MSNBC with Debra Norvilleback to radio and TV page

TRANSCRIPT:

But how far do Americans want their president to go when it comes to church and state? 

Joining me now to talk about that is James Robison.  He‘s an evangelist, the founder of Life Outreach International and the co-host of “Life Today,” a popular evangelical television program.  Also with us tonight, Dr. Richard Land.  He is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Jim Wallis is the editor in chief of “Sojourners” magazine.  He‘s also a Christian leader for social change.  And in the studio here is Sister Karol Jackowski.  She‘s a Roman Catholic nun, the author of “The Silence We Keep.” 

And I want to ask you all for being here.  And I want to just start out and ask you all to please define for me your definition of moral values. 

Mr. Robison, I‘ll start with you first. 

JAMES ROBISON, FOUNDER, LIFE OUTREACH INTERNATIONAL:  Well, I think you touched on it earlier when you alluded to the fact that a relativist may believe in the fact that there are no absolutes, except he‘s very absolute about that. 

And I think that moral values go back to what we would all call and refer to as the Judeo-Christian ethic, believing that there are some ground rules for life and that faith and family and a sound foundation upon which our faith is established and our family is built is established on a set of principles that guide our lives in a very healthy and meaningful way.  Just as there are rules for sporting events, for traffic control, there are safe guidelines for life. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  And those guidelines you would find from the Bible. 

ROBISON:  I think you can find them in the Bible, and I think you can also distort them and misrepresent them and get totally out of character with the essence of their teaching. 

But there are ground rules.  There is a principle-based foundation upon which all sane societies will safely stand and build.  And I really do believe that the average American agrees with that. 

NORVILLE:  All right.  I will move on now to Dr. Richard Land. 

Dr. Land, what is your definition of moral values?  And I really want to know what it is. 

(CROSSTALK)

RICHARD LAND, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION:  Well, my definition of values, of course, are confined within my understanding of myself as an evangelical Christian.

And I would find them in the Old Testament and New Testament.  I believe that in a never-changing Gospel for an ever-changing world that there are timeless truths that are revealed in scripture about the sanctity of every human life, about the nature of marriage, about the role that government should play and should not play.  I believe in soul liberty.

I believe in religious freedom.  I don‘t think the government should be giving favoritism to one religion over another religion or giving favoritism to no religion over religion, that the government ought to be neutral and ought to respect and protect freedom of conscience. 

NORVILLE:  And let‘s move on to Jim Wallis from “Sojourners.”

Jim, your definition. 

JIM WALLIS, EDITOR, “SOJOURNERS”:  I welcome the conversation about values.  It‘s a good talk about our politics. 

I‘m an evangelical Christian, too.  And when I found 2,000 verses in the Bible about the poor, I have to say that poverty, overcoming poverty, is a moral value.  Right now, the average age of a homeless person in Chicago is 9 years old.  That‘s a moral value.  The war in Iraq, whether that was a just war, those are moral issues, too. 

I think we have to have a broader, deeper understanding of moral values and what the religious issues are.  I don‘t think we can take all of our Christian ethics, which are mine, and some shrink them down to only one or two issues.  We have to say poverty is a moral value, war is a moral value, protecting the environment is a moral value.  Let‘s have a broader,, richer conversation and we‘ll all be better served. 

NORVILLE:  And, Sister Jackowski, what is your definition? 

SISTER KAROL JACKOWSKI, AUTHOR, “THE SILENCE WE KEEP”:  Well, I think moral values are the principles that we all identify in our life to live a good life.  And I think the thing that‘s most critical—and this is the role that conscience plays in moral values—that no one, unless you have a criminal mind, chooses a bad life.  Everyone wants to choose something that‘s good. 

And I think that it‘s our choice of what are the things that I want to include in my life that I think make my life a good life, a just life, whether it‘s Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or nonreligious?  So it‘s sort of—people talk about that moral compass inside, and I think it‘s the conscience that informs our moral values, that makes the moral choices, and that‘s kind of the holy spirit in all of us. 

NORVILLE:  By the collective definition you all have given, it would seem that most Americans would agree to live a moral life, to make moral decisions is a desirable thing. 

Let me ask you—Dr. Land, I‘ll go back to you.  Do you think that there is division in this country over what is moral policy? 

LAND:  Sure.  Of course there is, because people are coming from different world views.  And it‘s not that one is moral and one‘s immoral.  It‘s that they are based upon different set of moral principles, based upon differing presuppositions. 

