Barack Obama photo

Remarks at the Compassion Forum

April 13, 2008



BROWN: Welcome back, everybody, to the Compassion Forum. And Senator Obama is joining us now. Thanks for being with us.

OBAMA: Thank you so much for having me.

BROWN: So I'm going to start with something that's been in the news. I don't have to tell you that you made some comments recently that are generating a lot of controversy. And I want to remind the audience and our viewers of what you had said. You were talking about people here in small towns in Pennsylvania suffering economic hardship. And you said, quote, It's not surprising they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them. And to a lot of the religious leaders in this room, to a lot of decent, hardworking people out there, it may have come across as you attacking their values or their religion, suggesting that people are clinging to religion.

OBAMA: Well, first of all, you know, Scripture talks about clinging to what's good. And so it's very important -- my words may have been clumsy, which happens surprisingly often on a presidential campaign...


... but this is something that I've talked about before, I've talked about in my own life, which is that religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things aren't going well. That's true in my own life, through trials and tribulations.

And so what I was referring to was in no way demeaning a faith that I, myself, embrace. What I was saying is that when economic hardship hits in these communities, what people have is they've got family, they've got their faith, they've got the traditions that have been passed onto them from generation to generation. Those aren't bad things. That's what they have left.

And, unfortunately, what people have become bitter about -- and oftentimes have told me about, as I traveled through not just Pennsylvania, but I was referring to states all across the Midwest, including my home state -- is any confidence that the government is listening to them. They don't think that government is listening to them.

So I think it is very important to understand -- and I think it's unfortunate that, in the political process, presidential campaigns, that people have been trying to misconstrue my words -- to understand that, you know, I am a devout Christian, that I started my work working with churches in the shadow of steel plants that had closed on the south side of Chicago, that nobody in a presidential campaign on the Democratic side in recent memory has done more to reach out to the church and talk about, what are our obligations religiously, in terms of doing good works, and how does that inform our politics?

So I think that this is an example of, frankly, how the political debate can distract us from what is really at issue and that is: How are we going to create a just and fair society where people are getting a fair shake? And that's why I'm running this campaign.

BROWN: And Hillary Clinton, who was just here, said you're being elitist.

OBAMA: Well, that is, I think, a good example of what happens on the presidential campaign, is that we try to tear each other down instead of lifting the country up.

OBAMA: But, you know, the notion that somebody like myself, who has been working in churches since I got out of college. and whose entire trajectory, not just during this campaign, but long before, has been to talk about how Democrats need to get in church, reach out to evangelicals, link faith with the work that we do.

The notion that somehow I am standing above that when that essentially describes much of what I've been doing over the last 20 years doesn't make much sense.

MEACHAM: Senator, do you believe that God intervenes in history and rewards or punishes people or nations in real time for their behavior?

OBAMA: You know, what I believe is that God intervenes, but that his plans are a little too mysterious for me to grasp. And so what I try to do is, as best I can, be an instrument of his will. To act in what I think is accordance to the precepts of my faith.

And, you know, if I'm acting in an ethical way, if I am working to make sure that I am applying what I consider to be a core value of Christianity, but also a core value of all great religions, and that is that I am my brother's keeper and I am my sister's keeper, then I will be doing my part to move his agenda forward.

I don't know what that master plan is. And I don't presume to know. And I think that none of us know. But what we do -- what I think we can do is to act in ways that are consummate with the values that we cherish.

And sometimes that's harder to do in politics than it should be. But I think that's what's demanded of us.

BROWN: Let's take a question from Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, who is with us. He is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Reverend?

REV. SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL HISPANIC LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE: Senator Obama, the vast majority of Americans believe that abortion is a decision to be made by a woman, her family and her doctors. However, the vast majority of Americans similarly believe that abortion is the taking of a human life.

The terms pro-choice and pro-life, do they encapsulate that reality in our 21st Century setting and can we find common ground?

OBAMA: I absolutely think we can find common ground. And it requires a couple of things. Number one, it requires us to acknowledge that there is a moral dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down. I think that's a mistake because I think all of us understand that it is a wrenching choice for anybody to think about.

The second thing, once we acknowledge that, is to recognize that people of good will can exist on both sides. That nobody wishes to be placed in a circumstance where they are even confronted with the choice of abortion. How we determine what's right at that moment, I think, people of good will can differ.

And if we can acknowledge that much, then we can certainly agree on the fact that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.

