Marketing Obama to Evangelicals
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 12:16:12 PM EST
For the past three decades, the religious right has dominated the religio- political dialogue in the United States. The right's growth, and its agenda -- which revolved around so-called traditional family values issues including, but not limited to, opposition to abortion and full equality for gays and lesbians -- was pursued on two tracks: building multi-million dollar political and media enterprises, and making themselves an indispensable force within the Republican Party.

More recently, a number of observers have pointed out that the conservative evangelical movement's political power has been diminishing. The deaths of long-time leaders such as Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy, the coming to a close of the George W. Bush Administration, and a Republican Party presidential candidate that is less than inspirational to grassroots conservative evangelicals may indeed, as Focus on the Family's James Dobson has stated, "represent the end of an era."

Now, as the presidential campaign heads into its final stretch, after months of equivocating a group of long-time conservative evangelical leaders have endorsed -- albeit less than enthusiastically -- Senator John McCain, the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee.

Meanwhile, the campaign of Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential candidate, has been going out of its way to court religious voters.

Is the evangelical vote up for grabs?

Over the course of the campaign there have been questions raised about whether or not the evangelical vote is up for grabs. Will concerns about AIDS in Africa, poverty and the environment trump -- or at least neutralize -- such issues as abortion, stem cell research and gay rights, and bring some evangelical voters to the Democratic Party's column?

A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press, a sister project of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that while McCain has a smaller lead among white evangelical Protestants than Bush had at a similar point in the 2004 campaign, Obama has not benefited from evangelicals' concerns over McCain's religious authenticity.

With the religious right appearing to be in disarray, or at the least, undergoing significant changes, forces on what is loosely called the religious left, have been re-emerging. When asked about the rise of the religious left, John Green, Senior Fellow in Religion and American Politics at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, pointed out that "there are a large number of left- leaning religious and political organizations that are active these days, offering an alternative to the religious right."

Some liberal religious groups such as Sojourners, have been around for a while, Green noted, while others such as Faith in Public Life -- which sponsored the "Compassion Forum" on religious issues before the Democratic Party's Pennsylvania primary -- and Catholics United, are relatively new.

"A `liberal' theological perspective... involves less traditional views of the divine, spirituality and religious authority," and it involves "a liberal perspective on political issues," Green explained.

"The core of the religious left consists of people who are liberal in both their theology and their political outlook, a pattern commonly associated with the term `progressive.'" But, Green added, "another important sub-group consists of those who have a conservative theological perspective but liberal views on political issues." To complicate matters further, "there are many political moderates among theological liberals."

Some conservatives believe that the religious left is an oxymoron. "The annunciation of a religious left, like the heralding of the religious right's demise, has become a growth industry," Manuel Miranda, the Chairman of the Third Branch Conference, a centre right coalition, told me in an e-mail. "It will not succeed for one simple reason: the religious left is really a political agenda speaking to Christians, just as the religious right are religious people influencing politics."

"The religious left is nothing but repackaging of politics for non-doctrinaire spiritualists. It is not a genuine appeal to people of faith," according to Miranda.

The Matthew 25 Network

Hoping not to cede this election season's religious landscape once again to conservative Christian evangelicals, a new progressive religious organization has entered the electoral fray.

The Matthew 25 Network and its Matthew25.org website, is a small but emerging force in U.S. politics. The Network has been organised specifically to support Obama. It is a Federal Political Action Committee (PAC) "that works to elect and promote candidates who share our values through grassroots mobilisation, raising our voices in the media, and paid advertising," according to its website. The Network takes its name from the biblical passage in which Jesus says, "Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, brethren, you have done it to me." The organisation's Mission Statement declares that it "is a community of Christians -- Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, and Evangelical -- inspired by the Gospel mandate to put our faith into action to care for our neighbour, especially the most vulnerable."

