Yesterday the campaign of Senator Barack Obama received the endorsement of Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.
He (Robinson) stressed that his endorsement was as an individual, not as bishop.
''I will not be speaking about the campaign from the pulpit or at any church function,'' he said. ''That is completely inappropriate. But as a private citizen, I will be at campaign events and help in any way that I can.''
“As my work shows me every day, leadership means bringing people together and inspiring them to live out their values. Barack Obama sees beyond the partisanship and hopelessness that have dominated in recent years, and the movement he’s building is bringing vital new energy and optimism into our democratic process. I’m excited to work with Barack to bridge the old divides and make this country one again.”
But his endorsement drew fire from my friend Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and host of Air America's State of Belief. The Washington Post's blog The Trail reports:
Three hours after the announcement, Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said it was "just the latest example of candidates misusing religious leaders for political gain."
Gaddy said he was sending a letter to all the presidential candidates asking them not to make endorsements that appear to be speaking on behalf of their house of worship or denomination.
"In recent presidential campaigns little concern has been in evidence about the negative consequences that certain political strategies bring about for houses of worship," Gaddy's letter read.
When I endorsed Obama I said nearly just what Bishop Robinson did:
As a minister in the United Church of Christ, I trust deeply in the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state and my endorsement is therefore a personal one and does not reflect on the church I serve or my denomination. But as a citizen I believe that all Americans must engage in the political process as individuals for democracy to thrive. So I choose to add my voice today with millions of other Americans concerned about the direction of this nation.
Welton invited me to come on his show right after I made my endorsement and asked me to explain why I was supporting Obama and what I thought the role of churches should be in politics. He told listeners that my answer was one of the best he had ever heard (you can listen to the show here).
Few people in America have earned my respect the way Welton Gaddy has. He is a tremendous champion of the separation of church and state and a strong voice for the progressive religious community. But if he is suggesting that religious leaders cannot as individuals engage in the political process he is simply wrong.
Religious leaders should be (and are under the law) free as individuals to become involved in all aspects of public life but must do so without bringing our churches along for the ride. I understand and appreciate Welton's concerns but disagree with his conclusions.