In the early rounds of analysis after the Civil Forum, commentators
were already drawing differences between the two presidential
candidates’ answers to the same questions. As the day has gone on,
they’re sharpening their focus on those differences.

USAToday asked five religion and ethics experts to watch the forum and comment afterward on what they heard. In the earlier edition, this is what they said:

The presidential candidates took very different
approaches to the same set of questions by Rick Warren, pastor of
Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of the
mega-selling Bible study book, The Purpose-Driven Life.

The differences showed up most sharply in questions related to
abortion. When Warren asked when life and human rights begin, McCain’s
succinct reply, “At conception,” and mention of his pro-life voting
track record were greeted with some of the loudest applause of the
evening.

Obama’s pro-choice stance and flippant language were not.

“Whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a
scientific perspective,” Obama said, “answering that question with
specificity is above my pay grade.”

“Obama will be ‘hammered by the religious right’ for that ‘pay
grade’ answer,” says Rabbi James Rudin of New York City, former
Interreligious Affairs director for the American Jewish Committee.
Rudin was one of five religion and ethics experts asked by USA TODAY to
observe the forum broadcast.

Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, former spokesman for the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops and now public policy director for the diocese of
Rockville Centre, N.Y., the nation’s sixth largest Catholic diocese,
called the comment a “dodge that wasn’t even intellectually
respectable.”

Now this is interesting…

However, R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and ethics at
the University of Wisconsin, Madison, pointed out that Obama’s position
has been law since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. It
“specifically says that neither biologists nor doctors nor theologians
can agree upon the moral status of the fetus.”

But since there is “absolute certainty that the woman herself does
have moral status, then the conservative thing to do is to protect the
woman’s interests first,” the court concluded.

McCain’s statement that human rights attach at conception “still
does not answer the question of what to do when there is a conflict
with the rights of the woman,” Charo says.

Actually, it pretty much does. Furthermore, the notion of the unborn
child in ”conflict with the rights of the woman” is manufactured by the
abortion industry.

She also sees inconsistency between McCain’s
conservative views on when life begins and his support of embryonic
stem cell research, which many conservative Christians oppose.

That part is true. Now there’s a conflict. 

“If he believes in human rights at the moment of
conception, then he ought to be against embryonic stem cell research,
IVF and even the so-called ‘rhythm method.’ ” which has the effect of
timing intercourse not only to prevent conception, but also to allow
conception at a time when the fertilized egg will drop into a uterus
that is not at the right time of month for implantation.”

What?

I read that sentence three times before giving up on figuring out what the writer was trying to say. Break it down by parts.

The “rhythm method” has not been so-called for decades. The Catholic
Church has evolved that understanding into the teaching of “Natural
Family Planning (NFP)”. It does use the natural cycle of a woman’s body
to determine fertility to avoid ‘the marital act’ at that time to
prevent conception.

But….what’s the rest of this? 

…”also to allow conception at a time when the fertilized
egg will drop into a uterus that is not at the right time of month for
implantation.”

That makes no sense whatsoever.

Which is probably why that part of the quote got dropped in this later edition of the USA Today article that turned up in the afternoon.

So did the remark that McCain’s pro-life responses “were greeted with some of the loudest applause of the evening.”

So did the line that “Obama’s pro-choice stance and flippant language were not.”

If you read them both, you’ll find other things they dropped in the
second version. Like the quote from Monsignor Francis Maniscalco that
not only was Warren’s question about Jesus appropriate, it would be
“odd not to ask” the candidates about their belief in Christ (after
all, both men are Christians). Msgr. Maniscalco said: “After all, if
you are going to talk to someone about religion, you’d be interested to
know their thoughts about the central figure in their religion.”

It would be interesting to know why USA Today edited that story significantly.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....