And we've actually made progress over the last several years in reducing teen pregnancies, for example. And what I have consistently talked about is to take a comprehensive approach where we focus on abstinence, where we are teaching the sacredness of sexuality to our children.

But we also recognize the importance of good medical care for women, that we're also recognizing the importance of age-appropriate education to reduce risks. I do believe that contraception has to be part of that education process.

And if we do those things, then I think that we can reduce abortions and I think we should make sure that adoption is an option for people out there. If we put all of those things in place, then I think we will take some of the edge off the debate.

We're not going to completely resolve it. I mean, there -- you know, at some point, there may just be an irreconcilable difference. And those who are opposed to abortion, I think, should continue to be able to lawfully object and try to change the laws.

OBAMA: Those of us, like myself, who believe that in this difficult situation it is a woman's responsibility and choice to make in consultation with her doctor and her pastor and her family.

I think we will continue to suggest that that's the right legal framework to deal with the issue. But at least we can start focusing on how to move in a better direction than the one we've been in the past.

MEACHAM: Senator, do you personally believe that life begins at conception? And if not, when does it begin?

OBAMA: This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on. I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don't presume to know the answer to that question. What I know, as I've said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates.

BROWN: Let me go to, again, are the end of the spectrum on that. There are a lot of philosophical and ethical questions relating to ending one's life. In "The Audacity of Hope," you write very movingly about your mother's fight with cancer, the pain she was in and the process that she went through, especially toward the end.

In that vein, if someone today was in her position, and wanted to take active steps to end his or her own life, do you think that would be OK morally?

OBAMA: Well I think we have to be very careful in making end-of-life decisions. I believe in first of all everybody having a living will so that their views on these issues can be factored in by family members and their doctors and many of the difficult choices that are made are made because people don't have guidance from the individual. I do believe in the importance of medicine and that if somebody is terminally ill, relieving their pain and suffering is the right thing to do. What happens then is you start getting into a gray area where relieving pain and suffering may accelerate death in some situations and that's a decision that should be made by the individual, the family and the doctor.

I don't think that it's appropriate to empower doctors themselves to make that decision. But I think that it is important for us to be able to allow people who are terminally ill, in excruciating pain, to get the medicine they need to relieve that pain.

BROWN: By relieve that pain you mean hasten the end of life if they choose to?

OBAMA: And I think that there has to be very strict guidelines to ensure that somebody who is making a decision to relieve their pain that might take a week away from their life just because they are -- they are slipping into a coma quicker, for example. That that is distinguished from -- or at least there's a possibility that they slip into a coma. That that's distinguished from euthanasia in which someone else is making the decision for them.

BROWN: Let's go to Dr. Frank Page, who's with us, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Page?

FRANK PAGE, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: Thank you, Senator Obama. Thank you for being here at Messiah College for the Compassion Forum. Southern Baptists have been very active for years in sub- Saharan Africa in the HIV/AIDS relief ministries. Sometimes orphan care, sometimes educational activities.

But we also are involved in a ministry called True Love Waits, which has been credited by the government of Uganda from lowering the AIDS infection rate there dramatically from 30 percent to 6 percent. But we also teach a part of that, that faith has a role in the issue of HIV/AIDS. Do you concur with that and would you elaborate on that,please.

BROWN: Can I just clarify, True Love Waits is an abstinence program.

PAGE: Abstinence based and faith based, yes.

OBAMA: Well, first of all, congratulations to those who have been involved in that work. I think it's important work. And I think you may know my father came from this part of the world. I visited Kenya multiple times. I have been working with a group of grandmas who were helping AIDS orphans in Kenya.

OBAMA: Michelle and I, when we were traveling there, took an AIDS test before thousands of people to encourage the importance of them getting clear on what their status was and hopefully reducing infections. And, by the way, this is an area where -- this doesn't happen very often, so everybody should take note -- where I compliment George Bush. I actually think that...


I actually think that the PEPFAR program is one of the success stories of this administration. We've seen a drastic increase in funding. And terrific work is being done between the CDC, the NIH, local AIDS organizations, NGOs.

My view is, is that we should use whatever the best approaches are, the scientifically sound approaches are, to reduce this devastating disease all across the world.

And part of that, I think, should be a strong education component and I think abstinence education is important. I also think that contraception is important; I also think that treatment is important; I also think that we have to do more to make antiviral drugs available to people who are in extreme poverty.

So I don't want to pluck out one facet of it. Now, that doesn't mean that non-for-profit groups can't focus on one thing while the government focuses on other things. I think we want to have a comprehensive approach.

