Religious, Political Debates Changing

February 1, 2009

Author: Jacqueline L. Salmon and Michelle Boorstein

Source: The Washington Post

With a president they view as more sympathetic to their causes, progressive religious activists are pushing the new Obama administration for aggressive action -- on poverty, the environment and social justice issues -- that would mark a significant shift in the faith agenda that dominated the Bush years.

Many faith groups close to President Bush focused on abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage. But now, liberal and centrist evangelicals and other activists say they are getting a voice and trying to turn the debate.

"The last administration showed no interest in talking to a large chunk of the religious community," said Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. "We're already seeing change.... This administration, so far as I can see, is not making a similar mistake."

The change, however, represents more than a new agenda. It also sets up potential conflicts for President Obama, who has reached out to religious activists across the spectrum. He runs the risk of alienating supporters and detractors alike as his administration attempts a dialogue on a host of issues and begins new policies, such as his decision this month to lift the ban on federal funding to international groups that provide abortions and abortion counseling.