The New Religion-Friendly Democratic Party
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Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 12:25:07 AM EST
Marvin Olasky's World magazine has a new article out along the lines of the recent article by Amy Sullivan in the Washington Monthly. How are the Democrats doing copying the winning "religious" formula of the Republican party? Some excerpts from the World's perspective:
In Georgia, state Sen. Kasim Reed in January introduced a bill authorizing school districts to teach courses derived from The Bible and Its Influence, a textbook released last year by the Bible Literacy Project.

In Tennessee, Reps. Rick Nelson and Bob Damron are sponsoring legislation that would allow postings of religious documents such as the Ten Commandments. In Virginia, Timothy Kaine rode religious campaign themes and Christian radio ads to victory in the governor's race last fall.

All that would be business as usual for the GOP. But these Bible-thumping, faith-stumping pols are all Democrats--and part of their party's emerging effort to reconnect with religious voters. [    ]

Former Vermont governor and current Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, who once said his favorite New Testament book is Job and last June slammed the GOP as "pretty much a white, Christian party," now says the Bible should be taught as literature in public schools. [   ]

During the final hour of the House budget debate last November, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tried a little old-time religion, saying any vote for the GOP-brokered budget amounted to "a sin." This January, following President Bush's State of the Union address, Sen. Reid, a Mormon, stayed on-message. In a Beliefnet.com response to the president's speech he alluded to the Good Samaritan and the book of Matthew, chapter 25: "I and many of my colleagues came to public service . . . to serve our neighbors, and to help the least among us."  

He went on to state that he's spoken with many religious leaders who say that today's Republican leadership "seems unfocused and unfazed by the needs of our brothers and sisters," and had in 2005 passed an "immoral budget that would deprive so many . . . in order to pay for tax cuts that benefit so few." That rhetoric typified the new Democratic approach to faith: A "social justice" agenda reframed as a question of morality. [    ]

Some Republicans and legions of liberals saw "compassionate conservatism" as PR, but the concept reflected the long involvement of biblical conservatives in poverty-fighting and other efforts on behalf of the needy. So, too, Democrats' attempt at religious reinvention should not be dismissed merely as political calculation, for the Democrats' "social justice" agenda matches the mission of many mainline Protestant churches. As Mr. Bobb put it, the Democrats' new faith-based approach "repackages the social gospel for the 21st century. Their problem is how does this translate into something other than throwing more money and more bureaucracy at social problems?" [    ]

In reconnecting with religious voters, Democrats face other hurdles. First, the party will alienate part of its core--secularists, libertines, feminists, and homosexuals--if it substantively moderates its positions on the very issues of personal morality that drove many religious voters across the aisle in the first place.

Second, the Democratic Party is in solid alliance with ardent church-state separators such as People for the American Way (PFAW) and the ACLU. While Mr. Thompson said that Democrats do not "agree on every issue" with such groups, he declined to disavow Democratic alliance on the church-state issue, and said there's "very little daylight between us and some of the groups we're talking about."

Finally, the traditionally Democratic, but now disaffected, religious voters the party needs to woo back into the fold may now be more skeptical of biblical cherry-picking as a basis for public policy. As conservative blogger and author Patrick Hynes put it, Democrats "cannot call Republicans 'theocrats' for trying to save Terri Schiavo while they also claim John the Baptist endorsed their welfare state when he said, 'He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none.'"

The Democrats' best hope may be the GOP: As Mr. Bobb noted, "Republicans are squandering their capital with evangelicals" over ethics debacles and apparent greed.




Display:
The last thing this country needs is for its only viable opposition party to join the Republicans in pandering to the religious right.

There is a strong case to be made that the religious right has veered far away from the gospel of Jesus Christ, but we should not have Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid lecturing them on the subject.  That particular challenge should be taken up by religious leaders not by political ones.  

