Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LARRY KING LIVE
What's God Got To Do With Politics?
Aired May 14, 2007 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I want to begin by giving praise to the almighty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, what's god got to do with electing America's next president?
Have Democrats found faith on the campaign trail?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that America is a nation of (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Do GOP frontrunners have a prayer of winning the voters of the religious right?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And the faith that guides me to meet the challenges of our time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is the religious right more or less powerful than when it helped elect President Bush the last two times?
And what about those who say any religion in politics is too much?
Your view may change in the next hour, as the debate gets passionate on all sides of this church-state divide, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We have an outstanding panel to get into this very topic.
They are, in Louisville, Kentucky, Reverend Albert Mohler, Jr. president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Time.com described him as "the reigning intellectual" of the Evangelical movement in this country. And in Washington is David Kuo, the Washington editor of Beliefnet.com, the best-selling author of "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction." He's former special assistant to President Bush, deputy director of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.
In Orlando is Reverend Jim Wallis, best-selling author of "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It." He's president and executive director of "Sojourners"
"Call to Renewal;" editor-in-chief of "Sojourners" magazine.
In Washington, Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He's a best- selling author, including the book, "Piety & Politics: The Right-Wing Assault On Religious Freedom."
And in Boston, our man, David Gergen, who served as White House adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton; editor-at- large, "U.S. News & World Report"; and professor of public service at Harvard's JFK School of Government.
We'll start with Reverend Mohler.
What role, if any, should poli -- religion play in politics, Reverend Mohler?
REV. ALBERT MOHLER, JR. PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Well, the most important thing is for persons to know what they believe and what they would expect of candidates. And since America is a land of religious freedom, inevitably issues that are related to faith, to Christianity, to whatever faith is held by the candidate or the voter, these things are going to become a matter of public conversation. It is inevitable.
The only way to avoid that is to have some kind of atheistic regime and to outlaw religious liberty.
So we are going to hear from the American people and we're going to be hearing from candidates.
And the big issue is, is there a match in the convictions that voters are going to looking for from candidates?
KING: David Kuo, why should it matter? Why should the faith of a particular candidate matter at all?
DAVID KUO, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, BUSH ADMINISTRATION ASSAD OFFICE OF FAITH-BASED & COMMUNITY INITIATIVES: You know, it shouldn't matter at all. I mean, the constitution has made it very clear there is to be no particular religion -- no religious test at all for elected office. So it shouldn't matter at all.
I agree with Reverend Mohler about the importance of Christians being involved, all religious people being involved in politics. I would draw a line, however, and say that I am increasingly concerned about the spiritual consequence that political activity is having on faith.
KING: What do you think, Reverend Wallis, is the impact of religion and American politics? And is it good or bad?
REV. JIM WALLIS, FOUNDER, "CALL TO RENEWAL," EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "SOJOURNERS MAGAZINE": What the moral compass of a candidate is, is important. We need to know what guides them, what shapes their leadership, what -- what might, you know, be a factor in -- in what the policies they advocate -- not a religious litmus test, but a moral compass.
And so religion in America is one thing that shapes the moral compass of candidates and citizens. And so it's a fair question to talk about faith in politics. But not as a test, but rather as something that helps us understand their and our moral compass.
KING: The religious right, Reverend Lynn -- and you've written about them -- is their impact less in 2008?
REV. BARRY LYNN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: You know, frankly, Larry, I think their impact will be about the same. That is, there are about 17 percent of Americans who do, in fact, characterize themselves as members of the religious right. They do have a very clear set of principles that they would like to have adopted as a matter of law. They're people who have frankly and essentially given up the power of moral suasion and now what they're trying to do is to turn their often narrow religious ideas into the law that applies to everyone in the United States. And that's the great danger of that movement.
KING: David Gergen, could an atheist be a good president?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER TO PRESIDENT NIXON, FORD, REAGAN AND CLINTON: Yes. And we've had presidents who haven't believed. It was always open to question about -- especially about Thomas Jefferson -- about what his beliefs were. And there have been other Presidents. When Lincoln first came in, he did not seem to be a believer. He came more and more -- as he wrestled with the Civil War -- came around to believe that the war went on because god must have intervened in some way.
But I must say, Larry, this is -- as you well know, this is the most religious country in modern industrialized Western world. Over 90 percent of Americans express a belief in god.
