Yes, postings are a little light. It’s partly because I’m far behind in readings for school and partly because I’m only too happy to bury myself in them, lacking the stomach otherwise to look at anything but lefty alternative media (and many of those sources are a little light, themselves). I think a lot of us are still in “shock and awe” – that so many of our fellow Americans have such selfish, short-sighted, bigoted priorities and that they are successfully passing those off to the pundits as “moral values.” As TM Scanlon remarked in a smart, longer comment picked up by Matthew Yglesias, “…it is noteworthy that the appeals to moral values almost never require any sacrifice on the part of those to whom these appeals are addressed. They are invited to feel good about their superiority to gays, righteous about their opposition to abortion, satisfied about their devotion to family and so on.”

I’ve seen a lot of the “God Gap” post-mortems (and I’ll post a couple below; thanks JK), but I’m not spending a lot of time thinking about them. I know – a lot of us know – that “Democrats” and “religion” don’t go together in a lot of brains, including – most importantly – a lot of Democrats’ brains. But I didn’t think it would lose us the election; and while not everyone is convinced it did, we need to get to work… Here are a few quotes I plucked this weekend because they made me feel a little better. From the sublime to the ridiculous (I think it’ll be pretty clear which is which)…

Rev. Christian Scharen:

“we are not homogenous. we are not blind. some of us are pretty reactionary in a host of directions. but many of us believe in a basic christianity that calls us to love our neighbor, care for the poor, be good personally, and believe that god loves us and everybody else. i think in the face of this election, those who hold a christianity not very well represented by president bush ought to redouble their efforts to articulate that as a viable public option. and i, for one, pledge to do so.”

David Orr:

The soft underbelly of the Bush-Cheney-Rove empire includes all thoughtful conservatives disturbed by recklessness; all honest persons offended by mendacity; and all true Christians sufficiently alert to notice the discrepancy between the words and life of the “Prince of Peace” and our foreign and domestic policies.

And we have no energy for despair!

Rev. Allen Brill (The Village Gate):

Let the government do what it will during these next few years. It could never legislate this new synthesis anyway. It does not lie within its power either to create or prohibit it. Let the church-that-was devour itself with internecine strife and fearful bigotry. If it must resort to the ballot box to do God’s will, it is already dead. Let those who delude themselves into believing that they live by Reason alone cope with a world that grows more irrational by the day.

Let us sing our new song. We’ll sing it in the sanctuaries and on the airwaves and at the electronic streetcorners. Those with ears will hear. Those with eyes will see. And, God willing, enough will turn and be healed so that this day of darkness and gloom will pass.

James Wolcott:

…I am proposing that the official Democratic slogan for 2008 be “Shoot a Fag for Jesus.”

It’s a simple, catchy slogan that will look good on a bumperstickers, yet carry a multilateral strike: pro-guns, anti-gay, and unashamedly Christian.

Since abortion is so problematic for Democrats, “Shoot a Babykiller for Jesus” might do the trick in some of the battleground states as a supplemental bumpersticker.

Obviously this is all still in the brainstorming stage, and will need to be focus-grouped, but I believe it nudges us further along the path to success gently lit by Kristof’s lamp of wisdom.


If “values” are the new battleground, which I mostly doubt, then I say bring it on, Larry Flynt-style. Let the scarlet A’s be handed out, the closet doors swung open, and weekly church attendance records of members of congress and the administration be compiled. If sinning godless heathens are the problem, then let’s be clear about who the sinning godless heathens are.

OK, that last one is maybe a little petty… Now, aforementioned articles from Religion News Service (11/4/04) (again, thanks J). They’re long, so in case you don’t make it all the way to the bottom, I’ll add one more comment here: Postings might remain a little skimpy this week, because I’m wrapping up one job and getting ready to start a new one. Hopefully, I’ll have more time after that!

Democrats Try to Rethink Religion After Bush Dominates on Values

By KEVIN ECKSTROM c. 2004 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — When it comes to the Democratic Party’s on-again, off-again search for a message that would appeal to religious voters, any metaphor will do: asleep at the wheel, stumbling in a darkened room, a code-blue emergency.

The Rev. Bob Edgar prefers the Israelites wandering the Sinai Desert. “Look, it took Moses 40 years to get his people out of the wilderness, and we’ve been in the wilderness for 25 years,” said Edgar, a former congressman who now heads the National Council of Churches. “And we’re not there yet, but we can see the Promised Land.”

As Democrats collect themselves following Sen. John Kerry’s defeat on Tuesday (Nov. 2), many say their biggest challenge will be narrowing the “values gap” that sent many voters into President Bush’s column. It could also signal a policy battle for the heart and soul of the party. Exit polls indicate that one in five voters listed “moral values” as their most important issue, outpacing terrorism, the Iraq war and the economy. Those voters split for Bush, 79-18 percent, over Kerry.

