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The Baucus Ruckus

This week the debate over health care reform moved from broad platitudes to specifics on abortion funding and abstinence education.

As health care reform moved through the Senate this week, Christian political advocacy groups eyed two amendments: one they lost and another they won. The groups carefully followed the Senate Finance Committee hearings on health care legislation proposed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mon.).

1. Banning Public Funding of Abortion

Several groups lobbied for an amendment by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to permanently ban federally funded abortions. Family Research Council Action, Focus on the Family Action, and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) targeted Senators on the committee, but only one Democrat—Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)—voted for Hatch's amendment. The abortion ban failed with a vote of 13-10. Like many groups, Americans United for Life vowed to keep on the issue to ensure that lawmakers fail in any "attempt to 'mainstream' abortion as health care."

2. Funding Abstinence Education

Focus on the Family Action and other groups applauded the committee's decision to provide $50 million for abstinence education programs—funding that was missing from the original plan. The committee voted 12-11 in favor of funding. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) voted with the 10 Republican members of the committee.

Racist Opposition?

President Jimmy Carter is not the only person to cite racism as a reason why people might challenge Obama and his proposals. Sojourners head Jim Wallis wrote that he sees at least some racial subtext in the opposition to Obama and his proposal. Ryan Rodrick Beiler wrote on Sojourners' blog that "the hatred being aimed at our current president is quantifiably different than that unleashed on Bush." Obama receives around 30 death threats daily, four times the number Bush received.

Ken Connor of the Center for a Just Society responded to racism claims, saying the accusations are baseless, and opposition to Obama "is rooted in policy, not prejudice."

Meanwhile, Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD), criticized Sojourners as having "an almost blind faith that The Welfare State can heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead. But more skeptical minds emphasize that even government programs with lofty goals often have unforeseen tragic and even sinister consequences."

Pro-Gay Bias at Fox News, Congress Weighs Discrimination Act

Focus on the Family Action's Drive Thru blog reported on a Fox News story about "gay" vultures in an Israeli zoo. The "fascinating" part of this story, the blog said, was the "unmistakably pro-gay media bias" at Fox News.

Congress is considering the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Focus on the Family Action opposes ENDA because it "will inevitably threaten the religious beliefs of those who oppose homosexual behavior" and will be costly for businesses.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council submitted testimony against ENDA this week, saying that ENDA was based on the premise that people "are 'born gay' and 'transgender' people are 'born in the wrong body.'" Perkins also opposed making "personal disapproval of these chosen and harmful behaviors (homosexual conduct and sex changes)" into something "officially stigmatized under law as a form of bigotry that is equivalent to racism." On a practical level, Perkins said that ENDA is "a solution in search of problem" and that the real harm will come when ENDA is enacted.

International Discussion

The IRD criticized a resolution by the National Council of Churches on nuclear disarmament because it scrutinized the U.S. but speaks very little about North Korea or Iran. The ERLC highlighted hunger, noting that one in six people worldwide experience acute hunger each day and 11 percent of U.S. households do not have sufficient healthy food. ERLC reports that in 2008, the Southern Baptist Convention and its partner organizations implemented over 500 relief projects worldwide and distributed over five million meals to those suffering from hunger in America.

Sojourners' Nantando Hadebe reported on how land invasions and migration of children and the disabled continue in Zimbabwe despite a new unified government.

In Columbia, over 150 church members were victims of political violence in 2008, Sojourners' Jana Hunter-Bowman reported. Hunter-Bowman asked readers to send a letter to Colombia's attorney general requesting an investigation.

Sojourners also critiqued the Israeli government for continuing its blockade in Gaza, denouncing a report on its possible war crimes, and continuing to destroy Palestinian homes, as well as for its resettlement efforts.

In contrast, the FRC's Robert Morrison wrote that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "speaking truth to power" in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly this week. "He knows that if Iranian mullahs get an atomic bomb, they could achieve in minutes what Hitler failed to do in years–annihilate the main portion of the Jews," Morrison said.

Church and State

Sojourners' Jim Wallis defended the faith-based initiatives, including the importance of protecting a group's religious identity by allowing them to hire employees based on their religion without discriminating.

One of the first cases for the reconvened Supreme Court will address a cross displayed in the Mojave Desert in California. But it's not the only story this week addressing the display of religious symbols. High school cheerleaders in Georgia are no longer allowed to carry a banner with Bible verses at their home games. "In God We Trust" will be engraved on the Capitol Visitor Center. New Hampshire will not ban the phrase "under God" from its schools. And the Alliance Defense Fund opposes a policy prohibiting religious themes on the Capitol Christmas Tree.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, offered a warning on the role of such religious symbols. In a CitizenLink interview, Mohler said, "Before we get too involved in battles over where [the Ten Commandments] should be hung, we better make sure that for those who are of Christ, they're hanging in our hearts first and foremost."

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers:

Two Summits, Countless Agendas | Faith Leaders Summit urges G-8 to focus on poverty while Values Voter Summit targets domestic issues. (September 25, 2009)
Where the Health Care Debate Lies | Introducing our new feature rounding up what evangelical political groups talked about this week. (September 22, 2009)
Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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