The Matthew 25 Network "promot[es] life with dignity, caring for the least of these, strengthening and supporting families, stewardship of God's Creation, working for peace and justice at home and abroad, and promoting the common good."

The founder of the group, Mara Vanderslice, has a history of working for the Democratic Party with religious groups. She has worked with Common Good Strategies, "a political consulting firm that worked on connecting elected officials, candidates and state parties with America's diverse religious communities," and before that, she was the director of religious outreach for the John Kerry and John Edwards campaign in 2004.

According to Vanderslice, the group intends to spend at least 500,000 dollars in advertising between now and the Nov. 4 election. They will focus mostly on Christian radio and Christian publications, such as the National Catholic Reporter and Relevant Magazine, the Wall Street Journal reported. While the group intends to focus on key swing states, especially Ohio, Michigan and Colorado, it will also run ads in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri and North Carolina.

"You know it's an election year when certain people start grabbing headlines by attacking the faith of presidential candidates, with all these stones being cast at Barack Obama it can be hard to know what to believe," the advertisement says. It includes a clip of Obama saying, "I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the role of faith in people's lives."

The Matthew 25 Network's first radio ad was immediately criticised by Dobson, who called the ad "highly seductive." Dobson and his radio co-host "spent several minutes discussing the ad and hurling accusations of dishonesty at Obama," Michael Sean Winters pointed out in America, a national Catholic weekly publication.

As a way of combating "false and misleading information about Senator Obama's record on a number of vital issues," the Matthew 25 Network has also established a website named PutAwayFalsehood.com.

Matthew 25 'functioning on behalf of centrist' Democrats, says Clarkson

Not all progressives are convinced that the Matthew 25 Network represents an authentic religious left. The Network is essentially "functioning on behalf of centrist elements in the Democratic Party and the party's candidate for president," Fred Clarkson the co-founder of Talk2Action, told me in an e-mail interview. "It is part of a broader effort by these same elements to control the narrative of the role of religion in public life."

Clarkson is the editor of a forthcoming book titled "Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America." He maintains that while the Matthew 25 Network is "certainly opposed to the religious right," it nevertheless is a "creature of the Inside-the-Beltway political consultant class, and doesn't "represent an authentic expression of the religious left."

"Dispatches from the Religious Left," said Clarkson, is a book of essays "that generally rejects the narrow and conservatively slanted approach to religion and politics" that he says is being promoted by groups like the Matthew 25 Network.

"No one knows what an authentic, more politically dynamic religious left in America would really be like," Clarkson says. "This book seeks to open up that conversation."




Display:

