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Inquisitiveness, not inquisition, marks Voices & Votes conference

By Frank Brown
Assistant Director, Publications

A three-day conference on Sterling Divinity Quadrangle in February drew some of the country's leading evangelical Christians for a series of panel discussions exploring the relationship between religion and politics.

"Voices & Votes: Religious Convictions in the Public Square," sponsored by the Yale Center for Faith & Culture and the Yale Forum on Faith and Politics, featured participants from across the political spectrum but was especially compelling because of the number of influential and politically savvy conservative Christian leaders who took part. Among them were power brokers Ralph Reed, former Christian Coalition head, and Southern Baptist leader Richard Land. Also joining the conference was conservative writer Richard Viguerie.

In keeping with Yale Center for Faith & Culture Director Miroslav Volf's opening remarks dwelling on the importance of showing "generosity to those on the other side of the aisle," the tone of the Feb. 11-13 conference was one of inquisitiveness, not inquisition.

During the second panel, "Candidates Expressing Their Faith - How Much is Too Much?," Land's comments underscored the topicality of the conference as he related a conversation with Mitt Romney, a Mormon and former governor of Massachusetts who, days later, announced his candidacy for U.S. president. "The only person that I can think of in the current race for president who needs to talk about his religion is Mitt Romney," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. "I've strongly encouraged him to do a Jack Kennedy, to proactively deal with" being the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to launch a serious bid for the White House.

Richard Viguerie, whose latest book is C onservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause , gave historical context to the political activism of Evangelical Christians as he described how, as recently as 1976, Democrats won Evangelical Christian support. "Jimmy Carter appeared on the 700 Club and Pat Robertson put his arm around him," Viguerie told the scores of listeners-many of them born after that presidential election-in the Divinity School's newly renovated Marquand Chapel.

As one of the older conservative participants in the "Voice & Votes" conference, Viguerie offered listeners a primer on the history of postwar American conservatism. He stressed conservatives' emphasis on self-reliance over against what he called "a liberal approach that involves appointing a committee, i.e. the government." To that, a quick rejoinder came from feminist theologian Serene Jones. "Jesus did appoint a committee," quipped Jones, the Divinity School's Titus Street Professor of Theology, in apparent reference to the disciples.

The conference was not just concerned with United States politics. On the final day, during a segment entitled " Presidential Campaigns and America 's Global Priorities" the D. Willis James Professor of Missions & World Christianity, Lamin Sanneh, led a breakfast discussion on how American religious forces influence the country's foreign policy.

Speaking from personal experience, Sanneh described how he encountered deep worry in the Islamic world regarding the United States's post 9-11 intentions. " I spent a lot of time traveling around the Muslim world assuring my Muslim friends that America is not anti-Muslim or anti Islamic values," said Sanneh, who is on the boards of the Program in Ethics and Public Policy at Harvard University and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute of Birmingham, AL. "Muslims want to dialogue but they don't know how to dialogue. Christians know how to dialogue but they don't want to."

Ralph Reed, student moderator Evan Baehr, and Professor Serene Jones on panel "The Evolution of the Religious Right"

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