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LEWISBURG, Pa. -- When it comes to religion and politics in America, a distinguished panel of religion experts participating in a Bucknell Forum agreed to disagree, but found bits of common ground.

The four diverse panelists -- Obery Hendricks, professor of biblical interpretation at the New York Theological Seminary; Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; and The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans for Separation of Church and State -- covered significant ground as they explored the role religion was playing in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.

At one point in the collegial discussion moderated by Julie Segal Walters, founder of Civic Action Strategies, two of the participants in one light-hearted exchange had the Trout Auditorium crowd chuckling.

"Phew, I'm surprised because I agreed with so much of what you said," Hendricks said to Land. "It's worrying."

"That's because the media makes us think we're more divided than what we actually are," Land said.

"I think we're pretty divided," said Hendricks. "We just haven't hit on the things we're divided about."

Religious identity
Moderator Walters asked each of the panelists if religious identity was having an impact on how voters were approaching the 2008 election.

Land said the impact on voters might be somewhat exaggerated. "I would like to point out that four of the last five times that Southern Baptists have had the opportunity to do so the majority of them have voted against a Southern Baptist and for someone of a different faith tradition in presidential races in the United States," he said.

He underscored the point by noting that in Super Tuesday's voting that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, failed to get a majority of evangelical votes in any primary. "He hasn't gotten 50 percent yet. That's because evangelicals are not one-dimensional," said Land. (Audio clip)

Religious identity
offered that religion was increasingly forming both private and public persona, not just in the United States but around the globe. "What you begin to notice across regions, across religious traditions, there is an upsurge of religious identity coming to the fore," he said. "The United States is no exception." (Audio clip)

Hendricks said voters identify with candidates who they think endorse their interests. But, he said, candidates "try to couch their rhetoric in terms that at least suggest they endorse the interests of those that they want to attract," he said. "What we're not seeing is the values of Jesus Christ being lifted up in this election at all." (Audio clip)

Lynn, however, characterized this presidential election as having a "religion-drenched primary season."

Common views
Citing the U.S. Constitution, Lynn said, "That doesn't mean candidates can't be religious. It doesn't mean they can't ever talk about religion. But it does mean that ultimately politicians have to make decisions based not on their own unique theological views but on the commonly shared views of the American people, a source of those views and values to be found in the Constitution. Not a bad document." (Audio clip)

Other highlights:

Land: "As long as there is a bright-line distinction between the two parties when it comes to the issue of when an unborn citizen's life can be ended and under what circumstances it can be ended, there is not going to be a lot of shifting in the so-called values voters."

Lynn: Regarding the media and how it questions candidates, "Maybe someone (who is) continuing support for the Iraq war shouldn't be asked how many times do you go to church. Just maybe it would be better, more instructive, and more useful if they said, 'Sir, how many times have you visited the veteran administration hospital in your state, because apparently you are going to continue a war that will put more men and women in those hospitals?' See, I think there are right ways to ask questions about values and morals. The press these days tends to ask simple-mindedly wrong questions about those topics."

Lugo: "People do not pay enough attention to the cultural insecurity that the process of globalization is engendering around the world, including the United States. My sense is that precisely because those cultural issues have come to the fore that people have looked more and more to religion as a way of finding some sure footing in a world that they see changing very rapidly around them."

Hendricks: "When you have people in office who don't fully value the humanity of others, then you are going to have problems. Those are questions we owe it to America to ask from time to time." 

The Bucknell Forum
"The Bucknell Forum: The Citizen & Politics in America" is a national speakers series exploring major issues in the 2008 presidential election, notably those at the forefront of the national discourse. The series features nationally renowned leaders, scholars, and commentators exploring these issues from multi-disciplinary perspectives and offers opportunities for campus and community conversations.

On March 17, best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich will speak on "Class, Citizenship, and the Presidency." Pulitzer-prize winning syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts will speak on March 24.
NBC newsman Tim Russert was The Bucknell Forum's inaugural speaker in September, followed in October by a panel of national political correspondents from among the country's most influential print, broadcast, and online news sources discussed the role that media play in shaping the presidential election and the issues affecting the race. In November, the renowned political theorist Benjamin Barber spoke about the challenges facing democracy in America.

In January, CNBC-TV "Mad Money" host, best-selling author, and Wall Street investor Jim Cramer gave the talk "The Capitalist Citizen and Democracy."

Contact: Office of Communications

Posted Feb. 7, 2008