And religion and politics have often intertwined. And, you know, today's secular folks, especially on the left, say keep religion out of politics.
But they forget that at two momentous times in our history, religion played a role in progressive politics. The religion was behind the Abolition movement and helped lead to the end of slavery in the 19th century. And religion very fueled the civil rights movement and brought Martin Luther King -- Reverend Martin Luther King, let us remember -- to the forefront of major social change in this country.
KING: How historic, Reverend Mohler, in the scheme of things, was the Kennedy election?
MOHLER: Well, it was very historic and for one good reason and for one, I think, rather negative reason.
The good reason was that Americans learned that being Catholic, for instance, shouldn't disqualify one from public office. And I -- I, for one, am very thankful for politicians such as Rick Santorum, the former senator, and, even now, Sam Brownback. I agree with him on so many issues.
The negative thing was that President Kennedy, when he was running for office, basically made a -- a speech in Houston in which he spoke to a group of Baptist ministers, of all things, and said, "I am Catholic, but don't let that worry you, because I'm not going to let my Catholicism affect the way I lead."
I want to know why a person's faith, convictions shape them and how that will, indeed, shape who they are. I think it was a mistake when President Kennedy made that statement in Houston. I think it set a bad precedent. And I think it led to some of the confusion we're dealing with even now.
But it may have elected him.
MOHLER: It may have.
KING: All right, let's get into specifics.
Some political analysts believe that Rudy Giuliani's position on a number of social issues could cost him problems with social conservatives.
Now, we're going to listen to Rudy talking about abortion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: There are two pillars, two core beliefs that I have -- that I have always had, from the time that I first started reflecting on this; certainly from the time that I first entered public life; to -- to this day. And I suspect on these two issues, I can't imagine that there'll be a change.
So you have a right to evaluate this in figuring out if, you know, if you can support me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And, of course, he came out for the woman's right to choose. By the way, David Kuo, what can a president do about abortion anyway?
It's in the courts. And if the courts throw it out, it's going to go to the states.
The president can't affect it at all, can he?
KUO: The president has a very limited number of things he can actually do on abortion. Obviously, one of the things that he can do is appoint strict constructionist judges, if he's a pro-life president and wants to make that sort of impact.
He also has the power of this bully pulpit, the power to be able to speak to women and to say -- and to the nation -- and say choose life.
I think there's something very interesting, however, about what's happened with the religious right in the last, let's say, 15 or 20 years. In 1994, Bill Bennett went before the Christian Coalition and he said to the Christian Coalition, listen, there are huge issues facing the family. There are huge issues facing the country, including abortion.
He said, let's not get too fixated on the matter of homosexuality. Let's focus, instead, on the things that are the great dividing lines, the things really hurting the American family, things like divorce.
And one of the things that's really interesting to me is that in the last 15 years, if you look at the social indicators, you know, illegitimacy has gone up badly. Divorce has stayed bad. Social -- marriage -- the formation of marriage has gone up -- or, sorry -- has gone down. So many of the social indicators have gone up while so much attention has been paid to the issue of homosexuality.
And what's happened, at the end of the day, is that the American family has been hurt.
KING: We're going to take a break and come right back.
Coming up, just how far should the media go with questions about a candidate's faith?
We'll see if our panel thinks there should be a limit.
As we go to break, three candidates who struck a chord with the religious right, but not so much with the overall electorate, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: We need to embrace our nation's motto, "in god we trust," not be ashamed of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: And the reasons our citizens are good is because of our faith and because we believe all men are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), ARIZONA: When a person says "my faith doesn't affect my decision-making," I would say the person's saying their faith is not significant enough to impact their decision process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: David Gergen -- by the way, anyone can jump in any time, as long as we don't interrupt.
David Gergen, what should we, what should the media ask and not ask with regard to religion?
GERGEN: I think it's fair to ask about one's faith, how -- you know, how strong a belief it is, how it affects your -- your views, your attitudes toward life, your philosophy of life. But I think it's particularly important to know how it may form your views on issues.
And that's and that's where the Giuliani position has become so controversial. Give him points for courage and standing up for what he believes and finally giving voice to an authentic sense of who he is.
At the same time, he's going to run -- he's running into a buzz saw on this, Larry. And the Evangelical Christians may not be able to elect him, but they do have the power of veto in the Republican Party. And they -- they may well veto him. They conceivably could veto Mitt Romney and they could conceivably veto John McCain.
