Church forum mixes religion and politics

While TV pundits are still tripping over their tongues to make sense of Tuesday's vote, the La Cañada Presbyterian Church is taking a longer look at the influence of religion on American political life from Revolutionary times to the present.

Lincoln biographer and Huntington Library Fellow Ronald C. White will on Friday lead a forum at the church titled "God in America: How Religion Unites and Divides Us," a discussion White describes as part history lesson and part call for a calmer approach to a stormy subject.

"Religion in politics is contested territory in our society," said White, a La Cañada Flintridge resident. "On the one hand I think it's often been sadly neglected within universities, but on the other hand it has often been misused by people to the right who persist in trying to suggest that this is and has always been a Christian nation. So I'll ask, 'Where does the truth lie?'"

White is author of several books, including last year's bestselling "A. Lincoln: A Biography," and recently served as an academic consultant for the PBS miniseries "God in America." He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and currently at work on a biography of Civil War Gen. and President Ulysses S. Grant.

In addition to his own research, which includes Lincoln's evolving religious beliefs during the Civil War, White will discuss the new book "American Grace," an analysis by Robert D Putnam (author of "Bowling Alone") and David E. Campbell of religion's changing impact on the country.

The book includes surveys that find as many as half of all marriages are interfaith, that one-third of Americans change faiths during their lives, and that younger people tend to flee churches that get extensively involved in politics —particular those intolerant of same-sex relationships.

"What these authors describe is that people's religion used to inform their politics, but today people's politics inform their religion. We live in a society polarized between left and right with people in the middle not speaking up too much, and this is also creating religious polarization," said White. "Part of this [forum] is a plea for people to speak to each other with respect and appreciation. This is what's been missing in the political debate, and I'm afraid that's spilled over into our churches."

The free event takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Worship Arts Center of La Cañada Presbyterian Church, 626 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge. Call (818) 790-6708 or visit

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