by Mike Dorning
The Chicago Tribune 6-05-2007
Three leading Democratic presidential candidates on Monday offered a glimpse of the role that religion plays in their private and political lives, from the faith that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said helped her endure the humiliation of her husband's public infidelity to the model that Sen. Barack Obama said he finds in Lincoln's presidency for reconciling war and Christian faith.
Clinton described taking solace in prayer and her religious convictions as she continued in her marriage with President Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
"I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right, regardless of what the world thought," she said.
The New York senator addressed the affair -- which she rarely discusses -- at the prompting of CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien, host of a forum on faith, values and poverty featuring Clinton, Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
"I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith," Clinton said. "I take my faith very seriously."
The forum, aired on CNN and sponsored by Sojourners/Call to Renewal, an evangelical Christian organization that emphasizes progressive social causes, was intended to provide voters a greater insight into the values that inform presidential candidates. It also offered each of the three candidates an opportunity to show a more personal side. The candidates were interviewed separately in 15-minute segments.
Monday's forum comes as the Democratic candidates have been more actively courting religious voters than in the past. In the last presidential election, President Bush forged a strong connection with conservative evangelicals and Catholics while Democratic nominee John Kerry rarely spoke of his Roman Catholic faith and was caught in a controversy with his church's hierarchy over abortion rights.
This year, some of the Democratic candidates have built campaign operations to reach out to religious voters. Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, and Edwards, a Southern Baptist, have unveiled Web sites devoted to faith and moral values. Clinton, a Methodist, plans to do the same.
Edwards, who has proposed an ambitious set of anti-poverty programs that he says would eliminate poverty in 30 years, portrayed the plight of the poor as a stark test of religious convictions.
"It is the great moral issue of our time," Edwards said. Later, he added, "Whatever happens in this presidential campaign, as long as I am living and breathing, I will be out there fighting with everything I have to help the poor in this country."
Obama, when asked whether "God is on the side" of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, turned to Lincoln's admonition that even in a war for just causes a nation must be wary of acting unjustly. (so his faith values say there IS such a thing as a just war....)
Obama called the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, "evil" acts but, without naming Bush, clearly criticized the president's frequent characterizations of the U.S. struggles in the Middle East as a war against evildoers. (but did he mention impeachment??)
"The danger of using good versus evil in the context of war is it may lead us to be not as critical as we should be about our own actions," said Obama. He cited prisoner abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib that "all of us should be ashamed for" and the "unjust" detention without charges at Guantanamo.
There were also personal questions. The audience of religious leaders gasped when O'Brien asked Edwards to name his "biggest sin," a question he fended off by noting "I sin every day. We are all sinners."
(Isn't keeping impeachment off the table a sin, Senator, like maybe one of the biggest? If you believe in sin, that is?)