LYNN: You know, David, I think that one of the things that Giuliani did, though, in that little snip that we just saw was to say here are what my values are, this is what they lead me to believe as a presidential candidate. I'm more interested in knowing that. And I think most Americans want to know that people running for office have honesty and integrity and a sense of justice.
But I don't think Americans need to know as much as some of the folks on this panel think they do about the source of those values. Talk about values, talk about how they connect to specific policies. But I don't think we need to know how many times you go to church...
LYNN: ... and, frankly, I don't think that we should be running electoral campaigns as if your ability to quote scripture, either well or not so well, has any reference to how much of a quality presidency you will have if you are elected.
KING: Concerning Mr. Romney, he was -- they did a piece on him last night on "60 Minutes" about his Mormon faith.
Let's watch this clip and we'll ask Reverend Wallis about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "60 MINUTES," COURTESY CBS NEWS)
MIKE WALLACE, "60 MINUTES" (voice-over): Mitt and Ann fell in love in high school in Bloomfield Hills. She converted from Episcopal to Mormon, while Mitt did missionary work in France for over two years.
GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: You get all these Mormons out there with strict prohibition against pre-marital sex, and they're young and they're attractive. And the hormones work very well. And -- and people decide it's time to get married.
WALLACE: Did you have pre-marital sex with Ann?
ROMNEY: No, I'm sorry. We don't get into those things. The answer is no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: All right, Reverend Wallis, is that fair question? And how does it relate to being president, whether he did or didn't?
WALLIS: You know, I think what -- what Romney's faith is -should be a factor at all. His religion should not be a political factor.
I'm from Michigan. His dad was a governor, a good governor. And I don't remember his Mormon faith -- being an issue at all in Michigan.
What he has trouble with or what he's got to answer is whether his moral compass shifts depending on where he's running, who he's trying to appeal to and whether that's the issue.
But I think his religion ought not be a factor in this conversation.
David Gergen was right. I mean religion has been a major factor in American public life for a long time. And nobody wants to have exegetical debates on the Senate floor about Leviticus. That's not appropriate.
But the issue is not whether faith will shape public life, but how. There are good ways to do it and very bad ways to do it.
KING: Reverend Mohler, does -- does Romney's Mormon faith bother you?
MOHLER: Oh, it does, certainly concern me, as an Evangelical Christian.
MOHLER: ... as an Evangelical Christian.
That doesn't mean that I wouldn't vote for him under the right political circumstances and in the right context.
I have to answer first as a Christian and say I believe Mormonism is a false that is antithetical to historic orthodox Christianity.
But, at the same time, I'm not electing a theologian. I'm looking at electing a president, and I will have to consider all of those things in the context of what -- what a candidate represents.
If -- if, for instance, Governor Romney is going to be a serious candidate for president -- and it certainly appears that he is -- he needs to speak very openly about what his Mormonism will mean for his candidacy...
MOHLER: ... and we'll just take that into honest consideration.
KING: But, you didn't want Kennedy to speak to the Evangelicals in Houston, but you want Romney to speak to them?
MOHLER: No, I did want Kennedy to speak to -- forgive me -- the historical illusion here -- I was a year old at the time. I do want all persons to speak to Evangelicals, but in terms of who they are. I want them to speak to us honestly about what they believe and how their beliefs work their way out into public policy.
And Evangelical Christians are growing up in terms of political maturity. We're -- we're having to. I mean, after all, this is an election in which there is no major candidate who is just tailor-made for an Evangelical constituency. So Evangelicals are learning how to ask some new and, perhaps, more deeply discerning questions about the political process and about candidates.
KING: We'll take a break and be right back with more.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: It's more for where I am on the issue of life and not where I've been. I respect the fact you arrived at this place of principle a long, long time ago. I appreciate the fact you're inclined to honor someone who arrived here only a few years ago. I'm evidence that your work your relentless campaign to promote the sanctity of human life bears fruit. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: David Kuo, how much do we have the right to know about a candidate? If he had pre-marital sex? What does that have to do with how he stands on free trade? KUO: You know, I think we have become so focused on the tiny little details and we have missed the big details.
Frankly, I don't care whether Governor Romney -- when Governor Romney and his wife decided to couple up.
