At last night’s 10th Annual Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award Gala, held 64 stories above the street in Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room, Mr. Cronkite was talking about the role of religion in the upcoming presidential election. (It was also the eve of televangelist Pat Robertson’s no-doubt influential endorsement of “America’s mayor,” Rudy Giuliani.)
“With all honesty, I don’t think we can expect it to be much greater than it has been in past years,” said the newsman, who is now 91. “I don’t see any great movement, unfortunately.”
But outside of politics, he said, he has noticed “a great improvement—a great national interest—in the proper role of religion. The awareness, if you please, of the church, anybody’s church; they’re all important.”
Sitting next to Mr. Cronkite, who retained something of a prep-school aesthetic in his blue blazer, red tie and dark slacks, was C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, who was also feeling a little polemical.
“Appreciation for religion is one thing—fine, good—but to put one’s vote on the basis of an individual’s faith or religion is not only against Article Six in the Constitution, it doesn’t really take seriously what is involved in the presidency of the United States,” Mr. Gaddy said. “So for the integrity of religion and the vitality of democracy, we think religion ought to act like religion, and government ought to act like government.”
“That’s why so many have fault with [Mr. Gaddy] in this appreciation of the actual role of the church in its functioning with our living style that we all can accept,” Mr. Cronkite chimed in.
Erica Jong, the author and onetime Observer scribe, was also a guest at last night’s gala, where Newsweek editor Jon Meacham and Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn were being honored.
“If you look at the books that have come out, all the down-with-God books that have been bestsellers in the last couple of years, you can see that people are starting to be aware that the blurring of church-and-state is not good for our democracy,” Ms. Jong said before taking a sip of her peach-colored Bellini. “And I don’t know if we’re at a tipping point yet,” she continued, “but I hope so. I think people are pretty damn sick of what’s going on and I hope that it’s not just on the coasts.”