A Progressive Theo-Political Blog Bringing You The Best and Worst of Baptist Life.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Democrat Causes Church-State Concerns

As the race for Tennessee's US Senate seat (vacated by Bill Frist) enters the homestretch, Harold Ford Jr., the African-American Democratic candidate, released a new campaign commercial which was filmed in a BAPTIST CHURCH. Here's the snippet from The Jewish Daily Forward...
In an attempt to woo religious voters, Tennessee's Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate has filmed a campaign commercial in his childhood church, with a large white cross looming over his right shoulder. "I started in the church the old-fashioned way... I was forced to," said Rep. Harold Ford Jr., sitting in a glossy wooden pew. "Here, I learned the difference between right and wrong."

As a student who is currently studying the relationship between Church & State, I am concerned by Ford's use of religious iconography to woo voters. Many Church-State experts have expressed their concerns as well...

“To politicize… conservative Christianity… and just say ‘Here’s the Democratic version, I don’t think either one serves the interest of religion and certainly not the interest of the body politic,” said Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Congress. “It’s not a healthy development.”

Because tax-exempt, not-for-profit organizations are forbidden from participating in partisan activity, Stern said that the church likely ran afoul of the Internal Revenue Service code, unless it made its facilities available to all the candidates on equal terms.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the liberal Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, did not challenge the legality of the advertisement, assuming that the church was willing to provide equal time to other candidates. But he did describe it as cause for concern.

“This is, unfortunately, indicative of the infusion of religious rhetoric and imagery in the elections there these days,” said Saperstein, who recently attended Constitution Day celebrations in Tennessee. He added: “The manipulation of a church and religious symbols to add religious legitimacy to an attack on an opponent undercuts respect for religion in America and suggests a religious test for office that is divisive. The last thing we need is candidates using their churches to implicitly support their political accusations. In contrast, the first half of his remarks talking about his going to church as a child, where he learns about right and wrong, was about him, not his opponent, and helps explain who he is. That part of the commercial did feel appropriate.”

What say you? Are you concerned by this type of manipulation?

For more info on Harold Ford Jr, check out Dr. Robert Parham's latest piece at EthicsDaily.com entitled "Will Southern Baptists vote for an African-American?"


Blogger D.R. said...

Parham's assessment of the situation in TN is way too simplistic, and if I didn't know better I would suggest it is rather naive. However, I think Parham is just setting up another opportunity for CBF'ers like those at Ethics Daily to attack the SBC, which is ironic since the CBF is currently attacking the SBC for attacking it. I find all of it rather silly. But as a current resident of TN, I can assure you that this race goes much deeper than, uh...race. Harold Ford, Jr.'s biggest problem with Southern Baptist voters will not be the color of his skin, but rather his family ties. The Ford family has a reputation for some of the worst ethics violations, the latest coming from Jr's uncle who was indicted on bribery charges (and I saw the video - it's a pretty sure case). And while family shouldn't determine one's ability to serve, in this case, it makes it terribly difficult for any Baptist (especially one from West TN) to vote for a Ford.

10:09 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

I don't know much about Ford. I was astonished to read his positions on church-state issues. He wouldn't get my vote. I do remember his father, though.

However, I doubt Parham sees himself as a CBFer. He's a Ethicist and Centrist-Baptist. Parham will criticize both sides - the SBC just has more to critique these days.

10:25 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

The partisan in me wants Ford to win so that Democrats retake the Senate. I can play numbers games and see what that would mean for much legislation about which I care deeply--including on church-state matters.

But if I were a TN resident, I would be alarmed at Ford's manipulative use of religion, especially a campaign film in church. I would push for a campaign retraction--and if the church runs afoul of the IRS, I would expect Ford to foot their legal bills out of his own pocket.

Whether or not I would actually vote for him would depend on whom he was running against.

3:02 AM

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8:43 PM

Blogger PBill said...

I lived in Memphis for a few years and am not a fan of the Ford family; however, after a steady diet such things from church/state 'experts' one wonders if the goal is to excise any mention of church or religion in a political context.

Democrats as a party, of course, at attempting to connect with the millions of Americans who are religious so as to win a few elections. Kerry tried talking about it in 2004, an effort that was laughable.

Perhaps Jr.'s attempt will have more credibility.

5:41 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Did you notice that the commercial ends with Ford sitting in a prayer-like posture? I'm more concerned with the fact that a church let him film inside their building than I am over his personal attempts to convince us he's a good Christian.

12:18 PM

Blogger D.R. said...

One huge problem in Memphis is that the Church in the African American community is directly tied to politics, and not just in regards to issues. There are many instances of Democrats speaking from pulpits in African American churches in the area. And often they deliever partisan speeches designed to bring voters to the polls. This sort of "church-state violation", however, has been tolerated for years without a single investigation into the ethics of such a practice and little mention of it by conservatives for fear of being labeled as a racist. Ford, Jr. is just capitalizing on a system already in place in the Memphis area. But I am glad to see so many people now seeing what a can of worms it can be. Maybe this will awaken some of you to abuses on both sides of the aisles.

12:50 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

I get queasy when any politician gets behind the pulpit.

The IRS is getting tough on both sides. In years past, only a few churches have lost their tax-exempt status. We do not know which have churches received warning letters during that time. Groups like Americans United have called for investations into possible violations by both those on the left and right. Now, I know you're (D.R.) no fan of AU - but when it comes to Church-Electioneering - they've been quite fair. Since 1996, AU's complaints against churches have claimed 25 Republican-related violations and 19 Democrat-related violations (through 2004). In 2004, AU went after a black AME Church in Boston that endorsed Kerry. All in all, I hope the IRS will send some fear into those who wish to engage in partisan politics BUT be also be fair in doing so.

3:14 PM


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