Hillary Speaks (Elsewhere)

January 31, 2008

One of the claims made by critics of the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant was that it would be a pep rally for Hillary Clinton and that she would even show up (even though former president Jimmy Carter has recently praised Barack Obama). Hillary did speak in the building yesterday, but at two different meetings (the World Congress Center is, after all, huge and hosts many events at the same time). She spoke at a Democratic fundraiser and before that during the closing session of the gathering of the four major National Baptist bodies. Obama addressed that Baptist group earlier via satellite. I went to hear her speak since I was already here (her speech was a few hours before the Celebration began). Although much of it seemed very appropriate for the occasion, it seemed too partisan at times for a religious meeting. Ethics Daily has an article today about her speech.

Hillary's speech left me with two main concerns. First, I am troubled when religious groups have candidates speak during a campaign year, especially since the speeches could likely turn partisan. The Southern Baptist Convention did this with President George W. Bush in 2004, and my undergraduate Baptist school had a Republican U.S. Senate candidate speak during chapel right before an election (even though his opponent was a Baptist with connections to the school). Such occasions during a campaign year could give the impression--even if inaccurate--that the religious body has taken sides. The Celebration organizers worked very hard to get both Republican and Democrats to speak in order to avoid the appearance of partisan bias that other meetings have had.

The other concern, however, was sparked by something a National Baptist leader said. In the introduction of Hillary, the man explained that all Democratic and Republican candidates had been invited to speak but that the Republicans chose not to. Since the Republican candidates--not just Mike Huckabee--have been speaking to numerous religious meetings and even in churches, it could not be that they turned down the invitation because they did not want to politicize the gathering. Instead, they must have chosen not to attend that specific religious gathering. And yet, many Republicans will claim they are the party of faith and values. By their absence at the National Baptist gathering, they seem to be suggesting that they do not see the African-American Baptists as people of faith and values. Forget the political ramifications of ignoring an important segment of the electorate. It is most troubling that they claim they are reaching out to religious people and then decide that the National Baptists do not count.

On a more humorous note, a news article about Hillary's speech inaccurately mentioned twice where she spoke. The photo caption said she spoke at the "New Baptist Covenant" and the text of the article said she spoke to the "Southern Baptist Convention." That latter setting sure would be a fun one to watch a Hillary speech (Jerry Falwell would probably roll over in his grave)!

UPDATE [1-31-08]: If you are interested, the text of Hillary's National Baptist speech is here.