Compassion Forum Clings to Religion
Well, at least this time CNN didn't ask the presidential candidates to disclose the biggest sin they've committed.
But while Soledad O'Brien's infamous question from the June 2007 Sojourners Presidential Forum didn't make an appearance, much of tonight's "Compassion Forum" at Messiah College had the same vibe as that event: questions about policy and decision-making were overshadowed by the journalists' odd stabs at what they thought religious folks really wanted to know. As at the Sojourners event, for example, the moderator asked about literal seven-day creationism.
Faith in Public Life, the group that organized and sponsored the forum, had billed it as "probing discussions of policies related to pressing moral issues that are bridging ideological divides now more than ever, including poverty, global AIDS, climate change and human rights."
Discussions of policies weren't probed very far, however. Instead, on the Global Day for Darfur, co-moderator Jon Meacham asked Sen. Hillary Clinton, "Many people here are concerned about Darfur and a number of other humanitarian issues. Why do you think it is that a loving God allows innocent people to suffer?"
"You know, that is the subject of generations of commentary and debate," Clinton responded. "And I don't know. I can't wait to ask him. [But] there is no doubt in my mind that God calls us to respond. For whatever reason it exists, its very existence is a call to action."
Call to action: AIDS
While sparks flew between the two candidates over Obama's recent remarks about "bitter" Americans "clinging to guns and religion," both candidates somewhat surprisingly praised President Bush, particularly for his anti-AIDS program in Africa.
"I commend President Bush for his PEPFAR initiative. It was a very bold and important commitment, but it didn't go far enough in opening up the door to generic [drugs] and getting the costs down," said Clinton, who also lauded Bush's efforts after the south Asian tsunami.
"This is an area where this doesn't happen very often, so everybody should take note where I compliment George Bush," Obama said. "I actually think that the PEPFAR program is one of the success stories of this administration."
Obama also supported abstinence education in fighting AIDS in Africa. "I also think that contraception is important," he added. "I also think that treatment is important; I also think that we have to do more to make antiviral drugs available to people who are in extreme poverty. So I don't want to pluck out one facet of it. Now, that doesn't mean that non-for-profit groups can't focus on one thing while the government focuses on other things. I think we want to have a comprehensive approach."
Both candidates also reiterated their support for abortion rights, but said they wanted to reduce the number of abortions in the country.
"I believe that the potential for life begins at conception," Clinton said, when asked if life begins at conception. "I am a Methodist, as you know. My church has struggled with this issue. In fact, you can look at the Methodist Book of Discipline and see the contradiction and the challenge of trying to sort that very profound question out. But for me, it is also not only about a potential life; it is about the other lives involved. And I have spent many years now, as a private citizen, as first lady, and now as senator, trying to make it rare, trying to create the conditions where women had other choices."
Asked the same question, Obama responded, "This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on. I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? What I know, as I've said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates."