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Friday, April 29, 2005

Reminder: 'Values' Democrats aren't fishing for fundies.

I recommend Dan Kennedy's Boston Phoenix article about watching the Christian nationalist "Justice Sunday" broadcast last weekend with a dozen members of a conservative Congregationalist church in New Hampshire, but he says one thing that is worth clarifying. After interviewing the Southern Baptist-trained pastor named David Bezanson, an affable but hard-right guy, Kennedy writes:

Liberals and progressives are forever making the mistake of thinking they can win over the other side, and are thus forever frittering away whatever small advantage they have by compromising with the right, making deals, and giving up on some of their principles in the hopes of obtaining concessions somewhere down the line. Statements such as Bezansonís are a useful reminder: the religious right aims to win, period.

Who could doubt that the religious right "aims to win"? And yet the reason Democrats have needed to get religion is not in order to sway the religious right. There's a huge middle in American religion between Ted Haggard's militant Evangelicals and, say, Unitarian Universalists. Methodists, for example. Many of these people aren't activists in the culture wars but are trending Republican because the G.O.P. dresses up its odious policies in religion- and family-friendly garb. They're not fundamentalists (and certainly not Dominionists), but they are the audience for improved communication from Democrats.

Liberals don't need to peel away Southern Baptist voters, and couldn't even if they tried. I'd be content if the Democrats could simply do a better job of seeming to understand mainstream Protestants.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum is looking for "appealing, wide-ranging, and clearly unconservative" principles that liberals are for ó the liberal answer to "low taxes, traditional family values, and a strong military." Give it a try.

("Justice Under Fire," Dan Kennedy, Boston Phoenix 4.29.05; "Do the Democrats Have a Prayer?," Amy Sullivan, Washington Monthly June 2003; "The Crusaders," Bob Moser, Rolling Stone 4.7.05)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 29 April 2005 at 5:42 PM

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April 29, 2005 06:59 PM | Permalink for this comment

Exactly. I think it would be a terrible mistake to base our liberal religious and political agenda on the conversion of conservative religious folk. This, I hope, is not our mission. Actually, if we just did what we already do but in a much smarter, better organized, and more strategic fashion, liberal religion would take off all on its own. In fact, it already has; we just need really good organizers now to put it all together on a grassroots and then national level. Think about it ... if we don't start soon Kennedy will get what he and his supporters desire.


April 29, 2005 07:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

Shawn, Dan Kennedy is a liberal media critic for a very liberal alternative weekly; he's also a Unitarian Universalist.

Although we often discuss the promotion of Unitarian Universalism and liberal religion here at Philocrites, in this case I'm pointing to the Democratic Party's need to address largely Christian moderates. The Democratic Party isn't in danger of losing the support of Unitarian Universalists and other tiny marginal groups who already tend to agree overwhelmingly with the secular left; most of us are on their team because we have nowhere else to go. But at the national level, Democrats do need to stop the flow of moderate Christians into the Republican Party. That's not a task that Unitarian Universalists are well-suited to help with, sadly, but I think it's important to be clear about the need.


April 29, 2005 08:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ah, thank you for correcting my misplacement of Kennedy into the Southern Baptist ministry, Philocrites. I'm sure he would appreciate it. I meant to cite "Bezanson."

I, however, was also arguing in favor of a democratic appeal to Christian moderates and any others existing, as you say, "between Ted Haggard's militant Evangelicals and Unitarian Universalists." I was trying to make the point that a moderate Christian being lost to the republican side is a direct result of the republican party actually having access to good national level religious organization. It is that simple. The democrats don't have it, sadly. You as much agreed when you cite Unitarian Universalism as ill-suited to help out in this area.

A moderate Christian is still a Christian and makes decisions based upon religious pro's and con's. The democrats had better build themselves a healthy and AUTHENTIC religious base which is organized enough to begin to assimilate moderates on a national level ... where exactly are we to point moderate Christians toward at the present? Which liberal church would a moderate Christian be comfortably fulfilled at?

Religion is now a political base in this country, more than ever I venture. Liberal politicians don't have a religious base because liberal religion is in such bad shape it can barely sustain itself, let alone it's political representation.

You're pointing at the need, but do you have any suggestions?

Doug Muder:

April 30, 2005 10:43 AM | Permalink for this comment

I just finished Jim Wallis' "God's Politics", which should be a prerequisite for approaching this topic. Jim bases his economic/defense position on Micah's:

"they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; national shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid."

Wallis' point is that the beginning of this statement depends on the end. You can have the peaceful world when everyone has a stake -- when everyone has his own vine and his own fig tree and is not afraid. As long as someone is left out or afraid of being dispossessed, he will keep his sword and spear and keep learning war. And his neighbor will be afraid of him in turn, and on it goes.

One other key point Wallis finds in the prophets: They stand not for charity, but for a just society. A lot of the Christian Right thinks: "We're running a soup kitchen, so we're covered." But the point isn't to give a homeless guy a meal, it's to figure out why so many people are homeless and do something about it. I can't find it right now, but he repeats this line several times: "We can't just keep pulling people out of the river, we need to go upstream and find out who's throwing them in."

A really simple thing I think liberals can do to shift the debate with the Right is to call them on their cynical manipulation of symbols. I wish somebody had responded to Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument like this: "We don't need politicians to build monuments to the ten commandments; we need politicians who don't lie and don't steal." If pressed they could back this up with the rant in Isaiah chapter 1, where God tells the leaders of Israel that their sacrifices and prayers disgust him, because they don't take care of the widow and the orphan.

John Cullinan:

April 30, 2005 12:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

A lot of the Christian Right thinks: "We're running a soup kitchen, so we're covered."

Unfortunately, that's a common mindset in liberal churches as well. I wouldn't be comfortable just pointing the finger at the right in this instance.


April 30, 2005 12:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

"Unfortunately, that's a common mindset in liberal churches as well. I wouldn't be comfortable just pointing the finger at the right in this instance."

Exactly. Now, how can liberal churches get out of soup kitchens and authentically challenge the systemic powers creating the need for soup kitchens?

Honestly, at this point, we can't. We haven't the political influence, and our democratic politicians don't have us and suffer equally at the metaphorical hands of a very well organized religious right and a Republican party who has all cylinders running socially, religiously, and politically. Everything is so intertwined right now. Liberalism has got to get it together on all three levels (socially, politically, and religiously) to attract the moderate Christians (and others) who would make a big difference.

...and I do not think it requires a change of our basic social, political, and/or religious message (a few things, like always, will change). It's our organization and philosophy of 'ministry' that has to change. We have to get all three cylinders running at the same time.

Any future national/global movement must now simultaneously be a sociological, political, and religious movement. Perhaps this has always been the case. It might just be very defined at the moment.


May 1, 2005 02:51 AM | Permalink for this comment

The Democrats need to touch the pulse of the country. They forgot how and have lost elections on account of it.


May 2, 2005 09:36 PM | Permalink for this comment

Doug Muder -- I laughed when I read what you said about the ten commandments -- I've been going around saying, "We don't need them to post the ten commandments, we need them to live by them!"
It seems to me the louder they bleat about posting them, the less they live by them.

John and sA -- We need to buy media and use what George Lakoff has taught us so we have something to say on the media.

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