What I am interested in is whether or not Governor Romney is interested in caring about the poor.
I don't particularly care about what Rudy Giuliani's Christian -- religious faith is. I am interested in whether or not he has a particular agenda to care for people who are in need.
You know, what's ironic to me in this whole discussion about religion -- about so many of these candidates talking about faith, is how few of them actually talked about things that, for instance, Jesus talked about. And one of those things that he talked about over and over and over again is caring for the poor.
I also think it's interesting that if you -- if you line up these candidates and take Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and put them on one side, and you take the top three of McCain and Romney and Giuliani on the other, and you listen simply to their faith language, it's the Democrats who are sounding like the Evangelists. It's the Republicans who don't particularly want to be talking about faith is all -- faith at all. And it's interesting because it seems like the Democrats are the ones who have learned from George Bush's example in 2000 and 2004 about how important it is to -- to wear your faith on your sleeve.
KING: David Gergen...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's why...
KING: ... does he have a point?
GERGEN: I'm sorry.
KING: David Gergen, does he have a point?
GERGEN: He has an absolute point, yes. Yes, I think the -- David was absolutely right, especially on that last point. The Democrats, Larry, have -- have become a party the many secular voters and many people of faith. And the problem for the party was it increasingly found itself in a position of being tagged as the godless party, being entirely made up of secular people. And that drove a lot of Evangelicals away.
Remember when the Evangelicals first got into politics in a dramatic way, in modern politics, it came in 1976. After the court made its decision in "Roe v. Wade," after the court made its decision on school prayer, a lot of Evangelicals decided to get into politics.
Who was their first candidate they supported?
They supported Jimmy Carter. They helped to put him in the White House. And they then became disappointed with Carter and they moved to Ronald Reagan. That really made a difference in Reagan's election in 1980.
But since then, the Evangelicals have moved steadily away from the Democratic Party and there's been a sense among people of -- of serious faith. People who go to church once a week or more vote heavily Republican and they often believe that Democrats don't get it -- they don't get god. And that's one of the things that I think Democrats have been moving hard to correct that misimpression.
KING: Speaking of Democrats and faith, John Edwards in the first Democratic presidential debate -- well, watch what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY MSNBC)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MODERATOR: Who do you consider to be your moral leader?
FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't -- I don't think I could identify one person that I consider to be my moral leader.
My lord is important to me. I go to him in prayer everyday and ask for both forgiveness and counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Barry Kaye, what did you make of that?
Barry Lynn, I'm sorry.
LYNN: Yes. I don't -- I think that's a reasonable answer.
You may remember a similar question was asked during the first campaign in which George Bush was a candidate. He was asked in one of the debates, who is your most important political philosopher?
And he said, "Jesus Christ, because he changed my heart," just changing the whole nature of the other respondents' answers to that question.
But I think it's reasonable for someone to ponder, as John Edwards did, and to say this is why the lord means something to me, but, also, be clear, as John Edwards frequently is, that he knows that his personal religious beliefs cannot trump the values of the constitution, cannot trump the commonly shared values that all of us have as Americans. When he speaks personally, he says I'm speaking personally.
LYNN: And some of the notion, including Al's idea that somehow you have to know a great deal about the background of -- the religious background of candidates, I think is terribly dangerous. It is not necessary to know what Mitt Romney feels about every doctrine followed by any Mormon. Similarly, it's not important for Senator Hillary Clinton to be asked and the answer the question do I literally believe in a virgin birth? This should be off the table in a country that is not godless...
KING: All right, we'll...
LYNN: ... but is made up of 1,500 different religions and 20 million non-believers and free thinkers.
KING: Do you accept that, Reverend Mohler?
MOHLER: Well, I -- I find it a very interesting theory. For one thing, people are going to ask what they want to ask. You know, the constitution says there's no religious test for public office. And so no one can be barred by law from -- from any office from in this land based upon religion. That's a good thing, by the way, for one thing, the law had been used to keep Christian ministers out of elected office.
So I see that as a good thing in terms of just saying that there's no constitutional religious test.
But that doesn't mean that voters can't apply whatever test they may have.
I want to go back to something that was said earlier, you know, about the Democrats getting the god language thing.
I think -- I want to be very clear here tonight to say I don't think there's any great danger of conservative Christians
Migrating to the Democrats because they have adopted this -- this language.