I do think that -- and I've said this when I was in Kenya -- that there is a behavioral element to AIDS that has to be addressed. And if there is -- if there's promiscuity and we are pretending that that's not an issue in spreading AIDS, then we're missing part of the answer.

But I also think that -- keep in mind, women are far more likely to be infected now between the ages of 18 and 25 than are men. And that's why focusing, for example, on the status of women, empowering women, giving them microbicides, or other strategies that would allow them to protect themselves when they sometimes in certain situations may not be able to protect themselves from having unprotected sex, all those things are going to be just as important, as well.

MEACHAM: Sir, in an earlier occasion in... (APPLAUSE) ... an earlier occasion in talking about your own daughters and talking about sex education and contraception, you said that you would not want your daughter punished with a baby if she made a mistake, that you would teach values and morals, but if something were to happen. The phrase punished with a baby was jarring to a number of people. Could you explain what you meant by that?

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, on that same day, I said children are miracles, and so I think it's important not to parse my words too carefully here. What I was saying was that my daughters are 9 and 6.


And so if, at the age of 12 or 13, they made what I would consider to be a mistake, in having sex or unprotected sex, and ended up getting pregnant -- I think that statistically we know 12- or 13- year-olds who are having children are much more likely to be impoverished, are much more likely to have health problems, are much more likely to have trouble raising that child.

And so all I meant was we want to prevent teen pregnancies. And what we don't want to do is to be blind to the possibility that kids will screw up, just like, surprisingly enough, we as adults screw up sometimes.

And, you know, we should factor in the possibility that they make mistakes in our approach to dealing with STDs, which is what I was being asked about at the time.

And we want to make sure that, even as we are teaching responsible sexuality and we are teaching abstinence to children, that we are also making sure that they've got, you know, enough understanding about contraception that they don't end up having much more severe problems because of a dumb mistake.

BROWN: Senator, if one of your daughters asked you -- and maybe they already have -- Daddy, did God really create the world in six days? What would you say?

OBAMA: You know, I'm trying to remember if we had this conversation.


OBAMA: You know, what I've said to them is that I believe that God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it. It may not be 24-hour days. And that's what I believe.

I know there's always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don't. And, you know, that, I think, is a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I am a part.

You know, my belief is, is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live, that that is -- that is essentially true. That is fundamentally true.

Now whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible, that, you know, I don't presume to know.

BROWN: Let's go to...

OBAMA: But let me just make one last point on this. I do believe in evolution. I don't think that is incompatible with Christian faith. Just as I don't think science generally is incompatible with Christian faith.

And I think that this is something that, you know, we get bogged down in. There are those who suggest that if you have a scientific bent of mind, then somehow you should reject religion. And I fundamentally disagree with that.

In fact, the more I learn about the world, the more I know about science, the more I'm amazed about the mystery of this planet and this universe. And it strengthens my faith as opposed to weakens it.


BROWN: Let's go to Reverend Richard Cizik, who is vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Reverend?

REV. RICHARD CIZIK, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICALS: Good evening, Senator. You just took my question. Congratulations. You won the prize. No, let me flesh this out just a little bit, if you wouldn't mind.

OBAMA: Sure.

CIZIK: Frankly, there has been perceived, by many, millions, a war between science and faith. I don't believe there's a war at all. In fact, the worlds of religion and science are coming together in amazing ways, including here on this campus.

For example, you have young evangelical Christians who are leaders on developing what we call creation care or a policy on climate change. And so let me ask you, you have already hinted at it, but let me ask you in specific.

How do you relate your faith or personal convictions to science generally and science policy, and let's take an issue like climate and flesh that out, or take stem cells, something like that. Just give us a little more indication of how you think.

OBAMA: Well, first of all...

CIZIK: Is that fair enough?

OBAMA: It is fair enough. And you guys have done some terrific work on this. So I want to congratulate you on that.


OBAMA: And should it be part of God's plan to have me in the White House, I look forward to our collaboration.



OBAMA: So, look, the -- one of the things I draw from the Genesis story is the importance of us being good stewards of the land, of this incredible gift. And I think there have been times where we haven't been and this is one of those times where we've got to take the warning seriously.

I know that Al Gore was mentioned earlier. By the way, I have to say, I think Al Gore won. And...


OBAMA: And has done terrific work since. But I think that we are seeing enough warning signs for us to take this seriously. And part of what my religious faith teaches me is to take an intergenerational view, to recognize that we are borrowing this planet from our children and our grandchildren.