The abandonment of Jesus by the so-called "Christian" right is patently obvious and those who believe strongly in His message should be clear and forthright in publicly calling the reconstructionists and dominionists to task for their theological heresies.  Politicians should stay out of it.  

by cdunaway on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 09:15:07 AM EST

Here are two regrettable examples :

"Although I totally support separation of state from the imposition of any particular religious tradition or belief in God, I also know that liberals have not only separated separated church from state but also separated spiritual wisdom, caring, and love from state." - Michael Lerner ( of Tikkun ), from  "Hostile Takeover: Theocracy in America" ( available at Tikkun website )

"Today there are new fundamentalists in the land. These are the "secular fundamentalists" many of whom attack all political figures who dare to speak from their religious convictions. From the Anti-Defamation League, to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, to the ACLU and some of the political left's most religion-fearing publications, a cry of alarm has gone up in response to anyone who has the audacity to be religious in public. These secular skeptics often display an amazing lapse of historical memory when they suggest that religious language in politics is contrary to the American "ideal". The truth is just the opposite....

Secular fundamentalists make a fundamental mistake. They believe that the separation of church and state ought to mean the separation of faith from public life.....

The secular fundamentalists tell us that religion should be restricted to one's church and family. No talk of faith, they seem to be saying, ought to be allowed to seep into the public arena for fear of violating the First Amendment or alienating the nonreligious." - Jim Wallis [ from  "God's Politics", pages 68-70 ]



by Bruce Wilson on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 12:25:36 PM EST
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one that many of us are still struggling to draw correctly, between "pandering" to the Religious Right (or any other religious faction) and honestly acknowledging the role that our religion plays in shaping the values that we seek to implement in public life.  I believe that such an acknowledgment can, and probably should, be made, though I am one of those people who are still unsure how exactly how that should be done.  

During the 1980's and 1990's, I, and many like me, adopted the position expressed here:  Religion belongs in church; it has no place in politics.  For me, at least, that position was hypocritical; there is little separation in my own mind between my religion and my politics, and if there were, I would have to think seriously about changing one or the other.  (I am a Unitarian-Universalist, if that makes my views on this easier to understand.)  For me and all of those like me, that position was a mistake.  It was precisely our silence about our religious values that allowed the Religious Right to create the impression that all people with progressive views were irreligious or anti-religious and that, since we did not talk about our values (at least not in explicit "values" terms), that we in fact had no values at all.

BTW, I do not recall (and I am old enough and was involved enough at the time that I should recall if it happened) that Martin Luther King ever received any significant criticism from liberals or leftists because of the explicit religious imagery that he often used to support his call for racial equality.  He was not immune from criticism; near the end of his life, many on the left had rejected his insistence on nonviolence, but I do not recall a similar rejection of his use of religious language.  Perhaps Dr. King has shown us how the line can be drawn.

UU's supported the civil rights movement, as they had earlier supported the abolitionist movement, at least in part BECAUSE of their religion.  I don't see anything wrong in acknowledging that.

by Theovanna on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 12:12:53 AM EST
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An interesting example of this process of "religionization" is the article by Robert Jensen published today in AlterNet where he says he has joined a Presbyterian church as a political act even though he really doesn't believe in God.

by Carlos on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 12:33:19 PM EST
What a fatuous argument for joining a church. I don't know whether Jensen was just trying to be provocative, "fit in" at a university in a conservative state or something else. What he does appear to be is an "atheist" who is ignorant about religion. Why a Presbyterian church? If he wants to support a church or denomination because he approves of some of its values, that's fine - he doesn't have to become a "faux" member. If he was looking for a community that shared his values but doesn't expect one to subscribe to a particular creed, he could have joined a UU church or even found a Quaker meeting (if such exists in TX).

Suspect one of the most harmful effects of the irreligious right takeover is that people are afraid to be who they are. I'm suspicious of polls that cite the vast proportion of the population who claim they are "Christian" or believe in God. A lot of them, including church attendees, haven't given much thought to what they believe or why - they've simply inherited an identification and beliefs or they like the comfort of a community. Others, with no affiliation, are afraid to be honest (what we call a "social desirability" response).

Pandering may work, at least for a time, but sooner or later people who pander are seen as inauthentic and untrustworthy. It frightens me to see progressives fall into this trap. Things like values and ethics need to be discussed but they don't have to be attached to religion. One need look no further than the current administration to see that religiosity doesn't guarantee morality. (And I think Jim Wallace has every right to do his thing but the Democrats should stop using him as a 'consultant'. I fear he's running for the "Dobson of the Left" seat.)

by Psyche on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 04:32:30 PM EST
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My observation (I attend a very liberal Presbyterian/United Methodist church) is that an increasing number of mainstream prostestant churches (United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Disciples of Christ) are starting to look more like Unitarian churches in their theology. They still consider themselves Christian, but they are welcoming of people of other faiths or of no faith.

by Carlos on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 05:17:57 PM EST
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I have ever heard of has been welcoming to non-believers.

