CBS ‘Early Show’: Religious Right Turns Left for Hillary

Furthering the media’s love affair with Hillary Clinton, Friday’s CBS "Early Show" featured a segment on her recent speech at Saddleback Church in Southern California and how Evangelical Christians may be moving to the left in 2008. As co-host Harry Smith wondered at the top of the show, "Hillary Clinton addresses an Evangelical megachurch in California. Is it really possible that the Christian Right could be convinced to turn left?" Later, co-host Julie Chen further teased:

Also, the Evangelical vote in the 2008 presidential race --is it up for grabs? Hillary Clinton believes the Republicans no longer have a lock on it...We'll ask Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback if it's really possible that the Evangelical Right, President Bush's key voting block, could be moving to the left.

The segment began with a report by CBS Correspondent Bill Whitaker, who described the uphill battle for Democrats to win such votes:

To detractors and supporters alike, Democrat Hillary Clinton walking into an Orange County Evangelical bastion was like Daniel entering the lion's den...Four years ago, a Democratic presidential candidate coming to speak at an Evangelical megachurch would have been unthinkable, even politically futile.

Of course, the courageous Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic candidates have still refused to debate in the "lion’s den," of Fox News.The key issue on which Clinton spoke at the California church was how she would address AIDS as president. As Whitaker described it, "...her message of compassion for AIDS victims was greeted with applause."Whitaker followed that positive assessment of Clinton’s appearance with the observation that, "White Evangelical voters make up about a quarter of the electorate, and in 2004, fully 78% of them voted Republican." However, Whitaker soon described the possibility of that trend reversing in 2008:

But the GOP's grip on this crucial block might be loosening...Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, where Clinton spoke, says fighting AIDS and poverty aren't Democratic issues, they're crucial Christian issues too...Sensing that opening, Democrats are reaching out.

This gave the impression that some how Democrats like Clinton are more committed to fighting AIDS than Republicans, but as co-host Chris Raggie explained in a news brief right before the segment: "And the White House is marking World Aids Day, a huge red ribbon now hangs on the mansion's north portico. President Bush today plans to visit a church in Maryland that helps African children orphaned by AIDS." So why would fighting AIDS be an "opening" for Democrats among the religious right?In a further effort to give credence to the idea of the Christian Right making a left turn, Whitaker’s report featured an observation by Marvin Olasky, Editor-in-Chief of "World" Magazine, that, "Evangelicals have not been solely owned company within the Republican empire, they're in play." Interestingly, Whitaker certainly never suggested that the black community was leaving the Democratic "empire" anytime soon when he reported that African-American military enlistments were down because of dislike for President Bush’s policies.In the second half of the segment, Harry Smith interviewed the Pastor of the Saddlebrook Church where Clinton spoke, and author of "The Purpose-Driven Life," Rick Warren: "You know, there are people within the Evangelical movement who heard about Hillary Clinton speaking at Saddleback today who said this is a huge error and that just by inviting her you send the wrong message." In response, Warren compared himself to a persecuted Jesus and his critics to the hypocritical Pharisees:

Yeah. You know what? The greatest criticism Jesus got, he got not from political people or from secular leaders. He got it from religious people. And it's amazing to me that sometimes the people who understand grace are the least gracious people on the planet.

A response from some of those other Evangelical leaders was strangely absent from the segment. In fact, the "Early Show" has history of talking to more watered-down Christian leaders, like when co-host Hannah Storm discussed the "Christianity-Lite" of Pastor Joel Osteen in October.Smith followed up by asking Warren: "Do you think the world has Evangelicals wrong in terms of thinking of Evangelicals as a voting group and voting as a block?" Warren responded:

They're not a political force. They're a religious force, and they never have been in the corner of just the Religious Right or the Religious Left or anywhere else. And every time you try to define us by political terms, you totally miss the point. It's not about politics, it's about something much bigger than that.