And so we've got this obligation to them, which means that we've got to make some uncomfortable choices. And where I think potentially religious faith and the science of global warming converge is precisely because it's going to be hard to deal with.

We have to find resources in ourselves that allow us to make those sacrifices where we say, you know what? We're not going to leave it to the next generation. We're not going to wait.

OBAMA: We are going to put in place a cap-and-trade system that controls the amount of greenhouse gases that are going into the atmosphere. And we know that that requires us to make adjustments in terms of how we use energy. We've got to be less wasteful, both as a society and in our own individual lives.

And having faith, believing that this planet and this world extends beyond us, it's not just here for us, but it's here for, you know, more generations to come. I think religion can actually bolster our desire to make those sacrifices now. And that's why, as president, I hope to be able to rally the entire world around the importance of us being good stewards of the land.

BROWN: All right, Senator Obama, we're going to take a quick break. Everybody stay with us. We'll be right back. When we come back, we'll ask Senator Obama what he will tell those Americans who say there's too much religion in government.


BROWN: Welcome back, everybody, to Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. We're talking to the Democratic candidates about how the role of faith and compassion would play in their presidency. Senator Barack Obama is with us now. Jon?

MEACHAM: You have spoken about how your former pastor in Chicago, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was critical in helping bring you to Christianity and is like part of your family. Can you tell us how he helped bring you closer to God?

OBAMA: Well, I actually wrote about this in my second book, "Audacity of Hope" I had worked as an organizer on the South Side, as I mentioned and it was tough work.

OBAMA: You know, the community was in difficult straits. And I was bringing churches together to set up job training programs and after-school programs for youth and to try to bring economic development to the community.

I had been raised in a nonreligious home. My mother was the most spiritual person I know, but was mistrustful of organized religion, in part because of some of her experiences seeing segregation being compatible with organized religion. And so we went to church very infrequently.

So as I'm doing this organizing, some of the pastors started saying, You know, you've got great ideas, Obama, but, you know, if you're going to organize churches, it might help if you were going to church.


And I thought, Well, that's not an unreasonable position. And so I started visiting some churches. Trinity United Church of Christ was one of the churches that we were trying to get involved in the organization.

I visited that church and found the ministries that they were doing on HIV/AIDS, on prison ministries, there were a whole host of wonderful ministries that they were engaged in. And Reverend Wright's sermons spoke directly to the social gospel, the need to act and not just to sit in the pews.

And so I found that very attractive and ended up joining the church when I got out of law school. Now, I have to say that, you know, in reports subsequently, there's been this notion that he was, by various terms, my spiritual adviser or my spiritual mentor. You know, he's been my pastor.

And what that means is, is that, you know, the ministries that have been built in that church community have been very important to me. It also means that there are areas where we've disagreed on. And, obviously, the most recent loop that's been playing -- Reverend Wright's greatest hits, so to speak...


... are, I think, both a distortion of who he is and what the church has been about, but also express...


... but also express, you know, some comments that I think are deeply offensive and are contrary to what I believe. And I've told him so and have made a lot of statements about that, including one pretty long one in Philadelphia.

But that doesn't detract...


That, I think, doesn't detract from the incredible church community that this is. And I think that all of us who have been part of a faith community know that the church is a body of believers and it brings in the imperfections of us, men and women.

And, you know, pastors are imperfect. Certainly, the membership is imperfect. I, as somebody who is sitting in the pews as a sinner, is imperfect. And, you know, that doesn't detract from, I think, what the church is supposed to be about, which is to worship God and proclaim the good news.

BROWN: Senator, you are a Christian, but as a child you had more exposure to Islam than probably most Americans ever will. How did that shape you?

OBAMA: Well, I lived in Indonesia for four-and-a-half years when I was a child. And, actually, ironically, the first school I went to in Indonesia was a Catholic school. So, you know, myself and Senator Bob Casey, who's sitting here, we had pretty similar experiences probably, in part, of at least our elementary school.

I then attended a public school, but the majority of the country was Muslim. And the brand of Islam that was being practiced in Indonesia at the time was a very tolerant Islam. The country itself was explicitly secular in its constitution.

And so you didn't have the oppressive state that was trying to impose people's religious beliefs. And Christians and people of other faiths lived very comfortably there. And women were working, and out, and were not wearing the traditional coverings that we see in the Middle East.

And so what it taught me, and what it still teaches me, as I think about foreign policy now, is that Islam can be compatible with the modern world.

OBAMA: It can be a partner with the Christian and Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist faiths in trying to create a better world.

