proposed | Proposed legislation to fund research on post-abortion depression is a long-overdue step in the right direction, say the bill's proponents (The Washington Times)
  • Abortion: more than a moral choice | Access to family planning clinics and female GPs are crucial in decisions to terminate (The Observer, London)

Same-sex marriage:

  • Romney to speak before US panel | Hearing to target same-sex marriage (The Boston Globe)
  • Mitt leads GOP ploy on gay unions | Romney is officially taking his fight against gay marriage from Massachusetts to Washington (Joan Vennochi, The Boston Globe)
  • Marriage of gay men in Canada roils Oil City | The debate in the newspaper and in the community has revealed how a small town faces issues typically found in big cities (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Same-sex marriage in UK:

  • Gays win the same rights as married couples | Same-sex couples yesterday secured the right to be treated as husband and wife in a landmark ruling for gays under the Human Rights Act (The Independent, London)
  • Law lords back gay tenant's rights | A homosexual has as much right to take over a protected tenancy on the death of a partner as the survivor of a married or cohabiting heterosexual couple, the law lords ruled yesterday (The Telegraph, London)

Pope opposes Spanish gay marriage:

  • Pope denounces Madrid's liberal sex reforms | The Pope denounced Spain's new liberal agenda yesterday, demanding that the Madrid government respect the religious and cultural traditions of the country's Roman Catholic heritage (The Telegraph, London)
  • Pope chides Spain's Zapatero on moral issues | Pope John Paul on Monday told Spain's new Socialist prime minister, whose government plans to legalize gay marriage, that Spain had to conserve ethical and moral values rooted in its Christian culture (Reuters)

U.K. spanking ban:

  • Blair against total ban on smacking children | Tony Blair is against introducing a complete ban on parents being allowed to smack their children, Downing Street said yesterday (The Telegraph, London)
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  • No 10 rejects smacking ban move | Downing Street has rejected a complete ban on parents being allowed to smack their children - but a tightening of the law is being considered instead (BBC, video)
  • Compromise suggested on child smacking ban | Hopes of a compromise deal between anti-smacking campaigners and the Government grew last night (The Independent, London)
  • Famous figures demand smacking ban | Helen Fielding, the author of the novel Bridget Jones's Diary, and Sir Richard Branson, were among those supporting the Children Are Unbeatable campaign. Other figures in the arts, politics, business and media joined them in signing (PA, U.K.)
  • Earlier: Pressure grows on Blair to ban smacking (The Telegraph, London)

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition:

  • The real Inquisition | Investigating the popular myth (Thomas F. Madden, National Review Online)
  • A penitent Vatican releases collection of essays on 'The Inquisition' | 800-page tome of essays on The Inquisition, based on a 1998 international symposium requested by John Paul II in the framework of soul-searching on past sins of the Catholic Church (The Jerusalem Post)

Church discipline:

  • Debate on unorthodox clergy | The Church of England is to consider whether it ought to update its procedures for disciplining clergy over matters of doctrine, ritual and ceremonial for the first time in nearly half a century (The Guardian, London)
  • Liberal clergy facing the threat of heresy trials | The Church of England is to re-introduce "heresy trials" to discipline clergy who stray from the straight and narrow in matters concerning doctrine and ritual (The Times, London)
  • Earlier: Tangling with Wolves | Why we still need heresy trials. By Chris Armstrong (Christianity Today, July 28, 2003)


  • Area man backs call to pull children from public schools | He vows to keep plan alive despite its rejection by Southern Baptists (The State, Columbia, S.C.)
  • Christian teachers 'horrified' | Some Christian schools want a draft code of ethics for teachers dumped because they believe it is "grossly offensive" and discriminatory (The Dominion Post, New Zealand)

Church life:

  • New Methodist elders give answer to call of ministry | Methodist elders give their answer in ordination rites (The Arizona Republic)
  • Bishops face demand to halve their pay | Bishops are to be urged next month to give up nearly half their pay and live on the salaries of parish priests (The Telegraph, London)
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  • Singing priest also has gun, will travel | Fundraising trips, style irk superior (Chicago Tribune)
  • Keeping the faith | At St. Albert the Great in Weymouth, the end is near, and confusion and anger abound (The Boston Globe)

Missions & ministry:

  • Christian values find fit at office | Charles Proudfit's At Work on Purpose is a local manifestation of a growing national movement to bring spiritual matters, particularly Christian matters, to office cubicles and factory floors alike (John Eckberg, The Cincinnati Enquirer)
  • Suit filed to halt slots bid in D.C. | Opponents attack 'monopoly contract' (The Washington Post)


  • Faith is a feminist issue | The newly renamed Madonna has joined a long line of women drawn to the spritual life in their middle age (Mary Kenny, The Guardian, London)
  • Pilgrims flock to see statue in Italy | Thousands of people flocked to see a bronze statue of Christ in Genoa after a woman claimed she saw the face of Italian saint Padre Pio on the statue's chest (Associated Press)

More articles:

  • Christian 'exodus' to S.C. planned | Texan envisions state free of liberal meddling (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
  • Bible mystery baffles police | Warrnambool police are looking for the owner of a rare 1860s Catholic Holy Bible (The Standard, Warrnambool, Australia)
  • Backstreet Boy sets sights on Christian world | Brian Littrell, in town for fund-raiser, won't turn back on band but hopes to use popularity as tool (The Tennessean, Nashville)
  • Christian dinosaur hunters dig for signs of biblical dragons | Countless dinosaur bones lie buried in the rocks of South Dakota but the Christians excavating one remote cliff-face were digging not just for reptilian vertebrae but for the hand of God (The Telegraph, London)
  • Suffer the little calories: give thanks for the Bible Diet | Thou shalt not eat junk food or snack between meals is the 11th commandment for millions of Americans caught up in a Bible-based slimming craze (The Independent, London)

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