Melissa Rogers, founder and director of Wake Forest University’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, spoke on campus Nov. 5, the day after the historic U.S. election. Rogers examined the major issues of faith and politics that the new president will be dealing with in the next four years.
As Rogers quoted from Barack Obama’s election-night acceptance speech about “uniting America,” the packed Neely Dining Room broke into spontaneous applause. She went on to discuss how Americans staunchly support the separation of church and state, and yet resoundingly want to participate in conversations about faith and politics. In fact, she noted, “In a country where we ask our candidates if they wear boxers or briefs, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’d care about their thoughts on religion.”
Still, Rogers believes that media crossed inappropriate lines in this election when it came to coverage of the candidates’ faith preferences, finding it particularly troubling when specific churches became political targets and media magnets.
As final exit poll data was being analyzed, Rogers observed how President-Elect Obama secured a wide range of voters, claiming strong majorities among minorities, women, young people and first-time voters. “How does Obama manage this diverse coalition that has brought him to office?,” Rogers asked. “These groups of people will have to be brought together.”
Rogers concluded her presentation with a question-and-answer session. When asked about how she would suggest conversations about religion and politics be handled with friends, family and co-workers, she encouraged attendees to respect all faiths. “We are God’s servant, not God’s spokesperson. We need to approach it with that humility.”
The sister of Belmont Vice President for Administration and University Counsel Jason Rogers, Melissa Rogers is the former executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C. She has appeared on numerous radio and television broadcasts, including “NBC Nightly News,” CNN, Court TV and NPR, and her op-ed pieces have been published by ABC News, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The Fort-Worth Star Telegram, Legal Times and Religion News Service. She has written widely about the relationship between religion and public affairs and has testified before the Judiciary Committee to the U.S. Senate on religion’s role in the public square.