CNN's Sanchez falsely suggested Democrats rarely discuss religion and their faith in God in public


CNN's Rick Sanchez falsely suggested that Democrats rarely discuss their religious faith, saying of Sen. Barack Obama's speech at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, "When was the last time that you saw a Democrat ... in church giving what appears to be a sermon to a congregation?" In fact, Media Matters for America has documented numerous examples of Democrats discussing their faith in churches and other public settings.

During the June 15 edition of CNN Newsroom, while discussing Sen. Barack Obama's Father's Day speech earlier that day at Chicago's Apostolic Church of God, anchor Rick Sanchez asked, "When was the last time that you saw a Democrat -- a Democrat in church giving what appears to be a sermon to a congregation?" Later in the segment, Sanchez said of Obama's speech: "I mean, this is a values play by Barack Obama. He says 'trust in the Lord.' When was the last time you heard a Democrat in church saying -- using language like that?" In fact, contrary to Sanchez's suggestion that Democrats infrequently invoke their faith in public settings, Obama and other prominent Democrats, such as Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards, have often discussed their faith publicly -- both in front of church congregations and outside of church.

Sanchez joined several other CNN reporters who have falsely suggested that Democrats have been largely silent about their faith. In 2007, Media Matters for America documented numerous examples of Democrats discussing their religious beliefs (here and here). Below are some additional examples of Obama, Clinton, and Edwards doing so:


  • During a Compassion Forum at Messiah College on April 13, which was broadcast on CNN, Obama discussed how he seeks to "be an instrument" of God's will:

JON MEACHAM (Newsweek editor): Senator, do you believe that God intervenes in history and rewards or punishes people or nations in real time for their behavior?

OBAMA: You know, what I believe is that God intervenes, but that his plans are a little too mysterious for me to grasp. And so what I try to do is, as best I can, be an instrument of His will. To act in what I think is accordance to the precepts of my faith.

And, you know, if I'm acting in an ethical way, if I am working to make sure that I am applying what I consider to be a core value of Christianity, but also a core value of all great religions, and that is that I am my brother's keeper and I am my sister's keeper, then I will be doing my part to move his agenda forward.

I don't know what that master plan is. And I don't presume to know. And I think that none of us know. But what we do -- what I think we can do is to act in ways that are consummate with the values that we cherish.

And sometimes that's harder to do in politics than it should be. But I think that's what's demanded of us.

  • On January 20, Obama began a speech in front of the congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church by saying, "The Scripture tells us that when Joshua and the Israelites arrived at the gates of Jericho, they could not enter. The walls of the city were too steep for any one person to climb; too strong to be taken down with brute force. And so they sat for days, unable to pass on through. But God had a plan for his people. He told them to stand together and march together around the city, and on the seventh day he told them that when they heard the sound of the ram's horn, they should speak with one voice. And at the chosen hour, when the horn sounded and a chorus of voices cried out together, the mighty walls of Jericho came tumbling down."

Later in his speech, in a segment that aired on CNN's Ballot Bowl, Obama said, "We have an empathy deficit in this country that has to be closed. We have a deficit when it takes a breach in the levees to reveal the breach in our compassion. When it takes a terrible storm to reveal the hungry that God calls on us to feed, the sick that he calls on us to care for, the least of these that he commands that we treat as our own."

  • In his March 4, 2007, speech at Brown Chapel A.M.E. in Selma, Alabama, Obama stated:

OBAMA: So I just want to talk a little about Moses and Aaron and Joshua, because we are in the presence today of a lot of Moseses. We're in the presence today of giants whose shoulders we stand on, people who battled, not just on behalf of African Americans but on behalf of all of America; that battled for America's soul, that shed blood, that endured taunts and formant and in some cases gave -- torment and in some cases gave the full measure of their devotion.

Like Moses, they challenged Pharaoh, the princes, powers who said that some are atop and others are at the bottom, and that's how it's always going to be.

There were people like Anna Cooper and Marie Foster and Jimmy Lee Jackson and Maurice Olette, C.T. Vivian, Reverend Lowery, John Lewis, who said we can imagine something different and we know there is something out there for us, too.

Thank God, He's made us in His image and we reject the notion that we will for the rest of our lives be confined to a station of inferiority, that we can't aspire to the highest of heights, that our talents can't be expressed to their fullest. And so because of what they endured, because of what they marched; they led a people out of bondage.

They took them across the sea that folks thought could not be parted. They wandered through a desert but always knowing that God was with them and that, if they maintained that trust in God, that they would be all right. And it's because they marched that the next generation hasn't been bloodied so much.


CLINTON: You know, I have, ever since I've been a little girl, felt the presence of God in my life. And it has been a gift of grace that has, for me, been incredibly sustaining. But, really, ever since I was a child, I have felt the enveloping support and love of God and I have had the experiences on many, many occasions where I felt like the holy spirit was there with me as I made a journey.

It didn't have to be a hard time. You know, it could be taking a walk in the woods. It could be watching a sunset.

You know, I am someone who has talked a lot about my life. You know more about my life than you know about nearly anybody else's, about 60 books worth ...


CLINTON: ...some of which are, you know, frankly, a little bit off-base. But I don't think that I could have made my life's journey without being anchored in God's grace and without having that, you know, sense of forgiveness and unconditional love. And I am not going to point to one or another matter. I mean, some of my struggles and challenges have been extremely public. And I have talked about how I have been both guided and supported through those, trying to find my own way through, because, for me, my faith has given me the confidence to make decisions that were right for me, whether anybody else agreed with me or not.

And it is just such a part of who I am and what I have lived through for so many years that trying to pull out and say, oh, I remember, I was sitting right there when I felt, you know, God's love embrace me, would be, I think, trivializing what has been an extraordinary sense of support and possibility that I have had with me my entire life.

  • In a November 29, 2007, article,'s Political Radar blog reported that "Clinton gave a sermon of sorts" at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California:

Clinton gave a sermon of sorts and praised the church in which she spoke for their work. "If you read those moments when Jesus is presented with someone who is ill it becomes abundantly clear that Christ had a choice he could have been too busy he could have thought this is not the message of the day, I don't need to do this, I've already done this," Clinton said. "But he made the choice - he never asked why someone was sick - he just healed and ministered to those in need. That is what Saddleback has chosen to do."

Clinton, wearing a small cross pin on her lapel, spoke about religion in her life. "My faith journey is approaching a half a century and I know how far I still have to go. I have been blessed in my life both starting in my family and in the church of my childhood to be guided every step of the way. A mother who taught Sunday school and made sure that my brothers and I be there the moment the church doors opened. A father who kneeled by the side of his bed every night of his life to say his prayers."

Senator Clinton went on to discuss how prayer got her through her marital difficulties. "I am often asked if I am a praying person and I have always responded that I was fortunate enough to be raised to understand the power and purpose in prayer, but had I not been -- probably one week in the White House would have turned me into one."

  • According to an October 29, 2007, article from the New York Observer, during a visit to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Clinton said, "On this earth God's work is our own," and "The spirit is with us."
  • On March 4, 2007, at the First Baptist Church in Selma, Alabama, Clinton said: "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. And I want to begin by giving praise to the Almighty for the blessings he has bestowed upon us as a congregation, as a people, and as a nation."
  • In June 2006, Clinton spoke about her early experiences at church, according to a June 29, 2006, article on's The Morning Grind:

Appearing before a religious conference earlier this week, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) told the audience that as a child attending Sunday school she would baby-sit the children of migrant workers so that their older siblings could join their parents at work.

"I was fortunate that at an early age, through my church, I was given the opportunity to expand my horizons," Clinton told the 600 adults and teenagers attending the Sojourners "Covenant for a New America" conference.

Politically, the story served two purposes for the New York Democrat. It allowed her to promote a developing Democratic message tailored to the faith community that ties the party's "compassionate" legislative agenda directly to moral values. And, personally, it allowed Clinton to speak about her own spiritually [sic]. The latter is not new for the former first lady, but it is a theme we could hear more and more if she decides to run for president.


  • During a January 13 speech at the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina, Edwards said, "I'd love to speak with you this morning, not just as a candidate for president, but also as a fellow southerner who has traveled from Seneca to Sumter and a lot of places in between. You know, much has changed since James and I left Seneca. When we were in Seneca, we weren't allowed to go to school together. But as glory be to God, today we can worship together."
  • In a January 14, 2007, speech before the congregation at Riverside Church in New York, Edwards said, "Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was, above all things, a man of peace. And 40 years ago, as others have said, a year to the day before he was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee, he stood in this pulpit, in this house of God, and with the full force of his conscience, and his conviction, and his love for peace, he denounced the war in Vietnam, calling it a tragedy, a national tragedy that threatened to drag America down, to drag us to dust." Edwards ended his speech by saying, "The world needs to see our better angels. God bless the memory of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., God bless the memory of Coretta Scott King, and God bless all of you."
  • A June 15, 2005, Washington Post article reported of Edwards:

Born and raised a Southern Baptist who drifted away from church and then returned to it, Edwards said faith is fine in political discourse if it is authentic: "It is not a good idea to treat faith as a strategy. Invoking the name of God 50 times in a political speech is a mistake."

But that does not mean leaving God out of political speeches. "You know, the Lord gave us minds to think," Edwards said in Chicago, "but He also gave us hearts to inspire us."

  • Edwards also discussed his faith and work in "urban ministries" on the April 14, 2005, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

ALAN COLMES (co-host): Why this particular issue [poverty] for you? Why has this been so important to you?

EDWARDS: It's just something that touches my soul for a lot of reasons, because of the way I grew up, because of my faith. I was involved in urban ministries in Raleigh, which helps people in poverty and homeless, long before I got involved in politics.

From the June 15 edition of CNN Newsroom:

SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez here on the world headquarters of CNN. Listen to these words. Quote, "Any fool can have a child." "Any fool can have a child." When was the last time that you heard a politician running for the presidency of the United States use language like that?

Well, I'm going to add something to it. Now, let me ask you this: When was the last time that you saw a Democrat -- a Democrat in church giving what appears to be a sermon to a congregation?

Tonight, Barack Obama, with a highly personal and critical and unexpected moment. Here it is.

[begin video clip]

SANCHEZ: It was Barack Obama's first church service since resigning from Trinity United Church of Christ. Visiting a South Side Chicago congregation, he talks personally on the role of faith in his life.

OBAMA: People ask me sometimes, how do you manage all this, folks talking about you on cable? And I said trust in the Lord. I trust in the Lord. He looks after me.

SANCHEZ: With his wife and daughters looking on, Obama delivers a broader Father's Day message, calling on fathers, especially in the African-American community, to play a greater role in their children's lives.

OBAMA: But if we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that too many fathers are also missing. Too many fathers are MIA. Too many fathers are AWOL. Missing from too many lives and too many homes. They've abandoned their responsibilities. They're acting like boys instead of men.

SANCHEZ: Even straying from his script to make this point.

OBAMA: Any fool can have a child. That doesn't make you a father.

SANCHEZ: Obama shares his own experience of a father who left home when he was only 2, though admitting the story had a different ending.

OBAMA: I know what it means to have an absent parent. My father wasn't in the house when I was growing up. I have to say my circumstances weren't as tough as they are for many young people today. ... I was growing up in Hawaii. Hawaii is not quite as tough as the South Side. I'm just telling the truth.

SANCHEZ: Even while acknowledging failings of his own.

OBAMA: And I say this knowing that I've been an imperfect father, knowing that I've made mistakes -- I'll continue to make more. Wishing that I could be at home more for my girls and my wife.

[end video clip]

SANCHEZ: Let's go now to the debut of "Preston on Politics." CNN political editor Mark Preston is joining us live.

Mark, let's do this, let's talk first about the politics side of this faith angle. Listen, I don't want to sound jaded, and some are going to criticize me for it, but I guess it's part of my job. So let me just ask you straight out.

He does this in an effort to cut into that sizable John McCain white male lead, doesn't he? I mean, this is a values play by Barack Obama. He says "trust in the Lord." When was the last time you heard a Democrat in church saying -- using language like that?

PRESTON: Well, a couple of different things there, Rick. First of all, it is political. Everything Barack Obama does now until November is political. Everything John McCain does from now until November is political. In the end, it's very unlikely Barack Obama is going to win a majority of these evangelical voters, these conservative evangelical voters.

But what they're looking for is they're trying to reach out and hit those moderate voters. Those moderate evangelicals who are fed up with the Republican Party.

SANCHEZ: But here's the question. This guy's there trying to sound or sounding or being sincere. I'm not getting into his heart. I'm not going to read what he's actually doing.

I guess the question to you as an analyst is: Is this really Barack Obama sharing something with him that's very real and very personal, or is this a politician taking a Machiavellian step to try and get voters he otherwise wouldn't get?

PRESTON: I think he's being sincere. I mean, who better to deliver this message? I mean, this is a gentleman who grew up without a father, whose father, you know, left him. You know, who better to deliver that message, to preach to the choir? To get up and say -- look, you know something? We need to do something about our communities. We need to get it back together.

You know, but at the same time, if you listen to his whole speech, you know, while he talked about personal responsibility and really talking -- you know, spoke and had tough words, he also toed some of the Democratic line in that speech.

He talked about the fact that there needs to be more money for vouchers, there needs to be more money for, you know, for inner-city schools and for teachers, you know, for economic programs. So he didn't totally -- you know, like, he played to his base as well in that speech.

SANCHEZ: Do you think he's going to get a little blowback on this? A little backlash, a little criticism from the African-American community like a famous comedian recently did? Because, look, what he's saying -- he's saying to some angry white men out there with this speech, I'm calling some of the black guys irresponsible for not taking care of their fatherly duties. That's a win among angry white guys, isn't it?

PRESTON: Well, look, if he does get blowback, then so be it, I think, from his perspective. He went out there, said his piece, whether you agree with him or you don't agree with him, he went out and said it. You know, supposedly he said it from his heart.

Again, everything that he's going to do now is political up to this point and if he does get blowback, maybe that does help him with some voters, but in the end, he said it, and I guess we'll see what happens.

SANCHEZ: Mark Preston, you're good. "Preston on Politics" right here.

Rick Sanchez
CNN Newsroom
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.