And so I am always careful and suspicious of attempts to paint Islam with a broad brush because the overwhelming majority of the people of the Islamic faith are people of good will who are trying to raise their families and live up to their values and ideals and to try to raise their kids as best they can and that's something that I think we always have to remember as opposed to assuming a clash of civilizations that sometimes are overheated rhetoric that politically is talked about.

BROWN: Let's go to Reverend Jim Wallace. Reverend Wallace, he is president of Sojourners, a Christian social justice organization.


OBAMA: How are you, Jim?

WALLACE: I'm good. As you reminded us a week or two ago, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 40 years ago, he wasn't just speaking about civil rights. He was fighting for economic justice, was about to launch a poor people's campaign.

Yet, four decades after the anniversary of his death, the poverty rate in America is virtually unchanged and one in six of our children are poor in the richest nation in the world.

So in the faith community, we are wanting a new commitment around a measurable goal, something like cutting poverty in half in 10 years. Would you commit -- would you at this historic compassion forum, commit to such a goal tonight and if elected, tell us how you'd mobilize the nation, mobilize us to achieve that goal?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, Jim, I appreciate the good work you've been doing on these issues. And I absolutely will make that commitment. Understand that when I make that commitment, I do so with great humility because it is a very ambitious goal. And we're going to have to mobilize our society, not just to cut poverty, but to prevent more people from slipping into poverty.

You know, this actually goes back to the earlier point you raised where Senator Clinton suggested I was being elitist when I said that people are frustrated and bitter. That is absolutely true. That's not just true in small towns. That's true in urban areas. That's true in my community of the South Side of Chicago. Because people feel forgotten. They feel as if nobody is listening in Washington.

And that every four years we have politicians who come out and make promises and they are not kept. And so that's why I wanted to put the caveat on there. I make that commitment with humility because we've got a lot of work to do economically in this country to bring about a more just and fair economy. It starts with, I think, recognizing the rages and incomes for average families have gone down during the most recent economic expansion. That's never happened before in the history of America since we started recording these statistics, at least since World War II.

So we've got to shore up the mortgage market to make sure that we don't have millions of people who are losing their homes. We're going to have to, I think, change our tax code. For us to provide tax breaks to the wealthiest among us, those who didn't need them and weren't even asking for them, at a time when ordinary folks are struggling to fill up a gas tank just to get to a job.

I met a guy here in Pennsylvania when Bob Casey and I were traveling around who told me his problem was he's looking for a job and it costs him more than he can afford just to go to a job interview.

And so we've got to give them some tax relief, and we've got to invest in our infrastructure to create jobs, particularly those who are going to be getting laid off in the construction industry, the housing market goes down. And I put forward very specific plans for that. We're going to have to, I think, invest heavily in clean energy. And if we have a cap in trade system, we can generate $150 billion over 10 years to invest in solar and wind and biodiesel and train people to build windmills and solar panels and make buildings more energy efficient -- and make alternative fuels.


OBAMA: All of these things -- all of these things will strengthen the economy generally. And I left out one last point, health care. People are falling into bankruptcy. They are going without medical care. It is a moral imperative that we make sure that we have a plan in place that provides health care to every single American and that has high quality and provides prevention.

If we do those things -- and that applies not just to poor people but to working and middle class families all across the country, then we also have to focus on those who, even when the economy is good and the middle class are doing well, are still impoverished, and that's a special challenge.

And that involves, I think, going at the problem at its roots very early. Investing in early childhood education, working with at- risk parents...


OBAMA: ... drastically improving our education system, K through 12, by paying our teachers more and demanding more from them.


OBAMA: Making sure that we have after-school programs and summer school programs. And many of these, by the way, can be part of a faith community. And so, you know, just to go back to our theme here tonight, people sometimes ask me, what do I think about faith-based initiatives? I want to keep the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives open, but I want to make sure that its mission is clear. It's not to -- it's not to simply build a particular faith community, the faith-based initiatives should be targeted specifically at the issue of poverty and how to lift people up.

And partnering with faith communities, I think we can achieve that as long as it's within the requirements of our Constitution. We make sure that it's open to everybody. It's not simply the federal government funding certain groups to be able to evangelize.


BROWN: Let's go to Dr. David Gushee, who is the president of Evangelicals for Human Rights. Dr. Gushee?

DAVID P. GUSHEE, MERCER UNIVERSITY: Senator Obama, recently yet another disturbing memo emerged from the Justice Department. This one said that not even interrogation methods that, quote, shock the conscience would be considered torture nor would they be considered illegal if they had been authorized by the president.