Who is accepted for membership, requires affirming a creedal statement. That is a different matter. How can you convert someone you won't even let in the door?

Throughout history there have been many non-believers who have said whatever it would take to become members of certain churches in order to achieve desired social status in a community. Thomas Jefferson whom Unitarians claim and atheists and Christian Rightists quote, was a member in good standing of his local Anglican Church. People forget, whatever else he was, he was a polititian.

Seems to me there is nothing particularly new or surprising about this kind of thing.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 09:40:59 PM EST
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Know who else is at U of TX, Austin - probably in the same journalism department? Marvin Olasky.

by Psyche on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 10:51:58 PM EST
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you may be right that this is something personal.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Mar 11, 2006 at 03:41:50 AM EST
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Yes, both in the same department and now both Presbyterians. Olasky belongs to a church of the Presbyterian Church of America and Jensen is with a church of the Presbyterian Church USA. Presbyterians, unlike the apparently more relaxed Methodists, are ideologically fragmented from the extreme reconstructionists to the quasi-unitarians.

by Carlos on Sat Mar 11, 2006 at 10:39:00 AM EST
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split with the mainline presbys in the early 70s.  There are lots of Presby schims out there.

I think, however, that all of the liberal Presbyterians I know would take exception to being described as quasi-unitarians.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Mar 12, 2006 at 12:49:38 AM EST
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What of the "quasi-Unitarian Jihad" ?

I couldn't resist  ;)

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Mar 12, 2006 at 12:58:28 AM EST
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I haven't heard of the quasis joining in that one.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Mar 12, 2006 at 10:25:22 PM EST
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from an official member of an official Unitarian-Universalist congregation:  All this talk of "quasi-Unitarians" and the "quasi-Unitarian Jihad" is basically just a joke, right?  There is no need for me to start describing myself as a "real UU" in order to distinguish myself from the quasi's, right?

by Theovanna on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 12:21:13 AM EST
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Carlos intended the quasi-Unitarian description of some trinitarian mainline churches to suggest a rather expansive approach to doctrine, but he can speak for himself on that.

And yes, Bruce was making an insider joke, referring to the humorous "unitarian jihad."

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 02:03:45 AM EST
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I thought it must be something like that, but I am fairly new to this area, and I wanted to be sure I wasn't unaware of something important.  (And P.S.:  Happy Birthday!)

by Theovanna on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 03:50:29 AM EST
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Glenn Greenwald has the Catholic perspective.

by Carlos on Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 01:37:35 PM EST

I seriously doubt Howard Dean is winning any friends among fundamentalists by supporting the teaching of the Bible as Literature in public schools.  Familiarity with the Christian scriptures is certainly an aid to understanding American literature and western culture in general.  But I doubt that fundamentalists' first concern about getting the Bible taught in schools is so that students will get the jokes in Huck Finn or the works of Shakespeare.  They certainly would not like the tools of historical-critical scholarship taught in public schools; studying the various literary forms in the Bible (especially comparing it to other ancient literary forms) suggests that it is a human creation rather than the inerrant word of God.

by Rusty Pipes on Sat Mar 11, 2006 at 12:31:55 AM EST
Elizabeth Ridenour's Bible program was conceived, I believe, as a wedge to get Americans acclimated to Bibles in schools - as a nonthreatening and apparently innocuous literature class.

However, Mrs. Ridenour is well connected to the hard Christian right and has written explicitly about her belief that 1963 Supreme Court decision removing Bibles from public schools was responsible for the social ferment of the 1960's and the rise of various forms of social pathology in America ( increases in murder, divorce rates etc. ) .

In other words, Ridenour seems to believe that the Bible is the anchor of American morality - and it is likely that her program is envisioned simply as the first stage in the incremental reintroduction of Biblically-based education.

I wonder if Howard Dean knows anything about that ?

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 12:50:14 PM EST
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