For instance, Jim Wallis says that poverty is a moral value.  And I agree.  And he says the average age of a homeless person in Chicago is 9.  The single thing that would eliminate more poverty for more Americans in America than any other single thing would be if mothers married the fathers of their children.  So, government policies that promote marriage and welfare reform are one of the most effective ways of dealing with poverty. 

NORVILLE:  But, see, you‘ve just made a statement, sir, that imposes a value judgment.  In some of those 9-year-olds‘ situations in Chicago, I imagine there isn‘t a father figure present, or, if he were, he‘s no one that you would want raising a child. 

LAND:  That‘s the point, Deborah.

NORVILLE:  And that‘s kind of the crux, isn‘t it? 

LAND:  Well, no, it isn‘t. 

The point is that for, far too long in this country, we‘ve subsidized illegitimacy in the old welfare program and we penalized the formation of stable families by reducing the deduction for dependents and for not having what we now have, which is the child dependent tax care credit.  And the president is trying to put policies into place in the welfare reform that would encourage the formation of stable families. 

You know, it‘s a fact that children who are reared in homes with a mother and a father are much more likely to grow up to be stable, self-reliant citizens.  That‘s not a moral judgment.  It‘s a fact.  And that‘s not a debatable fact, actually. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  I don‘t want to get into a debate, because we could get into a debate on every single one of these issues and probably not come to any agreement. 

But I think one of the things that‘s been a question in many people‘s minds, and you‘ve seen expressed in some of the editorials that are out there, how much of a role will religion play?  And the president spoke to that when he had his press conference on Thursday.  I want to play the president‘s remarks from that on the other day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  My answer to people is, I will be your president regardless of your faith.  And I don‘t expect you to agree with me, necessarily, on religion.  As a matter of fact, no president should ever try to impose religion on our society. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  James Robison, I know you met with George Bush before he decided to run for the presidency, and you‘ve had some very heart-to-heart discussions over the years about religion. 

As someone who knows him personally, what are his thoughts about the fears that some people have expressed that this will be an evangelical presidency? 

ROBISON:  Well, I think there will be absolutely no attempt on his part to impose his belief system on others.  I do think that he will continually express his own appreciation for the fact that faith changed his life and that he believes a relationship with God can be meaningful.

But he will respect those who don‘t agree with him.  I think that he understands the need to reach out to the poor.  I think he understands that throwing money at it, however, through government programs, without compassionate connections, will not heal the problem.  I‘m a pretty good example of a lot of what has already been addressed.  I grew up fatherless.  I am actually the product of a forced sexual relationship, where a medical doctor, when my 40-year-old mother being pregnant from a rape asked for an abortion, and the doctor simply advised her that it was against his own conscience for her to reconsider.

And he did.  And she gave birth to me.  And our three children and 11 grandchildren are grateful that she did, as are many people that we are now feeding who are hungry all over the world.  So we‘re doing our best.  As a believer, as a person who believes that faith in action is the best way to bring about positive change, we are trying to care for the hungry in as many places as possible, inspire others to do the very same thing. 

My life was changed because someone reached out to me, living their faith, sharing their faith, loving me, sharing with me a home, a hope and a future.  And I believe that most Americans want that.  I really want to see people bridge the communication gap.  I don‘t think there is as much difference in people as some people have tried to make us believe. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  And, Sister Jackowski, I guess that‘s kind of the question here.  Is there a way to take this discussion of some of the very important issues that this country faces, not all of which were articulated during the campaign, and put it on the policy agenda, so that government, community groups, religious groups together can come at this and come up with some solutions?  Is there an opportunity, is there an opening that maybe we haven‘t seen before?  Or maybe I‘m just being Pollyanna and optimistic. 

JACKOWSKI:  No.  No.  I think so.

And, you know, I thought this yesterday when I heard on this network Ann Coulter say that this is a Christian country.  And I stopped.  You know, I was like, wait a minute.  You know, democracy is the religion of this country.  You know, the spirits of truth that govern this country are equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And I think if we‘re going to reach a divine common ground...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She‘s a pretty sick one. 

JACKOWSKI:  ... that we need to talk more about what are the things that hold us together.  And I think religion has become divisive. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  I want to stop you right there, because, when we come back, I want each of you to offer your own prescription on how we can bridge the divide and come together and achieve some of that good that we‘re talking about.