Senator Obama, this kind of reasoning shocks the conscience of many millions of Americans and many millions of people of faith here and around the world. Is there justification for policies on the part of our nation that permit physical and mental cruelty toward those who are in our custody?

OBAMA: We have to be clear and unequivocal. We do not torture, period. We don't torture.


OBAMA: Our government does not torture. That should be our position. That should be our position. That will be my position as president. That includes, by the way, renditions. We don't farm out torture. We don't subcontract torture.


OBAMA: And the reason this is important is not only because torture does not end up yielding good information -- most intelligence officers agree with that. I met with a group -- a distinguished group of former generals who have made it their mission to travel around and talk to presidential candidates and to talk in forums about how this degrades the discipline and the ethos of our military.

It is very hard for us when kids, you know, 19, 20, 21, 22 are in Iraq having to make difficult decisions, life or death decisions every day, and are being asked essentially to restrain themselves and operate within the law.

And then to find out that our own government is not abiding by these same laws that we are asking them to defend? That is not acceptable. And so my position is going to be absolutely clear.

And it is also important for our long-term security to send a message to the world that we will lead not just with our military might but we are going to lead with our values and our ideals.

That we are not a nation...


OBAMA: ... that gives away our civil liberties simply because we're scared. And we're always at our worst when we're fearful. And one of the things that my religious faith allows me to do, hopefully, is not to operate out of fear.

Fear is a bad counsel and I want to operate out of hope and out of faith.


BROWN: We are almost out of time. I asked the same question to Senator Clinton, though. And it's that there are a lot of Americans who believe the conversation going on here tonight is not necessarily appropriate.

They believe that religion has far too much influence in public life. What do you say to that?

OBAMA: Well, you know, what I've written in the past, what I've -- I actually spoke at a Sojourner's forum two years ago on this precise issue. And I think that we have fallen into a false debate.

On the one hand, there have been elements, many of them in my own party, in the Democratic Party, that believe that any influence of religion whatsoever in the public debate somehow is problematic or violates church and state.

On the other hand, there have been those primarily in the other party, in the Republican Party, whose view has been that the separation between church and state shouldn't even be there. And I think both extremes are wrong.

What I believe is that all of us come to the public square with our own values and our ideals and our ethics, what we believe. And people of religious faith have the same right to come to that public square with values and ideals that are rooted in their faith.

And they have the right to describe them in religious terms, which has been part of our history. As I said in some of my writings, imagine Dr. King, you know, going up before, in front of the Lincoln Memorial and having to scrub all his religious references, or Abraham Lincoln in the Second Inaugural not being able to refer to God.

What religious language can often do is allow us to get outside of ourselves and mobilize around a common good.

On the other hand, what those of us of religious faith have to do when we're in the public square is to translate our language into a universal language that can appeal to everybody.

And both Lincoln and King did this and every great leader did it, because we are not just a Christian nation. We are a Jewish nation; we are a Buddhist nation; we are a Muslim nation; Hindu nation; and we are a nation of atheists and nonbelievers.

And it is important for us not to try to kill the debate by saying, Well, God tells me I'm right, and so I'm not going to listen to you. Rather, we've got to translate whatever it is that we believe into a language that allows for argument, allows for debate, and also allows that we may be wrong.

And the biggest danger, I think, for those of us of religious faith when we're in the public sphere is a certain self-righteousness, where we start thinking that, Well, you know, I've got a direct line to God. You know, that is incompatible with democracy.

You may have a direct line to God. But, you know, that is not -- the public square is not the place for us to empower ourselves in tha tway.

BROWN: Many more questions, I'm sure, but we have to end it there. We're out of time.

Senator Barack Obama, thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: Thank you.

BROWN: Appreciate it. Thank you.


OBAMA: Are you going to sign off, because I want to just say hi to some people.

BROWN: Please do. Please do. We're going to sign off.

OBAMA: Is that OK?

BROWN: Absolutely. I want to thank my co-host, Newsweek's Jon Meacham, as well as all those who joined us for tonight's forum, and also to the folks at Faith in Public Life, the ONE Campaign, and Oxfam America.

And, finally, a big thanks to our hosts here at Messiah College. Senator John McCain, we should mention, was not able to join us tonight. We look forward, though, to having him and the eventual Democratic nominee for another Compassion Forum very soon.

I'm Campbell Brown in Grantham, Pennsylvania. Thanks for watching.

Barack Obama, Remarks at the Compassion Forum Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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