I think there is a great danger of conservative Christians becoming disenchanted with or the Republican Party if it no longer seems to stand for some of the same values. I think that's the big test on the -- the minds of a lot of conservative people right now.
WALLIS: Well, Larry -- Larry, I think the conversation could be quite different than it was last time and what Al is saying here, for two reasons. One, the agenda -- the religious agenda is going to be very different this time. It won't be the narrow two agenda issue that we've seen dominating in the past.
Poverty is a religious issue now. The environment -- climate change; pandemics like HIV. It's Rick Warren said this week that to focus on just two issues is un-Christian.
And so you're going to see a wider, deeper agenda -- faith applied as David Kuo said, to a whole variety of questions now.
Secondly, as your clip just showed, the Democrats, the frontrunners are actually the frontrunners more personally comfortably with faith and matters of faith than the Republican frontrunners. That's a major shift from last time. Now, that levels the playing field, which is good for the country, for the church and politics, because faith -- we shouldn't be in anybody's political pocket. We should be the ultimate swing voters. We should be independent...
WALLIS: ... applying our moral compass to both sides, so god is not a Republican or a Democrat.
WALLIS: And last time there was a lot of confusion about that...
KING: Let met get...
WALLIS: That's going to be very different this time around.
KING: Let me get a break and we'll come right back.
Still ahead, actor and former Senator Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich. They're not candidates yet, but how would they change the role of religion in politics if they do run?
As we go to break, then Governor Bush talking religion in a 1999 debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM DECEMBER 13, 1999, COURTESY MSNBC/WHO-TV)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The philosopher-thinker.
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:
Christ, because he changed my heart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that the viewer would like to know more on how he's changed your heart.
BUSH: Well, if they don't know, it's going to be hard to explain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: By the way, if I do say so myself, there's a terrific DVD now available called "The Greatest Interviews: LARRY KING LIVE," a compilation of highlights of over 300 interviews during this long career. It also contains personal perspectives, lots of things that never got on the air, things that you don't know about that we'll learn about from this DVD. And you can order it by simply going to kingoftalkdvd.com.
David Gergen, if Fred Thomson comes in and Newt Gingrich, who rumored today, he may come in, how will they affect this religious right vote?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER TO PRESIDENTS NIXON, FORD, REAGAN & CLINTON: Well, it's interesting, Larry, because the religious right now I think will be increasingly critical of Rudy Giuliani after his statements. They've already been critical of John McCain. They have lots and lots of problems with Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism.
That really does open the door to a couple new candidates. And Fred Thompson could emerge as a person would evangelical Christians would find very comfortable. And other conserves begin to think he's -- you know he's not Reagan but because he comes out of that acting field, there is a sense that he's got some of those qualities.
I think Newt Gingrich doesn't change the debate on the religion so much as I do think that he will bring fresh energy and most importantly very strong ideas. This campaign hasn't had many good ideas so far. And Newt Gingrich is full of 50 a day, as you well know. He could well run as a candidate. He wants to challenge the Republican Party and make it a party that responds in new ways to new challenges of the 21st century.
REV. BARRY LYNN, EXEC. DIR. AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE: You know Larry...
KING: What do you think -- yes, go ahead.
LYNN: I think the religious right is looking for both of these people to come into the race. Newt Gingrich has written a book within the last year or so about the religious symbols on government buildings, from which he draws the, in fact, erroneous conclusion that this was somehow created as a Christian nation.
And Fred Thompson just over the past weekend was introduced to the CNP, the Council on National Policy, a somewhat secretive group. But with all the heavy hitters in the religious right in it, I believe Richard Land and the Southern Baptist Convention, actually introduced him to the group. And what I've heard over the course of the last two days is that people were very enthusiastic from the right about Fred Thomson because they're so disappointed in so many of the other candidates.
KING: David, what do you think?
KUO: If I could pick up on that. It's interesting because so much of the discussion over the last several months has been along the theme that the religious right is dead. Recently you had D. James Kennedy's organization, the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ in Florida shut down. You had a number of organizations undergo big changes. And it's been popular to say that the religious right is dead.
