Monday, July 23, 2007

Edwards CNN Debate:YouTube Reverend Lacked Full Truth

I was a bit confused by the premise of Reverend Longcrier's question addressed to John Edwards on the CNN/YouTube debate this evening. He stated that religion had been used to justify slavery when, in fact, the earliest campaign to end slavery in the United States was largely the work of a small number of Christians who opposed slavery on explicitly religious grounds and who, in their own time, were regularly condemned as fanatical zealots.

Perhaps Reverend Longcrier, who said religion was used to justify keeping the vote from women, didn't realize that it was the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) - with Frances Willard at its head in 1876 - who was a powerful force in the women's suffrage movement. Interestingly, one of the most vehement opponents to women's enfranchisement was the liquor lobby, which feared women might use the franchise to prohibit the sale of liquor.

In the framing of his YouTube question, Reverend Longcrier appeared to have mistaken John Edwards' personal faith for what Edwards had already explained to Wolf Blitzer about Presidential responsibility during the CNN Forum on Faith and Politics at George Washington University on June 4. At that time, Edwards stressed that the president of the United States should never use his personal belief system to impose that belief system on the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, as Marc Ambinder pointed out at the Atlantic, John Edwards "seemed on his game, although a noisy audience deprived him of the chance to impress a questioner on gay rights." Reverend Longcrier, who was in the audience during the debate, claimed not to have been satisfied by Edwards' answer and left me with the distinct impression that his own dissatisfaction was because of his own clumsily worded YouTube question. While CNN seemed happy to put such a controversial wedge question to Edwards on gay marriage, Reverend Longcrier's less than theologically/historicallly honest set-up of the question shortchanged everyone involved. On Cooper's live audience follow-up with the Reverend, Longcrier was given a brief chance to expand his question toward the more relevant issue he seemed to have wanted to lead into ...that is to say overall social justice and fairness issues. Alas, Anderson Cooper cut the Reverend off as quickly as he cut most of the candidates off tonight for the sake of fitting in as many YouTube videos as possible.


Tip of the hat to Chris Johnson for this excerpt from the CNN debate transcript:

COOPER: This next question is for Senator Edwards.

QUESTION: I'm Reverend Reggie Longcrier. I'm the pastor of Exodus Mission and Outreach Church in Hickory, North Carolina.

Senator Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation, and denying women the right to vote.

So why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay American their full and equal rights?


EDWARDS: I think Reverend Longcrier asks a very important question, which is whether fundamentally -- whether it's right for any of our faith beliefs to be imposed on the American people when we're president of the United States. I do not believe that's right.

I feel enormous personal conflict about this issue. I want to end discrimination. I want to do some of the things that I just heard Bill Richardson talking about -- standing up for equal rights, substantive rights, civil unions, the thing that Chris Dodd just talked about. But I think that's something everybody on this stage will commit themselves to as president of the United States.

But I personally have been on a journey on this issue. I feel enormous conflict about it. As I think a lot of people know, Elizabeth spoke -- my wife Elizabeth spoke out a few weeks ago, and she actually supports gay marriage. I do not. But this is a very, very difficult issue for me. And I recognize and have enormous respect for people who have a different view of it.

COOPER: I should also point out that the reverend is actually in the audience tonight. Where is he? Right over here.

Reverend, do you feel he answered your question?


QUESTION: This question was just a catalyst that promoted some other things that wrapped around that particular question, especially when it comes to fair housing practices. Also...

COOPER: Do you think he answered the question, though?

QUESTION: Not like I would like to have heard it...


COOPER: What did you not hear?

QUESTION: I didn't quite get -- some people were moving around, and I didn't quite get all of his answer. I just heard...

COOPER: All right, there's 30 seconds more. Why is it OK to quite religious beliefs when talking about why you don't support something? That's essentially what's his question.

EDWARDS: It's not. I mean, I've been asked a personal question which is, I think, what Reverend Longcrier is raising, and that personal question is, do I believe and do I personally support gay marriage?

The honest answer to that is I don't. But I think it is absolutely wrong, as president of the United States, for me to have used that faith basis as a basis for denying anybody their rights, and I will not do that when I'm president of the United States.


I have commented at these posts:


Bible Bending


Sven said...

I don't see a conflict. It is just like the Iraq War, where devote people oppose the war on religious grounds, while there are others that (somehow) see America as doing God's will. Just because some used religion to end slavery and give women the vote, does not mean that there were also a large number on the other side.

The Rev. was concerned about the number of people in years past that supported slavery, segregation and male-only voting on the basis of how they read their bible and sees an analogy to those who stand behind faith to deny gays their full and equal rites today. I think it was a great question that was never answered fully. As for Edwards, perhaps the Faith and Action website said it best when they wrote "John Edwards’ position on gay marriage is difficult, if not impossible, to understand."

Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

I don't think the answer could ever have been fully answered in the time allotted because the question, in and of itself, was skewed toward those who use religion as a deliberate excuse to take another's rights away, which John Edwards is clearly not a proponent of.

My point here, Sven, is that when the good Reverend asked his question, whether consciously or not, he kept the other side of the historical coin hidden.

An overwhelming majority of Americans profess to some kind of personal faith. While every individual's faith is deeply personal, their faith should never be held as private for fear that it will be discussed in a democratic public square.

We each need to be free to openly talk about where we've come from. Otherwise, we'll never understand where it is we need to go. I don't believe that Reverend Longcrier's question held enough historical balance to convince me, a deeply faithful person who is pro-gay marriage without reservation, that it was a fair question to politically point John Edwards' way. It sounded more like an accusation rather than a measured invitation to reason.

30 minute...can you honestly expect an answer in that period of time? The very premise of satisfaction of that expectation seems ludicrous after so many years of controversy on thsi issue.

If we want John Edwards to lie about what he personally feels, then we can stop being confused about his reconciling law and public responsibility with personal belief, I suppose. I choose to not hear him lie to us about where he's coming from. I'm sick of lies from our leaders.

Edwards has made it CRYSTAL clear (as I showed in my post) that he will defend the civil rights of GLBTs to every measure of existing and (if necessary) newly reformed law.

I don't see the confusion at all.

Perhaps I could assist the Faith and Action website with clarification. Let me know.

Biblebending Watchdog said...

Hello Jude,

I can appreciate your admiration for Edwards' honesty. I monitor how the Bible is used in pop culture from how it informs the world views of politicians to how it shapes the plots of films. On any issue concerning gay rights it is more often the Bible rather than the Constitution that is evoked. It is not healthy for our country to debate an issue's biblical merit (for instance, whether or not poverty is a "biblical issue"). Edwards sounds as though he agrees with me. He exemplifies the tensions that our nation struggles to resolve: how much should our individual beliefs shape our collective values?

Thank you for engaging me.

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