Political observers, including many Democrats, say the values vacuum is symptomatic of a larger problem for the party: its reluctance — or inability — to talk about faith with voters in a meaningful way, especially in Bush-friendly red states.

“Any time a party does better with non-church-going people than with church-going people, you’ve got a problem,” retiring Sen. John Breaux, D-La., told The Washington Post.

Surveying the post-election carnage, Kerry senior adviser Mike McCurry said his attempts to spark a faith-based discussion were on the right track, but clearly did not go far enough.

“It ought to be as easy for a Democrat to meet and socialize with people in a church social hall as it is in a union hall,” said McCurry, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton.

To their credit, Democrats tried to address the issue in the waning months of the campaign. Kerry, a Catholic with a New England reticence to open displays of religiosity, ended the race challenging Bush from pulpits with scriptural warnings that “faith without works is dead.”

Both the campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired full-time directors of religious outreach and recruited progressive faith leaders as surrogates, but many said the efforts were too little, too late.

“We’ve got a great set of programs that speak to issues that are important to people of faith, but we don’t always talk about those issues and translate them into values terms,” said Melody Barnes, a senior fellow at Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

“The dots have to be connected for people.”

Experts say the problem is two-fold: one part policy, and one part perception. On policy, conservatives say the Democrats simply did not have a platform that appealed to church-going voters who were galvanized by gay marriage, abortion and faith in the public square.

“On all three issues, the Democratic Party comes up short,” said the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. “And its candidates come up short. There’s just no escaping that reality.”

Democrats say there is little wiggle room to change policy on, say, abortion, which McCurry called a “rock-solid pillar” of the party’s platform. Still, others like the Rev. Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical who convened the anti-poverty group Call to Renewal, say the party could modify its positions to be more centrist, even though the party may never reach voters who consider hot-button social issues as top priorities.

Strategists say the party must not forsake its core principles, even as it attempts to extend its reach. “You certainly can’t convince people you have strong values if you’re willing to compromise on them,” said Ed Kilgore, policy director for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

But even if the party remains loyal to its roots, many say it could talk about faith in a way that does not surrender the issue to the GOP, or “God’s Official Party,” as one bumper sticker put it.

A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life last year found that voters, by a 2-1 ratio, view Republicans as more “friendly” to religion.

Centrist Democrats say the party needs to recast “moral issues” to include issues like poverty, homelessness and healthcare. The bottom line, experts say, is that it must include more than sexual morality.

“When you start talking about moral issues, it’s got to be a book that has more than three pages in it,” said the Rev. Jim Forbes, pastor of New York’s Riverside Church.

Overcoming the values gap isn’t just a red-state problem. Even in states like Maryland and New York, where Kerry won easily, voters who listed values as top-level concerns still went to Bush by 2-1 margins. Strategists concede they have an uphill fight.

The party is also playing catch-up to well-organized and well-heeled efforts by the Christian Coalition and others to solidify religious-minded voters in the Republican Party for 25 years.

“Republicans and conservatives have spent a ton of money reinforcing the message that Democrats live in a different moral universe,” Kilgore said.

“Democrats ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

But, as the Democratic soul-searching begins in earnest, some caution the party not to read too much into the values-voter data. Pollsters never asked what voters meant by “moral values.” Democrats call it code words for gays and abortion. Steve Waldman, editor of Beliefnet, said the 21 percent of voters who listed it as a high priority overshadows the fact that 79 percent of voters chose something else. “Let’s not get carried away,” he said. McCurry, for his part, agreed.

Amy Sullivan, an editor at Washington Monthly magazine who has worked with Democrats to open up to religion, said too many in the party have been “freaking out” over the numbers, however significant. A knee-jerk overhaul would be misplaced, she said.

“It underscores the fact that Democrats don’t have to be worried to change who they are to attract these voters,” she said. “They need to change their priorities, maybe, and certainly need to change how they talk about these issues.”

— Adelle M. Banks contributed to this report.

Election Analysis Reveals Pronounced `God Gap’ Between Parties

By KIM LAWTON c. 2004 Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

WASHINGTON — Despite efforts by Democrats to reach out to faith-based voters, a detailed exit poll analysis of Tuesday’s election shows a “God gap” between the parties, with Republicans building support in almost every major religious group, including black Protestants.

According to exit polls conducted for the PBS television program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,” the more often voters attended religious services, the more likely they were to vote for President Bush. At the same time, those who described themselves as “secular” or having no religious affiliation voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry.

This continues trends identified in the 2000 election.

“The religion gap was more pronounced. It may be that this is going to be a feature of American politics for some years to come,” John C. Green of the University of Akron told “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”

Green, one of the nation’s leading experts on religion and politics, and the director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, analyzes the faith factors in the election on the national PBS program airing this weekend.