The real problem with that story line is it's an old story line. You know after the Republicans lose, invariably the story line is, wow, the religious right must be dead. And it's a big mistake to assume that the religious right is dead now. This is the group of people who, again, helped elect President Bush in 2000 and 2004. This is a very powerful group of people not because of -- powerful because of their beliefs, powerful because of their motivations.
And if you look at the polling, this is a group of people that still holds President Bush's job approval ratings over 80 percent. So there are definite changes happening in the religious right. There are definite people who are leading more discussion, as Jim Wallace said, towards poverty. But the religious right is a very strong organization and a very strong political group and they're far from dead.
WALLIS: They're dead but the monologue of the religious right is really over now. I was in Iowa today all day and I was talking to people of faith, and they're talking to both sides. They're talking to Democrats, Republicans. Candidates on both sides are doing faith outreach.
You know the Barack Obama campaign has faith outreach coordinators in every part of Iowa. I mean this hasn't happened before. There's a whole new conversation. And David is right, poverty is becoming an issue that crosses boundaries of left and right. And so, you're going to see people of faith saying that people of God shouldn't be in any party's pocket. We're going to make our own agenda and we're going to hold both sides accountable. And that's a good thing for the country, for church and for politics.
KING: Now, Reverend Mohler, do you disagree with that?
MOHLER: Well, I don't disagree that there are larger issues to be addressed, absolutely. But what I don't like and what I, frankly, find somewhat artificial and false here is the suggestion that evangelicals need to broaden their agenda, which means abandoning simple convictions on the family, on sexuality and on abortion and the sanctity of human life.
I'm all for broadening the agenda. There's a whole lot -- given this country and given our responsibility that ought to be on our agenda, but evangelical Christians are not going to surrender those primary issues. We all have a hierarchy of concerns.
And politically speaking, the sanctity of human life and the sanctity and integrity of the family are at the very top of the evangelical agenda. So, by the way, are issues of personal morality...
LYNN: Al, you are absolutely right though. What you just said is why the religious right is, in fact, contrary to Jim's view, not dead, not going away, not even heading in that direction. You said we have to have a hierarchy of values. And I believe that the religious right is represented by James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson. A huge amount of support that will always say we have to care more about the sanctity of life of the fetus than we do about the sanctity of life of poor children who could...
LYNN: Well, no, you just said it again.
MOHLER: These are false choices. These are false choices.
KING: Mr. Gergen, break it down for us.
GERGEN: This is a little complex and it's very contentious. I think what we are seeing is the religious right is going to be absolutely focused on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of family. And by family, this is about the gay issue as well as other issues. And so, they're going to insist on that in the Republican nomination. So I think that that is right.
But at the same time, Larry, something very important is starting to happen, and that is there are people in the religious right like Rick Warren who believes in the sanctity of right and the sanctity of the family, who also believe that the environment and poverty are terribly important issues. And people on the religious left are starting to make -- like Jim Wallace, who is a great leader on the religious left, are starting to find common ground with the religious right on these other additional issues that are also vital to the future.
KING: I've got to take a break. We'll come right back with more of you and we'll get in some phone calls too. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BARACK OBAMA, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we make a mistake when we feel to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives, in the lives of the American people. I think it's time we joined a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern pluralistic society.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On this Lord's Day, let us say with one voice the words of James Cleveland's "Great Freedom Hymn": "I don't feel no ways tired, I come too far from where I started from, nobody told me that the road would be easy."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's take a call on this important topic. North Miami, Florida, hello.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, for those who believe that having a non-religious or an atheist in the White House would somehow adversely affect the family or -- quote --"the sanctity of life," well, perhaps they should consider that we've a devout church-goer in the White House for the past six years who has responsible for over 3,000 young Americans being killed. How much worse could it be having an atheist or a non-religious in the White House?
KING: David Kuo?
KUO: You know it's interesting because one of the things that the Bush team did in 2000 and 2004 was to present the president not only as commander-in-chief but to really market him as pastor-in-chief to millions and millions of evangelical voters.
That made for good politics. It made for dangerous theology because I think what's happened in the process is you've had millions and millions of evangelical voters stripped of their biblically prophetic voice to speak truth to power.
I think that when he was presented not simply only as president but as a Christian, someone they should trust because of his faith, lines got blurred like they haven't ever gotten blurred before. And so many Christians today still see him first as a Christian and not as a president.
KING: Is that the way you see him, Reverend Mohler?
