This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting twist at the intersection of religion and politics. Generally, at least in recent years, when policymakers reach out to evangelical Christians, it’s Republicans seeking support on culture-war measures. Now, we’re seeing efforts to build a very different coalition.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) have turned to evangelical Christians in a last-ditch effort to move immigration reform and climate change legislation.

Democrats are making a direct appeal to the GOP base by turning to evangelical Christian and other religious leaders, and there’s some evidence that the talks could be fruitful.

In particular, Schumer has been engaged directly with Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, about generating support for a comprehensive immigration reform package. Kerry has reached out to evangelical leaders, including Florida mega-church leader Joel Hunter, in the hopes of giving a boost to his climate/energy bill.

Burns Strider, a former aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has also been part of the larger effort, keeping in regular contact with evangelical groups, including state affiliates of the Christian Coalition,

“It’s very surprising,” Hunter said. “These are times of interesting coalitions.”

Whether these efforts pay legislative dividends is, however, another matter. The Democrat’s health care reform initiative generated considerable support in a variety of faith communities, but that didn’t stop Republicans from unanimous opposition and endless demagoguery — even if it meant bearing false witness.

Still, it’s a trend worth watching.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Earlier this week, the Vatican offered its “most detailed defense yet against claims that it is liable for U.S. bishops who allowed priests to molest children.” Among the new arguments: the Roman Catholic Bishops are not technically Vatican employees.

* Late last year, a critically ill woman at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, had an abortion in order to save her life. She was, at the time, 11 weeks pregnant, when pulmonary hypertension made the abortion necessary. This week, the head of the Phoenix diocese excommunicated the hospital nun who signed off on the surgery, despite the fact that her decision saved a woman’s life. (thanks to reader D.J. for the tip)

* Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, is lashing out wildly and attacking Islam following reports of a mosque being built in Manhattan, not far from 9/11’s Ground Zero. Williams referred to the Islamic deity as a “monkey-god” and to Muslims as “the animals of allah.” He added that Islam attracts “mental cases,” and published an image of the prophet Muhammad with a swastika on top of his head. Another setback in the effort to make the Tea Party crowd appear tolerant and mainstream.