Yes, that’s why Warren has invited political candidates into his church, to show how non-political it is. Here is the full transcript of the segment:7:00AM TEASER:HARRY SMITH: "Hillary Clinton addresses an Evangelical megachurch in California. Is it really possible that the Christian Right could be convinced to turn left?"7:01AM:JULIE CHEN: "Also, the Evangelical vote in the 2008 presidential race --is it up for grabs? Hillary Clinton believes the Republicans no longer have a lock on it. As we told you, she addressed Southern California's Saddleback megachurch yesterday. We'll ask Pastor Rick Warren of Saddlebrook if it's really possible that the Evangelical Right, President Bush's key voting block, could be moving to the left." 7:08AM SEGMENT:HARRY SMITH: "In the 2004 election, George Bush credited Evangelical Christian voters with delivering him the presidency. But could the conservative Christian Right be moving a bit to the left? CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports from Southern California.BILL WHITAKER: To detractors and supporters alike, Democrat Hillary Clinton walking into an Orange County Evangelical bastion was like Daniel entering the lion's den. But her message of compassion for AIDS victims was greeted with applause.HILLARY CLINTON: I will ask for $50 billion over five years to combat HIV/AIDS.UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: She's won me over.WHITAKER: Four years ago, a Democratic presidential candidate coming to speak at an Evangelical megachurch would have been unthinkable, even politically futile. White Evangelical voters make up about a quarter of the electorate, and in 2004, fully 78% of them voted Republican.MARVIN OLASKY (EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, WORLD MAGAZINE): Without Evangelical votes in the 2000 and 2004 elections, George W. Bush would not have become president.WHITAKER: But the GOP's grip on this crucial block might be loosening.RICK WARREN: One of the biggest problems in the world -- WHITAKER: Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, where Clinton spoke, says fighting AIDS and poverty aren't Democratic issues, they're crucial Christian issues too.OLASKY: Evangelicals have not been solely owned company within the Republican empire, they're in play.WHITAKER: Sensing that opening, Democrats are reaching out.MATT DORF (DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE): Faith voters talking to faith voters in a way that we believe our outreach will pay off in this election and get us more votes.WHITAKER: But no one expects Democrats to get a huge chunk of the Evangelical vote. That would take a miracle. Bill Whitaker, CBS News, Lake Forest, California.SMITH: Earlier, I spoke with Pastor Rick Warren, who is also the author of the best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life. He said his congregation is open to all kinds of views, including the views of Senator Hillary Clinton.RICK WARREN: She was received real well. We actually put the call out to invite any of the presidential candidates to come and be here and present what they -- we had one question: What would you do with the AIDS pandemic if you were elected president?SMITH: You know, there are people within the Evangelical movement who heard about Hillary Clinton speaking at Saddleback today who said this is a huge error and that just by inviting her you send the wrong message.WARREN: Yeah. You know what? The greatest criticism Jesus got, he got not from political people or from secular leaders. He got it from religious people. And it's amazing to me that sometimes the people who understand grace are the least gracious people on the planet. And so, you know, we don't do things for cheers or jeers, for what I call strokes or pokes. We do it because we think it's the right thing to do. And we know that we need to be speaking up about this issue. You know, I have to admit the Church was late to the table on this AIDS issue. And we had to repent on it. We just -- I just personally had to repent on it. I didn't get it for years. But once I understood, I said, okay, we're in, and we're in for the duration. This is not flavor of the month. This is not, you know, fad of the week for us. We're in it for long term because it's part of our mission, we believe.SMITH: Do you think the world has Evangelicals wrong in terms of thinking of Evangelicals as a voting group and voting as a block?WARREN: Yeah. You nailed it on the head, Harry. There was an article, a news -- New York Times magazine article a few weeks ago saying the End Times for Evangelicals. Well, the problem was it was all about Evangelicals being a political force. They're not a political force. They're a religious force, and they never have been in the corner of just the Religious Right or the Religious Left or anywhere else. And every time you try to define us by political terms, you totally miss the point. It's not about politics, it's about something much bigger than that.SMITH: Well, let me get down to the money, then. What do you understand now about it that you didn't understand for all those other years?WARREN: Well, I didn't understand -- I was raised in a tradition where we cared about the soul and undervalued the importance of the body. Jesus cared about the spiritual and the physical. He healed them physically, and he healed them spiritually. And I was raised in a tradition where we cared a lot about, you know, our spiritual care, but didn't put so much emphasis on health and on that. But Jesus, the Bible says he went into every village preaching, teaching, and healing. That meant one-third of his ministry was health care. And it's not by accident that the first hospital and usually the first school in every country of the world was started by Christian missionaries because Christianity is a teaching and healing faith.SMITH: That's Rick Warren, Pastor of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC