Bp. Robinson endorses Obama, but is it appropriate?

Bishop Gene Robinson has publicly endorsed Barack Obama, according to published accounts of a telephone press conference today. On the one hand, Robinson is in the spotlight as a “civil rights leader,” but two cautions spring to mind, both issued by the Interfaith Alliance soon after the report of Robinson’s endorsement emerged.

While not listed on the barackobama.com website, the release is at Campaigns and Elections here.

Robinson said he believes that Obama’s faith and background as a community organizer and civil rights lawyer make him uniquely qualified to advance our government’s commitment to equality and compassion for those “for whom America is not working so well.”

“As my work shows me every day, leadership means bringing people together and inspiring them to live out their values,” Bishop Robinson said. “Barack Obama sees beyond the partisanship and hopelessness that have dominated in recent years, and the movement he’s building is bringing vital new energy and optimism into our democratic process. I’m excited to work with Barack to bridge the old divides and make this country one again.”

The release notes that Robinson has never publicly endorsed a candidate for office before, which leads to a question of how appropriate it is for him to do so. In a statement released by the Interfaith Alliance, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy notes that the waters are muddy, not only because mixing faith and politics so directly can jeopardize a religious organization’s protected tax status:

Today’s endorsement of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign for president by Bishop Gene Robinson is just the latest example of candidates misusing religious leaders for political gain. Over the last year we have seen many, if not all, of the presidential candidates set up websites promoting endorsements by religious leaders. While endorsements like today’s raise the possibility of legal action against religious leaders, our concerns are rooted more in the impact on the sanctity of religion and the integrity of government.

I encourage candidates to talk about the proper role of religion in public life, and I strongly defend the right of religious leaders to speak out about the important issues we are facing in the world today. However, when candidates turn religious leaders into political tools, they have crossed a line.

This is a dangerous road religious leaders are being led down. I caution them to be careful how far they go.

A short entry on the announcement at the New Hampshire Union Leader notes that a fuller story will run tomorrow.

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