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Signs Of Faith In Political Headlines

MICHEL MARTIN, host: And now it's time for Faith Matters. That's the part of the program where we talk about how faith affects our lives. And it's no secret that for many people faith infuses their view of how the politics and government of our country should be conducted, including these discussions over the debt ceiling and federal spending.

Last week we heard from the Reverend David Beckmann from Bread for the World. He was part of a group that met with President Obama to press a perspective on how these conversations should proceed.

Today we have another perspective from David Brody. He is chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network. And he's with us once again in our studios in Washington, D.C. David Brody, welcome back to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

DAVID BRODY: Michel, happy to be here.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, the progressive Christian community has been weighing in aggressively on this issue, this group called Circle of Protection, which is to this point backed by some 30,000 signatories to a petition, met with President Obama last week and urging him to preserve programs that primarily serve the hungry and the poor, this is a group that included people like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Baptist Convention. Now, the National Association of Evangelicals was also a part of that group. But apart from that, has the conservative Christian community weighed in on the debt crisis from a faith perspective?

BRODY: Well, they have. And what they've been making - the argument they've been making is that government needs to stay out because social conservatives, typically, are fiscal conservatives. And so the difference between progressive Christians and conservative Christians really boils down to government interference, for lack of a better word. In other words, social conservatives believe the government needs to stay out. And if that's the case, well, then it just goes without saying that they're going to support, let's say, a Paul Ryan budget or maybe what's going on in Congress regarding the debt ceiling. So I think that's the crux of the issue.

MARTIN: I just want to play - as I mentioned, I spoke to the Reverend David Beckmann. He's one of the faith leaders in this group and we asked him, isn't - to you point - isn't mercy the job of the church and not the government? And he said that churches provide only six percent of the food delivered to the poor. I'll just play a short clip from that conversation.


The Reverend DAVID BECKMANN: The federal government cannot be AWOL. If Congress slashes food stamps, there is no way that churches and charities can make up for the difference.

MARTIN: What about that, David Brody?

BRODY: Well, actually, David and I have had conversations. He's been on a few of my shows, a few of my programs. So we've had a real in-depth conversation about this. I will say this, that there is a long-term view when it comes to how social conservatives - evangelicals, conservative evangelicals see this.

For example, when they talk about - when conservative evangelicals talk about help for the poor and they really phrase it more with the next generation. In other words, Paul Ryan will argue, for example, that it is morally...

MARTIN: The chair of the House Budget Committee.

BRODY: The chair of the House Budget Committee, would argue - and conservative evangelicals will make this argument too - that it is morally a wrong to bankrupt the next generation. And that certain tough love, as Michele Bachmann has been saying, needs to happen now to preserve future generations.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

For this week's Faith Matters conversation we're speaking with David Brody. He's the chief political correspondent of the Christian Broadcasting Network. And we're talking about how faith figures into the major political news, you know, of the week.

I want to switch gears now and talk a little bit about presidential politics, which you've been really involved in. The - you've interviewed just about every member of the potential Republican primary field, right? Is that accurate? Are evangelical Christians excited about their potential candidates? Because we keep hearing that kind of the broader Republican universe is still waiting for a - I don't know what the right word is - a white knight, a superman, somebody to come in who's really getting people excited. But what about evangelical Christians?

BRODY: Well, they are waiting for that white knight. They're not quite sure who that person is exactly at this point. Now, I will say this. They are in homework phase right now. I mean, there are a lot of evangelical, conservative evangelical candidates out there. And so, you know, it's interesting. You have kind of a - let's just take three, for example. You have Michele Bachmann, you have Rick Perry, who we expect to get in, and then we have Tim Pawlenty, who is also evangelical, though he doesn't wear it on his sleeve as much as Michele Bachmann.

And you kind of have an interesting case study here of three conservative evangelicals. Kind of a Goldilocks and the three evangelicals scenario. Because you have, you know, in terms of the porridge, you know. Some like it - is it too hot? Maybe a Michele Bachmann. Maybe a little too cold, Tim Pawlenty, who doesn't necessarily strike a fire in a lot of people. Or maybe a Rick Perry, a just right candidate potentially who wears Jesus on his sleeve, also has executive experience as a governor and plays well with the Tea Party. That could be the winning trifecta for an evangelical candidate.

MARTIN: Of course, Texas governor, Rick Perry, has been making headlines because in the coming weeks, I think it's on August 6th, he's holding a prayer and fasting rally. He's also polling second to Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, who was a contender in the last election.

On the other hand, there are some people who feel his comments, which may be appealing to one group are in some ways, some people feel, disqualifying with another. Like, for example, he's been among those downplaying the results of the default, feeling that he doesn't think it's that sort of significant. Could you just talk a little bit about how he's trying to straddle those worlds?

BRODY: Yeah. He is. Now, having said that, he is a guy that - let's face it - has some Texas swagger to him, just like a George Bush, and quite frankly, Michel, if you close your eyes for a moment and just listen to his voice, it does sound a little bit like George Bush. I think this might be an issue for Perry in the election. Is the country ready for another George Bush? And I say that in the sense of tone, in the sense of swagger. I think that's something that Perry's going to have to deal with.

MARTIN: Not just swagger, though. I think the George personality holds in a sense that here's a person who has a nuanced view of issues that are considered red meat for the base. But he doesn't necessarily agree. For example, on the whole question of gay marriage, he says he personally opposes gay marriage, but he so supports states' rights that he agrees with the decision of New York state, since that's the will of their, you know, leaders to support it. So he says he doesn't disagree with that.

BRODY: Right. I think this is going to be an issue for him. And when I say an issue, he has to decide, is he a steroid 10th amendment guy to the point where states' rights rule no matter what - which is pretty much what he has said. Or is he for a federal marriage amendment which he has also said he is for. So, how do you comport the two? I think this is something he's going to have to address. I think where this is going, Michel, is that eventually they believe - they being Rick Perry and other - other conservative leaders - believe that the Defense of Marriage Act will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

When that happens, Rick Perry and others will make the argument at that point that there needs to be some sort of federal marriage amendment. Not now, but once the Supreme Court rules on this.

MARTIN: And, finally, I did want to ask a little bit more about that rally on August 6th. He's getting a lot of heat from some of the groups that believe that he has - that it's just inappropriate somehow for a governor to lead a rally like that. Could you just give a perspective on why he feels this is important and why he feels this is compatible with his role as the chief executive of a state? Talk a little bit about that.

BRODY: Well, a couple things. I mean I think it first starts with his personal faith. And he has gone on Christian radio shows in conservative circles and pretty much said, look, I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe that Jesus Christ can take the problems of this country and really turn our country around if we're on our knees in prayer. And he says, what's the problem with that? And there will be a lot of conservative Christians - and my guess is many progressive evangelicals as well - will say, yes, Jesus of course has the healing power to do that.

So he's looking at it from a personal perspective and he thinks it's much to do about nothing when it comes to some of the - the Barry Lynn crowd, if you will. Some of the others that have...

MARTIN: Groups who are strong advocates of the separation of church and state so that they don't think it's appropriate for him as a chief executive of a state to play this role. You're saying you generally think he doesn't understand the controversy? He just feels it's just a much ado about nothing. Or does he think it's political?

BRODY: No. Well, I think he does think it's political to a degree. But let's remember that there's a whole big argument within conservative evangelical circles about the actual words of separation of church and state nowhere in the Constitution, but more the theory of it.

MARTIN: All right. David Brody, thank you so much for joining us once again.

BRODY: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: He's chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network. He also writes the blog The Brody File. We'll link to that. Thank you, David.

The Barbershop guys are coming up next. We hope you'll stay with us on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.