In 2004, Bush’s victory came from a broad religious coalition that depended heavily on evangelicals and regular-Mass attending Roman Catholics, but it included other faith traditions as well.

According to the polls, the vast majority of white born-again Protestants — 78 percent — voted for Bush. Nearly 86 percent of evangelicals who attend church more than once a week voted for the President.

But Green said Bush also successfully reached out to mainline Protestants. A slight majority of mainline Protestants voted for Bush, although those numbers appeared to decline from 2000.

“It looks like Bush actually did pretty well among moderate and liberal white Protestants who say they go to church a few times a month,” Green said. “This was a key group that Kerry wanted.”

One significant religious shift occurred among black Protestants, who traditionally have voted overwhelmingly Democratic. Although only about 11 percent of African-Americans overall voted for Bush, 16 percent of those who identified themselves as black Protestants voted for him. That’s double the number of black Protestants who voted for him in 2000. And the numbers jumped dramatically for those who attend church more than once a week: 22 percent of those black Protestants voted for Bush.

“Given the closeness of the election, for him to have eaten in to this core Democratic group, I think, is impressive,” said Green.

This year, Bush also received a majority of the Catholic vote. Fifty-two percent of all Roman Catholics voted for Bush, while 48 percent voted for Kerry. In 2000, Al Gore, a Baptist, received half of the Catholic vote, while Bush got 46 percent.

“This is all the more remarkable given that Senator Kerry is a Roman Catholic. Clearly the level of Catholic support for Kerry stands in stark contrast to Catholic support given to (John F.) Kennedy less than 50 years ago,” said Corwin Smidt, editor of the new book “Pulpit and Politics.”

Among regular Mass-goers, the numbers were even more pronounced: 58 percent of Catholics who attend church more than once a week voted for Bush.

Within the Catholic population overall, Kerry only received a majority from Catholics who say they never go to Mass and those who say they only attend Mass a few times a year.

Kerry did receive a majority (58 percent) of the Hispanic Catholic vote.

Latinos have traditionally leaned Democratic. However, Bush made significant gains within the community. Thirty-nine percent of Latino Catholics voted for him this year, compared to only 30 percent in 2000.

“It may be that some of the ‘values’ issues helped pull these people to Bush, which was very significant, particularly in places like New Mexico and Colorado,” Green said.

Republicans also continued to make inroads within the Jewish community, another traditional Democratic stronghold. Twenty-four percent of Jews voted for Bush in 2004, compared to almost 20 percent in 2000.

The most dramatic religious shift occurred among Muslims. Ninety-two percent of Muslims voted for Kerry, and only 6 percent voted for Bush. In 2000, the majority of Muslims voted for Bush, but many in the community now feel betrayed by post 9/11 security crackdowns, which they believe unfairly target them. Muslims are still developing politically, and only make up about one percent of the total electorate.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who make up about 2 percent of the electorate, voted overwhelmingly Republican, casting 80 percent of their votes for the president.

While Bush’s religious coalition was broad, scholars said evangelicals and conservative Catholics provided the key.

“The political mobilization of evangelical Protestants that (Ronald) Reagan began has been the most important change in the past quarter-century of American electoral politics,” said Laura Olson, associate professor of political science at Clemson University. “This political realignment has led many people of faith to view the Republican Party as the only party that takes its needs and concerns seriously.”

Many analysts said the numbers provide stark evidence that the Democratic Party is increasingly out of step with large segments of the faith community.

“Since about 40 percent of all Americans attend church weekly, the Democrats will have a hard time electing a president until they are more sensitive to the concerns of the church-going populace,” said Stephen Monsma, Research Fellow at the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College. He added: “There are ways they can do this and still largely maintain their liberal issue positions, but they must become much more sophisticated in doing so.”

But Professor Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin believes the only way Democrats can win national elections is by reconsidering their platform positions on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Those must be moderated, he said “as shocking as that may sound to party members’ ears.”

“I believe the evidence suggests that pro-life Democrats would appeal to many religious conservatives, especially Catholics, but the Democratic Party continues to chew them up and spit them out,” he said.

(Kim Lawton is managing editor of “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly,” a weekly PBS television show.)


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  1. Thanks for posting the excerpt from Chris Scharen’s blog — I read the entire piece, and he described an experience of attending a democratic fundraiser in his neighborhood at which he felt disrespected by the negative and totalizing comments of others about “those Christians” (or something like that). I wrote back to say I’d had the exact same kind of experience in the Democracy for America group that I was a part of. And that ever since the election I have thought only of how I can be a more effective advocate for the “values” of progressive Christianity. I am increasingly feeling called to this kind of activity. Suggestions for specific venues are welcome! AC

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