WWW Talk To Action


On Christmas Day, in the Morning
In recent years at Christmastime, I have posted a response to the preposterous-but-malevolent claims broadcast on Fox News and elsewhere that there is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Hallelujah, Mike Huckabee, Hallelujah
Fox News personality Mike Huckabee had a defining moment in the wake of the Newtown massacre. One that as we enter the 2016 presidential......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Moses And Michele: Departing Member Of Congress Spreads More Misinformation
The Religious Right's Moses fixation continues to grow.As you might recall, the Texas State Board of Education recently demanded social studies textbooks that highlight......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
Christian Right Silent about Bob Jones U Sex Abuse Report
One of the deep scandals of our time, and apparently times past, is that sex abuse, particularly of children, has been so tolerated and......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Boot These Bigoted Bans: Movement Seeks To Remove Anti-Atheist Bias From State Constitutions
Eight states still have provisions in their constitutions that either bar atheists outright from holding public office or require people to believe certain things......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
James Madison and Tax-Supported Chaplains
In light of former Sen. Rick Santorum's recent silly declaration that “the words ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the U.S. Constitution,......
By Chris Rodda (0 comments)
Death to Obama; Death to "Homos"; What's Next?
When the Obama administration was young, threats against the president were common, and sometimes quite public. One notorious such incident was that of Rev.......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Rick Scarborough's America
When Stand Up Sunday was convened by Mike Huckabee in Houston it was to feature the leading spokesmen for the Religious Right agenda.  The......
By wilkyjr (0 comments)
The Republican Diversity Program... Is Working
I don't usually write directly about electoral politics, but sometimes I bring an outsider's perspective to how the inside looks to some of the......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
American Christian Right Leaders in Rome
The remarkable and growing alliance between conservative Catholicism and protestant evangelicalism was on prominent display at a recent event at the Vatican. My colleague......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Religious Supremacism on the Rise Against Marriage Equality
This is a crosspost of an op-ed I recently published at LGBTQ Nation.  -- FC Christian right undermines marriage equality with religious supremacism FREDERICK......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
The Author of Loathing Lincoln Explains Why Some on the Christian Right Loathe Lincoln
One under-reported result of the 2014 elections was the rise of Neo-Confederate politics in the U.S. This included the election of unabashed apologist for......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
A Catholic Theocracy Grows in Florida
Catholic Right pizza mogul Tom Monaghan and his Ave Maria School of Law are back in the news.  Journalist Eleanor Bader has a new......
By Frederick Clarkson (6 comments)
Mississippi Madness: Group Wants To Designate An Official Religion
A group in Mississippi is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to change the state constitution in several ways.The proposal put forth by the......
By Rob Boston (5 comments)
I Stand Sunday Part 2
I Stand Sunday took place in Houston, Nov. 2, 2014, motivated by the cities' mayor who subpoenaed sermons from local pastors.  The host church......
By wilkyjr (1 comment)

Charles Taze Russell and John Hagee
No doubt exists that Texas mega-church Pastor John Hagee would be loathe to be associated with the theology of Pastor C.T. Russell (wrongly credited with founding the Jehovah's Witnesses) but their theological orbits, while......
COinMS (0 comments)
A death among the common people ... imagination.
Or maybe my title would better fit as “Laws, Books, where to find, and the people who trust them.”What a society we've become!The wise ones tell us over and over how the more things......
Arthur Ruger (0 comments)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
This is part 6 of a series by guest front pager Mahanoy, originally dated November 15, 2007 which I had to delete and repost for technical reasons. It is referred to in this post,......
Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (2 comments)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (5 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (4 comments)
Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Yes, that's right. We have totally lost our religious freedom in Mississippi and it must be restored by our legislators. ......
COinMS (1 comment)
Bill Gothard accused of harassing women and failing to report child abuse
Surprised no one's mentioned this, but one of the longest-standing leaders of the religious right is in a world of trouble.  Bill Gothard has been active in the fundie movement for over half......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
Eugene Delgaudio may lose his day job as Virginia county supervisor
Surprised no one's noticed this, but one of the nation's most virulent homophobes is in a fight to keep his day job.  Eugene Delgaudio is best known as the head of Public Advocate......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents
This caught me by surprise. I guess times are a changin in Dixieland. ------------------------------------- Cross posted from the HRC blog. Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents January 21,......
COinMS (0 comments)
Robert Knight: Running against evolution could potentially be a winner for the GOP
In one of the starkest instances yet of how far gone the religious right is, one of its leading activists thinks that he's found another potential wedge issue that could drive more people into......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
First Catholic official convicted in child sex abuse scandal has conviction overturned
Last year, Monsignor William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary for clergy, was convicted of reassigning a priest whom he knew had molested a young boy to a parish that had a school attached......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Quotes From Sarah Palin 'War on Christmas" Book v. Quotes From 1920s Anti-Jewish Propaganda
The point of this comparison is not to cast Sarah Palin as a Nazi. Rather, my intent is to underline uncomfortable similarities between contemporary "war on Christmas" talking points propagated by elements of the......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Francis sets up commission on how to deal with pedophile priests
Late yesterday Pope Francis announced--apparently after some prodding--that he will set up a panel to advise him on how to deal with child abuse by priests. The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.