The 2012 Notre Dame forum featured five prominent members of different religious traditions who gathered together to discuss “Conviction & Compromise: Being a Person of Faith in a Liberal Democracy.” President Fr. Jenkins introduced the forum as a “vehicle to bring leading authorities to stimulate conversation and stimulate our learning.”

Professors David Campbell of the Political Science Department and M. Cathleen Kaveny of the Notre Dame Law School moderated the discussion in the Debartolo Performing Arts center on Tuesday, September 4.  The moderators raised some difficult questions for the panelists, eliciting their conflicting opinions regarding faith and politics in our country.  In large part, the discussion proceeded amicably and in keeping with Pastor Warren’s recommendation to the American people: “Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable.”

The opening question asked the panelists whether or not they believe their roles include political guidance for members of their faith traditions.  Elder Dallin Oaks, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, plainly stated that leaders in his faith tradition “stay away from political guidance and rarely take positions on public policies except in very exceptional situations.”  Rabbi David Saperstein, prolific writer and member of the White House Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, did not agree: “We want the perfection of the whole world. How can we be right to the world if we don’t speak out on important issues?”

Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, also believes in being more vocal: “I don’t want to politicize the faith, but we have to have leaders. You have no alternative than to speak up and as you see His will in your world.”  Cizik acknowledged, however, that his opinions might stem from the fact that he does not have pastoral responsibilities.

In contrast, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, said that “his bias” is the Bible passage “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Instead, he believes his role is to ask political figures about their families and about their walk with God.  There is a frank limitation of politics, he said: “I don’t place all my hope in politics.”  When asked whether he’s right wing or left wing he tells people: “I’m for the whole bird.”

All the panelists agreed that the denomination of political candidates should not be the basis for voting for or against them.  Pastor Warren said: “If I go to a doctor, I don’t want to know if he is an Evangelical.”  Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D., archbishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville and the vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, expanded on Pastor Warren’s statement, “I don’t take into account religion but instead what flows from their seat. Are they a man or woman of integrity?”  Elder Oaks agreed: “I want to support someone who feels accountable to a higher power. How they define that is far less important to me.”

Elder Oaks later answered a student question about diversity of religion in the U.S. and the effect of increased religious apathy in our country.  Oaks said he is “wary of those who are aggressively atheistic because they do not value religious freedom. I am not afraid of diversity, but we cannot take it for granted.”  Cizik responded, saying that he was “uncomfortable with Oaks’s statement.  There is a phobia against those of no faiths.”

Cizik spoke regarding the direction of Evangelicals: “Evangelicals are engaged in all issues but our witness is marred by the fact that as a movement we don’t have a common philosophy.  We haven’t been thinking about the culture wars. We need to first of all see and think more clearly and secondly care more deeply and act more boldly.”

A main point of emphasis for Archbishop Kurtz was faithful citizenship.  He stressed “lifelong formation of conscience” as a crucial element of faithful citizenship, saying “faithful citizenship is not just what I feel like doing or what I want to do or considering how this will be good for me, but rather, it is a lifelong process of uncovering God’s plan.” [See the USCCB document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” for further reading.]

Kurtz stated, however, that the Catholic Church does not endorse specific candidates or coerce voters.  Cizik challenged Kurtz, asking why the Catholic Church has not spoken out about the Republican vice president candidate’s affection for Ayn Rand. The Archbishop reiterated: “We do not endorse political candidates.”

Rabbi Saperstein further pushed the archbishop, asking: “Isn’t there an element of coercion if you refuse communion [to politicians who publicly support abortion]?” Kurtz responded: “It is the individual’s choice to participate in a religion. As a person of integrity and as a Catholic, individuals should say ‘I desire to always and perfectly be formed.’ People actively participating in their faith means they have made an active decision to be a part of that group.”

Pastor Warren offered general voting advice: “There is no leader you’ll agree with 100%.  You can’t dismiss all the good things they’re doing because of this.  It is very important that [you] be aware of passion projections.  God wired us to care about all different things so everything would get done.”  Archbishop Kurtz, however, said that certain moral issues have more weight than others.

Cizik broached the topic of The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) healthcare mandate, “Guidelines for Women’s Preventative Services,” that requires most religious employers to include contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization services in their employee benefits.  Cizik stated that while he believes this mandate limits religious freedom, he questions whether or not it encroaches enough on the public good to merit the response given by the Catholic Church.  Kurtz said that it indeed does, questioning more deeply: “To what extent is it wise to restrict religious freedom?”

Rabbi Saperstein spoke regarding the Jewish experience in the U.S., stating that the U.S. has been the best country in the world for the Jewish people: “Freedom of choice [is] extraordinary.  It raises us above just biological beings. It enables us all to partner in shaping a better world.”

Rabbi Saperstein continued, emphasizing how beneficial the separation of Church and state has been for the United States, encouraging more people to worship and keeping them in Church: “The separation of Church and state has served America in deep and profound ways. We should be very wary of abandoning this.”
Madeline Gillen is a junior history and art history major living in Welsh Family Hall.  She welcomes creative suggestions on how to creep on her freshman brother living in Knott. Contact her at