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Transcript: Bob Edgar on CBS Early Show, December 28, 2006

HARRY SMITH, co-host: Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, is also a former Democratic congressman who says religious conservatives have too much political influence. He reaches out to religious moderates in his new book "Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right." And Bob Edgar is with us this morning.  Good morning.

Mr. BOB EDGAR ("Middle Church"): Good morning.

H. SMITH: When you talk about middle church, who do you mean? Who are you really talking about?

Mr. EDGAR: Well, there are really two blocks of people. There're the moderate evangelicals who have read the Bible literally enough to discover God cares about poor people, God cares about the environment, people like Rick Cizik, who last year came out strongly looking at global warming as a life issue.

H. SMITH: Mm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. EDGAR: The other group are those genetically nice people who go to church, synagogue and mosque who are raising their families. They're neither far right or far left.

H. SMITH: Right.

Mr. EDGAR: And I think that group makes up the faithful majority. The moral majority, led by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson...

H. SMITH: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Mr. EDGAR: ...and some of the radical religious right, I think are leading us astray, far too--to the right and not focused on the real issues.

H. SMITH: They certainly have owned the pulpit for a long time, though...

Mr. EDGAR: Exactly.

H. SMITH: ...because--especially if you look at the primary system and out in Iowa and places like that, you're not going to get a nomination unless you go through those areas. And especially in places like Iowa, the religious right really control a lot of the political base there.

Mr. EDGAR: Well, I think that this last election showed that Middle America, middle church, middle synagogue...

H. SMITH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. EDGAR: ...have brought the issues back to the middle, caring about peace and nonviolence, caring about ending the poverty that kills, working on the issues of the environment. And the radical religious right have been organized for 40 years...

H. SMITH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. EDGAR: ...and I think recently they've begun to stumble, they've begun to fall apart. And I think if the moderate evangelicals and the mainline Christians...

H. SMITH: Right.

Mr. EDGAR: ...and Jews and Muslims stand up and speak out more courageously, we'll see change.

H. SMITH: But, you know, the argument that they would present to you is you guys are wishy-washy, you don't really know what you think about, you don't know--really know what you stand for. And the reason they've been--there's been a vacuum. They've taken control of that vacuum and you've been left to watch on the sidelines.

Mr. EDGAR: Well, for the last three years, many of us have been together deep-framing the issues of poverty. Why is it OK for 13 million of our children to be outside the health care system here in the United States?

H. SMITH: Mm-hmm. Sure.

Mr. EDGAR: And many of us have fought very strongly on the issues of global warming. We made you all laugh with the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign...

H. SMITH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. EDGAR: ...recognizing that we've got to move away from oil dependency.

H. SMITH: Right.

Mr. EDGAR: And we've also said if you look at the old New Testament, you look at the Quran and the Torah...

H. SMITH: Right.

Mr. EDGAR: ...you find two verses that deal with homosexuality, none that deal with abortion or civil marriage...

H. SMITH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. EDGAR: ...but thousands of verses that deal with poverty, justice...

H. SMITH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. EDGAR: ...care for stewardship of the planet.

H. SMITH: Right.

Mr. EDGAR: And those are the issues that we want to deep-frame, and we've got to get organized.

H. SMITH: Right.

Mr. EDGAR: The religious right have been organized for 40 years, let's now stand up and speak out more courageously.

H. SMITH: And the idea of love your neighbor as yourself is the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament.

I'm a little...

Mr. EDGAR: It's actually the same in 26 religious traditions.

H. SMITH: Right.

Mr. EDGAR: The Golden Rule is one that all of us, I think...

H. SMITH: Yeah.

Mr. EDGAR: ...need to address, and I think that makes up a real faithful group.

H. SMITH: You talk about this in political frame, but you also talk about your own journey in this. And talk about what you did, your--sort of your epiphany in terms of--what do you call--"deep water..."

Mr. EDGAR: Deep-water citizenship.

H. SMITH: Right, right. What--who did you see? What was the sort of life-changing moment at a church in Washington, DC...

Mr. EDGAR: (Unintelligible)

H. SMITH: ...in which you said, `Oh, my gosh, there's a different world--way in which to see the world'?

Mr. EDGAR: Well, I was invited to go to Washington when I was a senior in theological school, went to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Bill Coffin, a really strong religious leader of the '60s, had brought together people to talk about the issue of the war in Vietnam and poverty.

H. SMITH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. EDGAR: The keynote speaker was Dr. Martin Luther King. He really became my hero. He stood up and said we've got to face the fact that there is an urgency of now, and we still have a choice today, nonviolent co-existence, or violent co-annihilation.

H. SMITH: Mm.

Mr. EDGAR: Later, as a six-term, 12-year member of the United States Congress, I was one of the 12 members of the select committee on assassination that looked into the death of Dr. King.

H. SMITH: Mm. Mm.

Mr. EDGAR: And I'm one of the few people who interviewed James Earl Ray...

H. SMITH: Mm.

Mr. EDGAR: ...and I liked the dreamer better.

H. SMITH: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. EDGAR: And Dr. King really, I think, understood the need for faithful Americans--middle church, middle synagogue, middle mosque people--to hold hands together and to support the issues of justice.

H. SMITH: I'm curious, you were a congressman during the time that Gerald Ford was president.

Mr. EDGAR: That's correct.

H. SMITH: What do you remember about him?

Mr. EDGAR: Well, actually, Gerry Ford was president in August, just before I became a congressman...

H. SMITH: Mm.

Mr. EDGAR: ...being elected in November of 1974.

H. SMITH: In that big sweep, yeah, yeah.

Mr. EDGAR: Right. My first meeting of Gerry Ford was in March of 1975. He invited us to talk about the energy crisis. We were lining up at our gas stations; it was a big issue.

H. SMITH: Yeah.

Mr. EDGAR: I decided to ride my bicycle to the White House, and I'm shaking the hand of the president of the United States and I look down and my pant leg is rolled up because it...

H. SMITH: With your bicycle clip on your leg.

Mr. EDGAR: ...so it wouldn't get caught in the chain.

H. SMITH: Right.

Mr. EDGAR: But I remember him as a decent, bipartisan person, someone, because of his experience in the House, worked in a collegial way with both Democrats and Republicans.

H. SMITH: Mm. Yeah.

Mr. EDGAR: And it's the spirit of a Gerry Ford that we need to reclaim today. And my bet is that Gerry Ford would be part of this middle church crowd that I talk about.

H. SMITH: Mm. Interesting. "Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right." Bob Edgar, thanks for being with us.

Mr. EDGAR: It's great to be here, Harry.

H. SMITH: Good to see you.


 

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