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Presidential Debate Watch Provides Forum for Religious Discussion
By Elizabeth Pinborough ’10 M.A.R.

About 100 Yale Divinity School students gathered on campus in the RSV Room Friday night, Sept. 26. They were not there to study or hear a lecture but to watch the first in a series of televised presidential debates between Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. The event was sponsored by the YDS Coalition, Yale Forum on Faith and Politics, Yale Black Seminarians, Women’s Center, Catholic Fellowship, Nightwalking Society, and Yale Earth Care Committee.

From their vocal responses to some of McCain’s remarks, the students seemed to overwhelmingly favor Obama. Jim Lehrer’s antics—“respond directly to him about that, to Senator Obama about that”—drew the students’ laughter, as did McCain’s remarks that he had never been “elected Miss Congeniality” in the Senate.

The YDS students, however, showed the serious side of their political and religious convictions as they lingered to talk over beers and soda. Religion, a dominant theme during the presidential primaries, was not a featured part of the first presidential debate, which focused on fiscal responsibility and foreign policy. Nonetheless, when the debate ended students still found the religion and politics nexus an engaging topic for discussion.

Kate Carlisle ’11 M.Div. said, “The fact that I’m a religious person affects everything,” including how she feels about politics. She does not think it possible to discuss certain issues, especially dealing with foreign policy, and omit the question of religion. “You can’t talk about Iraq and Iran without talking about religion.”

Scott Davis ’10 M.A.R. remarked, “It’s because of my faith that I am voting the way I am. It has to do with my personal theology of service to the underrepresented and of the cessation of war.

“The message of Christ was to go from the bottom up; it was to have dinner with the sinners, to heal the unfortunate, to respect the widow’s mite, and to rebuke those who were in power.”  For Davis, this mission “aligns more with the left than with the right.”
Rebecca Lenn ’09 M.A.R., who is studying ethics, was impressed with what she described as Obama’s “discursive ethic,” or his willingness to talk with people on the lowest political rungs.

Rachel Watson, ’10 M.Div., thought it was telling that divinity students found McCain’s reference to Iran as “an existential threat to the State of Israel” to be humorous. And she called it significant that both candidates are professed Christians.

Although she was unable to watch the debate, Laura Carlson ’11 M.Div. sees religion as an integral part of her voting decisions. “I am trying to untangle the nuances of what it means to vote as a Christian,” she said.  “There are certain issues that are of central importance. I am trying to figure out as a Christian what is a nonnegotiable.  There is not one candidate who has all the answers from my perspective as a Christian.”

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