This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is an angle to the debate over health care reform that shouldn’t go overlooked: some religiously-motivated activists are weighing in heavily on the side of reform.

Liberal-leaning religious groups are launching radio ads in five states this week in which local pastors urge senators to back efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care system.

In the ads, the religious leaders discuss the moral reasons for making health care more affordable. They are being sponsored by national and local groups including Faith in Public Life, Faithful America, the PICO National Network and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

While participants said they are not focusing on specific policies, they said they wanted legislation that would provide federal subsidies for people who cannot afford adequate care. The Senate Finance Committee, working behind closed doors on a bill it hopes to unveil after this week’s congressional recess, has been reducing those subsidies to make its package less expensive.

“It’s morally unacceptable in this country,” the Rev. Cory Sparks of Lafayette, La., said of the current health system’s problems in a conference call held by leaders of the effort Tuesday with reporters.

The ads are geared specifically for Christian audiences and are intended to coincide with lawmakers’ trips home during the July 4 recess. What’s more, conservatives are starting to feel anxious about the burgeoning “religious left” getting more involved.

Randy Brinson, a conservative political consultant in Alabama, has been fielding anxious calls for weeks from business interests across the South.

Their concern is massive ad blitz on Christian and country-music stations across 10 states. The ads, funded by a left-leaning coalition, urge support for congressional legislation to curb greenhouse-gas emissions — by framing the issue as an urgent matter of Biblical morality.

“As our seas rise, crops wither and rivers run dry, God’s creation cries out for relief,” begins one ad, narrated by an evangelical megachurch pastor. Another opens with a reference to the Gospel of John, slams energy interests for fighting the bill, and concludes: “Please join the faithful in speaking out against the powerful.”

Dr. Brinson tells his clients they are right to be worried. Such an aggressive political campaign by the religious left is unexpected, he says, and could prove powerful. “This is the first time I’ve seen a moderate group of evangelicals come together and do a coordinated campaign,” said Dr. Brinson. He is warning clients: “You’re going to hear a lot more of this.”

For the last few decades, religio-political activism has been the hallmark of the right. That’s changing quickly.

Also from the God Machine:

* Time magazine’s Amy Sullivan reports that the Obama family has chosen Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David, as their primary place of worship. White House officials insist this is not the case, and that the First Family “continues to look for a church home.”

* Last week’s bring-your-gun-to-church day at the New Bethel Church in Louisville was well received by congregants — 200 people showed up with firearms for worship services.

* And the Vatican has raised a few eyebrows by launching “two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.” The “inquisition” may be the result of more and more nuns changing to reflect contemporary cultural norms: “[M]any American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.”