Notes on the `Compassion Forum’
The fact that the “Compassion Forum” interviews with Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama occurred and were aired Sunday night on national television is more interesting than what the two Democratic presidential aspirants actually said. But there is still a lot to consider.
I haven’t seen a transcript yet, so here are a few notes of these back-to-back interviews CNN did on the candidates’ religious beliefs.
Both candidates were asked about when they believe life begins.
“I believe that the potential for life begins at conception,” Clinton said, adding thather Methodist Church has struggled with the issue of abortion. “For me it is not only about a potential life, but for the other lives involved … I have concluded after great concern and searching my own mind and heart … that individuals must be trusted to make this profound decision.”
Obama said he has not resolved in his mind when life begins, “when the soul stirs.” On abortion: “I absolutely think we can find common ground.”
Clinton’s favorite passage in the Bible: the story of Esther. “There weren’t too many models of women [in the Bible] who had the opportunity to make a decision, to take a chance, a risk,” she said.
Obama on creation: “The six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it. And that’s what I believe … I do believe in evolution. I don’t think that is incompatible with Christian faith.”
With the two candidates competing in heavily Catholic Pennsylvania, both managed to make what can be interpreted as a pitch for the Catholic vote.
Clinton twice mentioned Pope Benedict’s pending visit to the U.S., complimenting the church leadership both times. “He has been a strong voice on behalf of what we must do to deal with poverty,” she of “His Holiness the pope.” And later, she cited the Vatican’s pledge to become carbon neutral – trees were to be planted in Hungary to compensate for Vatican City’s carbon dioxide emissions – as an example of good leadership. She said she’d read about this while preparing for the papal visit.
Obama didn’t mention the pope. But the Illinois senator did manage to say that he attended a Catholic elementary school in Indonesia. He likened himself to another former Catholic school student, Sen. Bob Casey, a prominent Catholic supporter in Pennsylvania.
My overall impression was that Obama was probably the more comfortable of the two in speaking about his faith. Clinton had difficulty in expressing when she had felt the presence of the Holy Spirit – or even in explaining why it was too private to explain. As CNN reported, Clinton often uses this remark about the Holy Spirit on the stump. But neither did she pass herself off as an expert. “I see through a glass darkly,” she said.
So I’d hesitate to pick a winner – except to say that it was a win for the Democrats to focus on religious faith in a much more sophisticated way than Sen. John Kerry did four years ago.