More with my guests in just a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  So what role does President Bush‘s faith play in his life, and what role might it play in his second term? 

Back again with our panel of religious leaders.  They include James Robison from the Life Outreach International organization, Dr. Richard Land.  He‘s the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Jim Wallis, editor and chief of “Sojourners” magazine, and Sister Karol Jackowski, a Roman Catholic nun and author. 

President Bush has made no bones about the fact he‘s a man of faith.  And many voters, the majority of voters, say they‘re glad a man of faith is in the White House. 

What‘s your action plan, each of you, for this man of faith to address the pressing issues that America faces? 

Mr. Wallis, I‘ll go with you first. 

WALLIS:  Deborah, the important thing is that religion not be defined too narrowly or in a partisan, political way. 

For example, I agree with Richard that strong marriages and families are an anti-poverty measure.  It‘s also true that half of the families that now don‘t make enough to survive are married households.  So affordable housing and health care, those are moral issues, too.  I‘m pro-life, so unborn, innocent lives are important to me. 

But this week, the U.S. military is doing an offensive in Fallujah.  Are the innocent lives going to be lost there, are those important to us, too?  Religion really doesn‘t fit left and right.  It cuts both ways.  And if we‘re going to listen really to the full depth and breadth of our religious traditions, it‘s going to criticize liberal conservative, left and right.  And calling us—I think the best way to find common ground is to move to higher ground. 

That‘s what religion can offer, but not if we narrow it in a too partisan way. 

NORVILLE:  Dr. Land, give me your No. 1 item on an action agenda for President Bush now. 

LAND:  Well, his No. 1 item has to be the protection of the American people from terrorist attacks.  I mean, that is his sworn duty as the president of the United States.  That‘s part of his oath of office. 

But I want to go back to what Jim says.  I think that I would agree with part of what Jim says.  I think that, first of all, God is not a Republican.  God is not a Democrat.  God is not a conservative.  God is not a liberal.  God is God.  And he has revealed moral truth to us.  And I think that what we must do—the first thing we must do is get rid of a secularist bias that says that religious values don‘t have a place in public policy. 

And I think that when religious values come to public policy and are given their fair place at the table, that it will make conservatives better conservatives, it will make liberals better liberals, and it will elevate the debate.  But we‘ve had for the last 30 years an idea that has been loose, at least among our secular elites, as Stephen Carter has pointed in his book “The Culture of Disbelief,” that wants to shove religion to the side and make it something trivial and to say that there‘s something unconstitutional about bringing religiously informed moral values into public policy.  And that‘s just nonsense. 

NORVILLE:  Well, you know, it‘s interesting.  There have been Democrats that have been out there.  Jimmy Carter made no bones about the fact he was a Sunday school teacher.  Bill Clinton was very up front about the fact that he had grown up in the church and considered his faith an important part of his life. 

Let me move the question now to you, James Robison.  What‘s your No. 1 item for the president? 

ROBISON:  Well, I agree with what‘s just been said, by the way.

And I do think that I encourage—and, as a matter of fact, I communicated with Karl Rove today a compliment not only to the way he‘s handled the post election with humility and asking God for wisdom.  We all need that.  We definitely need it.  I‘m encouraging the president to continuing doing what he did with Senator Obama.  And that‘s build lines of communication.  He is seeking to do that.

I know this president very well.  He wants open lines of communication.  He wants to hear both sides and he wants to bring forth solutions that are best for the people.  And that would include addressing poverty and all those issues, but addressing them with love and in a very intelligent and, let‘s say, reasonable discussion. 

NORVILLE:  All right.  Let me stop you there. 

ROBISON:  And I do believe that the president must build those bridges. 

NORVILLE:  I‘m glad to hear that.  And I know everybody listening is, too. 

Sister Karol, your final...

JACKOWSKI:  Embrace the middle ground.  I think that‘s where most of the country stands.  And I think, you know, to try to avoid either extreme of liberal or conservative and to be wise about not using government to legislate anybody‘s religious beliefs. 

NORVILLE:  Well, as we saw on that map we put up earlier on the program, there‘s a lot of purple in America, which means there ought to be a lot of places where some agreement can be found. 

I thank all of you so much.  It‘s been a really interesting discussion.  James Robison, Dr. Richard Land, Jim Wallis, and, Sister Karol Jackowski, it‘s been fun.  Thank you very much. 

JACKOWSKI:  Thank you.

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