Is the GOP Hostile to People of Faith?
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Feb 06, 2008 at 03:17:04 PM EST
For years now, a gang of religious Democrats, most famously led by Jim Wallis, and (briefly) echoed by Barack Obama, have alleged that religious people are somehow driven from public life by (always unnamed) "secularists."  In doing this, they have embraced a foundational frame of the worldview of the religious right, and have relentlessly demagogued the point.  This charge was stepped up in response to polls that were showing that surprising numbers of people perceived the Democratic Party as insufficiently religion friendly. The party has scrambled in recent years to repair its image -- but that is another story.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that while more people found the Dems to be wanting in the faith friendliness department, the way people -- especially white evangelicals -- viewed the faith friendliness of the GOP, was in decline.  

These of course, were perceptions. But what has the reality been? At least one prominent GOP political consultant inadvertently perhaps, opens a window on that reality.

But before we get to that, let's recall when former White House staffer David Kuo's book Tempting Faith came out in 2006 -- a tempest in a pretty big teapot ensued. Kuo revealed that the White House political office, then headed by Karl Rove, routinely made disparaging remarks about the participants in the weekly conference call they held with supportive leaders of the religious right., calling them, among other things "the nuts," goofy" and "out of control."  

Kuo also disclosed how the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives was

"used almost exclusively to win political points with both evangelical Christians and traditionally Democratic minorities."

Kuo felt he had been had -- and has not been shy about saying so ever since.

Now comes David Hill, a prominent Texas-based GOP pollster,  who reveals in the (unrelated) DC newspaper The Hill, that  

"Republicans too frequently have people in charge who see Christians as a motley constituency to be bilked for support without the need for respect and genuine political reciprocity."

Well now.  That quote comes in the context of this:

David Kuo's 2006 saga of the internal collapse of "compassionate conservatism" in the Bush administration, Tempting Faith, describes years of festering resentment between secular and religious conservatives in the Washington power structure, a battle the more experienced and ingrained seculars were better prepared to win. Kuo documented slights and disappointments in the ranks of Bush and Jesus followers that began even before the president ever moved into the White House.

Then there was the very public fall of Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition leader who got besmirched by associations with Enron, Indian casinos, Jack Abramoff and a host of other plagues. Even if unfair and distorted, the news about choir boy Reed's alleged escapades doubtless disheartened more Christians about mixing religion and politics.

Reed's tumble was also particularly significant because he is one of the few insider Republican consultants with any actual, first-hand understanding of faith and belief. Without him, Republicans too frequently have people in charge who see Christians as a motley constituency to be bilked for support without the need for respect and genuine political reciprocity.

Let's highlight that.  According to Hill, Ralph Reed was "one of the few" GOP political insiders who are actually religious  and treated Christians with "respect."

Wow.  That's quite a charge.

This comes at at time when there is a great deal of discussion about how evangelical voters and religious right leaders are divided among the GOP presidential candidates; and people are seeking to interpret a new Barna Poll which shows that "if the election were held today", white evangelicals would trend Democratic.   No doubt, they have their reasons. And those reasons may change along with their party preference.

But if Kuo and Hill are to be believed, it could be that many conservative evangelicals are just sick of being used and abused by Republican political operatives who are ignorant about if not hostile to people of faith.
In closing, lets take a quick look back at the August 2006 Pew survey that got the Democrats so much  bad press -- which showed that the GOP was losing it faith friendly image among evangelicals and conservative Catholics between 2005 and 2006:  

The survey finds that the Republican Party is viewed less positively in its approach to religion by a constituency that has played a pivotal role in electoral politics in recent years: white evangelical Protestants. Currently just under half of evangelicals (49%) say the GOP is friendly to religion, a decline of 14 points in the past year. Catholics also are far less likely to view the Republican Party as friendly to religion; just 41% say that today, compared with 55% about a year ago.

More broadly, the decline in the proportion of Americans who view the Republican Party as being friendly to religion occurred uniformly across the parties. The proportion of Republicans who say the Republican Party is friendly to religion dropped by eight percentage points,

Or as GOP pollster Hill wrote:

The Evangelical retreat from Republicans has been evident for years.

There were many factors that went into this, of course. But Kuo and Hill are pointing to some serious rot at the top of Republican political culture; and suggests that the Machiavellian Rove and his ilk have earned the dislike and distrust of a key constituency that brought them to power. I think after all the unsupported (and yet to be supported) charges hurled at liberals and Democrats by Jim Wallis et al, I would suggest that it is time to check on the faith friendliness of GOP political culture.  

is hostile to people of faith who are not heavily influenced by Calvinism, or Jansenism in the case of Roman Catholics. Isn't that hard to miss?

by nogodsnomasters on Wed Feb 06, 2008 at 08:59:38 PM EST

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