MOHLER: When you speak of President Bush, I would say first, that he is the commander-in-chief, that he is the president and chief executive. I understand he is man whose faith is very important to him. I've heard him talk about that. We all know that that was major issue in his campaign.
But you know, Larry, regardless of what you think about the Iraq war, that's not a topic of conversation here tonight, it's not fair to point to someone whose commander-in-chief and point to the fact that there have been deaths under his watch in the armed forces. That's going to happen under any president.
The issue is how is a man's convictions, a candidate's convictions, tied to what he does in office in terms of public policy. And it think when you look at the 2008 race, again, for evangelical Christians, it's not as if we have a George W. Bush running in office, which is a known quantity, who speaks our language and has a track record on...
KING: You don't.
MOHLER: This is a very different year and there are some new opportunities for candidates. And there's a real responsibility for evangelical Christians to think about these issues.
LYNN: Al, honestly, I think you missed the point of the caller's question. The caller is saying, look, here is a man, President Bush who was told by the late Pope John Paul, II that anyone who becomes a political leader and leads us into this war in Iraq would have to answer directly to God. It was an extraordinary statement for a modern pope to make to any president. What did the president do, within about 48 hours, he had convened here in Washington a group of theologians, you may have been among them, to come out and meet with them and then come out and announce that they have recalculated the question of whether this was a just war. He was looking for the religious cover. He is making his decisions based on religion so much that he apparently didn't have time to look at the other evidence of which presumably a non-believer or frankly, a believer should have been looking at.
KING: David Gergen?
GERGEN: Well, I don't think in making a decision to go to war in Iraq his religion played a large part. He looked at a lot of other variables like those weapons of mass destruction that weren't -- you know he had bad intelligence and all the rest.
But I do think, Larry, there has been a suspicion among some that the president feels at times -- and sometimes his language suggests not only is he a devout believer but that his belief system -- that sometimes there's almost a sense that he's God's instrument in the White House carrying out God's will and God is somehow on our side as Americans.
I think that is very troublesome. Lincoln never would argue that God was on our side. He would argue that we should be on God's side toward the end of the war.
As to the caller's question, I don't think it -- you know I think the country could be well led by an atheist or a non-believer. But people do want to know about the values of a candidate. They want to know about the values of the president and how that then forms our policy choice. They want to know about his character.
KING: We'll be right back. More phone calls and more of our panel don't go away.
KING: Reverend Wallace, before we take our next call, Senators Clinton and Obama and former Senator Edwards are all scheduled to appear Monday, June 4 on a forum of faith and values sponsored by the Sojourners Call to Renewal. CNN will broadcast that event. Soledad O'Brien will be the host. And the purple religious leaders are going to question what's the purpose?
WALLIS: Well, the focus will be on faith and values and poverty. And we'll be asking: what is your plan, what is your plan for serious poverty reduction at home and around the world.
I mean we heard at the start, when David was talking about movements. Here's the thing that underlies this conversation: politics is broken in America. It's not addressing the biggest issues. And when it comes to politics, religion doesn't fit the categories of left and right. It really doesn't. And there's a chance here we could come together across our boundaries and say, if we care about the sanctity of life, we should care about Darfur. So we'll be asking questions that don't fit the old categories and asking people to do something that is deeper than just the left-right debate blaming. And let's talk about solutions and talk about hope. I think religion could do that. KING: Are you going to do it with Republican candidates, too?
WALLIS: Yes, we are. We already have the letters out. You know we want to have substantial conversation. That's why we invited the top three to have a serious thought...
KING: Excellent idea.
WALLIS: ...and not just sound bytes of people fighting for the hour of space.
KING: Elmhurst, Illinois, hello.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, there. I am a member of the Christian Reform Church of North America and I wanted to ask is it biblical for the religious right to focus on abortion but not on poverty, genocide and racial injustice, and things such as that?
And second, just when should Christians get involved in politics because pastors can lose their tax-exempt status over getting involved in politics?
KING: Yes, Reverend Mohler, is that a difficult situation?
MOHLER: Well not so long as the pastor speaks on the basis of biblical conviction. And I'm not for pastor endorsing candidates from the pulpit at all. I want to speak to the issues and help people to understand how to make morally discerning, theologically discerning, and spiritual discerning choices.
