WEB UPDATE: Obama, Clinton and Edwards discuss faith at Lisner

Posted Tuesday, June 5, 1:00 a.m.

Three of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination discussed the intersection of faith, values and politics on a CNN program aired live Monday evening from Lisner Auditorium.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and John Edwards answered questions posed by anchor Soledad O’Brien as well as religious leaders in attendance about their personal religious beliefs and how religion affects their daily lives. Sojourners, a Christian evangelical organization, sponsored the event.

“The Hand of God is in step with me and with every human on this planet,” Edwards said.

He also mentioned his own religious journey, from rejection of his strict upbringing as a young adult, to a resurgence of religious faith later in life. Edwards said faith and prayer helped him overcome challenges including his son’s death and his wife’s battle with breast cancer.

Obama spoke of how faith can bring people together within the political arena, even if seemingly insurmountable obstacles stand in the way.

“Faith can say, ‘forgive someone who has treated us unjustly;’ it can say that regardless of what’s happened in the past, there’s a brighter future ahead of us.”

Addressing her perceived reluctance to discuss faith in public, Clinton referenced her husband’s infidelity as a time when religion was important in her life.

“I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right, regardless of what the world thought,” Clinton said.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and host of the event, asked both Obama and Edwards about the moral and religious imperative behind fighting poverty.

Edwards has made battling poverty a focus of his campaign and described poverty as a great moral issue of our time.

“Whatever happens in this presidential campaign, as long as I am alive and breathing, I will be out there fighting (poverty) with everything I have.”

Obama also agreed with Wallis on the moral importance of poverty. He spoke of the need for Americans to assume both societal and individual responsibilities and to express themselves not only through religious or familial means, but through the government as well.

After the forum’s conclusion, Wallis spoke further about his movement and its goal to make poverty a political issue. He also stressed that his organization does not endorse specific candidates, but hopes that candidates will endorse his organization’s agenda.

“You wouldn’t be able to change big issues without a movement,” Wallis said. “Movements are what change the issue.”

Faith and poverty were not the only issues discussed at the forum. One audience member asked Edwards about the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina and the struggles still faced by residents of New Orleans.

As president, Edwards said, he plans to appoint a White House official to work on the issue of Hurricane Katrina recovery and would meet with that official every day.

“What happened in New Orleans is a national embarrassment,” Edwards said to loud applause from the audience.

Clinton fielded a question on the issue of abortion and cited her oft-repeated desire to make it “safe, legal and rare.” Bridging the gap between abortion rights and pro-life supporters is a massive, but plausible, challenge, she said.

Kate Davelaar, a seminary student from Holland, Mich., said she was glad to see candidates willing to discuss their faiths. She said all three candidates were impressive but Clinton was “phenomenal.”

“I think it’s important that this conversation is happening in public,” Davelaar said. “It’s something that hasn’t been talked about enough, especially among Democrats.”

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