I also want to come back -- I think your caller asked a very interesting question there at the beginning about, you know, how these issues all come together. I want to say that I want to talk about poverty too but I can't talk about poverty without talking about the breakdown of marriage, about the problem of children and single parent homes. In other words, this is all tied together. It's not like poverty. It's a separate issue from the issue of the family.
LYNN: No, but you choose to do it one way instead of another way and that's the point.
I think, Larry, that most Americans do not want their preacher telling them for whom to vote. And they also don't want their politicians acting like they're resolving these issues on the basis even of the Holy Scripture, which 80 percent of Americans claim is their holy scripture. They want reason, God given or otherwise, to play a role in deciding the most contentious issues of our time.
KING: Do you agree, David? David Kuo and then David Gergen.
KUO: You know I think one of the things that needs to be hit on tonight is there is a huge theological debate going on within the religious right. It's something that Jim has talked about. It's something that Reverend Mohler has talked about and that is that more and more orthodox theologians are beginning to say, you know what, the greatest moral issue our time may not be abortion. And I think specifically renowned British theologian, M.T. Wright, former Cannian theologian and Westminster Abby bishop of Durham who says over and over now, the greatest moral issue of our times is not abortion. And he is pro-life. He said it is poverty. You know it is the run away capitalism that keeps so much of the world poor.
You listen to what Pope Benedict said in Brazil. He had similar warnings against capitalism and against this sort of thing. And I think these are the sorts of debates that are becoming real within the religious right. And these are what will be born out in the next election.
KING: When we come back, Mr. Gergen will chime in and we'll get another phone call in too. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MITT ROMNEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not create new embryos through cloning.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: It is not necessary to kill a human life for us to heal people.
GOV. JIM GILMORE: You can't create people in order to experiment with people.
GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: I don't think it's right to create a life to end a life.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: The alternatives which are adult...
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON: And we do not have to kill...
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We need to do what we can to relieve human suffering.
REP. RON PAUL: The markets should deal with it and the states should deal with it.
FORMER MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI, (R), NEW YORK: A long as we're not creating human life in order to destroy it, as long as they're not having human cloning and we limit it to that...
REP. TOM TANCREDO: It does not require me taking money from the taxpayers of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Before we get a comment from David Gergen, I want to take one more call.
Independence, Missouri, hello.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, my question is can or should a candidate's strong faith interfere with their ability to make a wise decision on something, such as stem cell research, particularly when the voters have already passed such action?
KING: What do you do with that kind of conflict, Barry Lynn?
LYNN: I think what you do is what Jack Kennedy said he would do in the speech that Al was critical of. He said he believed in an America where the separation of church and state was absolute. He went on to say that if he ever had a fundamental problem with exercising his religious faith or upholding the values of the Constitution, he would resign from office. It was an extraordinary statement that drew exactly the right line between personal religious belief and what it does and the demands of the Constitution for a president.
KING: David Gergen, all right, how big a factor will religion play in 2008?
GERGEN: I think it's a going to play an enormous factor, Larry, in determining the Republican nominee for the presidency. I'm not sure in the final analysis it will elect the next president. But I do think the religious right will veto all three of the current leading candidates.
KING: Therefore, it might not be any of the three?
GERGEN: It might not be any of the three.
WALLIS: Larry, you've shown lots of candidates here tonight, which is great. But I want to say no matter who wins, I don't think that candidate, even if our favorite candidate is the one who has won, is going to deal with these really big moral questions. And for that, David Gergen talked at the outset about social movements that led to the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage. It'll take those kinds of movements again to move politics.
When politics fails, social movements rise up. And the best ones always have spiritual foundations. That's more important than one candidate or another winning this election.
KING: Are you optimistic or pessimistic, Jim?
WALLIS: I'm optimistic because I see that movement rising up. I see a whole new generation. Our crowds are half under 30, half of them under 25. I'm talking with 14-year-olds in Iowa today.
WALLIS: And they want their faith to make a difference in the world. And they may like one or the other but they want to make their difference in the world. And that will change politics more than whoever wins this election.
KING: Thank you all so much, great show.
Our text vote question of the night: does a candidate's religion matter to you? Does it matter to you? Text your vote to CNNTV, which is 26688. Text KINGA for yes and KINGB for no and we'll reveal the results on tomorrow night's show. And of course, you can always e-mail us by going to CNN.com/LarryKing.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com