I read this today on Anderson Cooper's blog. Give it a glance, then let's talk:
Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith -- the politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps, off rhythm, to the gospel choir. Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. To say that men and women should not inject their personal morality into public policy debates is a practical absurdity.
Those aren't my words. I'm quoting. And who am I quoting? You might guess an evangelical Christian leader. Perhaps even a Republican strategist or conservative lawmaker. But would guess a Democratic senator? Those are the words of Senator Barack Obama, addressing a bipartisan religious conference sponsored by Sojourners founder Rev. Jim Wallis.
Obama had strong words for the Democratic party, both in his speech and in an interview I conducted with him afterwards, about the party's historic aversion to talk about faith. Faith is a very big part of the life of many Americans, contends Obama, and for Democrats to not talk about religion or even try to understand a person's faith is to eliminate almost all possibility of communicating meaningfully with them.
Republicans are great at talking about faith. And they are rewarded for it. In 2004, white evangelicals counted for 23 percent of voters. And they broke overwhelmingly for President Bush. "The biggest mistake the Democrats have made is to cede the entire territory of religion and values to a religious and political right, who then narrow the issues to only two -- abortion and gay marriage -- and then manipulate them politically," says Jim Wallis.
Democrats are trying to correct the mistake. There is a movement afoot led by Obama, the new superstar of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean and others to encourage party members to acknowledge faith as a means to broader communication. Whether it's for a Democratic politician to make public his or her own faith, or simply learn how to talk about it, party leaders believe it could be a foot in the door to get those exurban evangelicals to listen.
Democrats are also trying to expand the field of "moral" and "value" issues to include some of their strengths. For them to play, it needs to be about more than abortion and same-sex marriage. So they're attempting to making moral issues out of poverty, hunger, human rights and "creation care" (a new phrase for "environmentalism"), believing that if there is common ground on belief in the idea of moral values, there might be fertile ground to approach evangelicals on the Iraq war, the deficit and other issues.
Take Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, for example. He talked a lot about his personal religion during his election campaign. Not in terms of politics, but he let people know that he was a person for whom faith was important. He spoke of his mission in Honduras, and he talked about religion as part of his background. On faith issues, he sounded more like a Republican than a Democrat. No one questioned his sincerity. And wouldn't you know it, he won.
Many Democrats acknowledge that they have been the party of secularism for so long that they have alienated a significant part of the electorate. And they want to try to win those voters over. As Senator Obama pointed out, the majority of great reformers in American history -- Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King among them -- were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause.
Now, certainly this is going to make secularists uncomfortable. They will argue about blurring the line between church and state. But some Democrats have their eyes on another line. The 50 percent line. And they know that unless they can peel off a portion of that growing segment of society that is firmly rooted in the South and now sweeping across the Midwest, they will likely remain the party of the minority and continue to see "red"in the White House.
Okay. So. One, I love Barack Obama. He could be a very bright and shiny star in the political arena if he can keep himself above reproach. He can be that odd combination of factors that appeals to many people on many different levels. And I love that he says just the things that need to be said and manages to do so without alienating entire factions of people. I would much rather see him run in '08 than just about any other Dem out there, but I'm not sure he's ready. I hope he will be someday, because he could do really great things.
Two, why do being a Democrat and being religious have to be mutually exclusive? Why can't someone have a moral code and be a liberal at the same time? Why is it that if I say I'm pro-choice or pro-gay marriage I obviously can't be a Christian? The way I see it, by allowing a 12-year-old to abort the result of a rape, or by allowing two people who love each other marry so that they can reap the benefits of a heterosexual married couple and be legally commited to each other shows a greater compassion than what those Right Wing nutsos would have you believe. Did Jesus side with the wealthy and hypocrital? Or did he walk with the lepers and the prostitutes? Did Jesus get corporate sponsors or did he comfort the poor? The Religious Right wants you to ask WWJD? But I think they truly don't want to think about what the real answer might be.
My grandfather was a politician, a Democrat, AND an honest, religious man. Someone once asked him why he - a strong Christian - would dare be on the side of the Democrats. Grandpa grabbed the church's handbook and read the fundamental beliefs of the United Brethren Church:
We must not only seek the salvation of our fellow human beings, but show genuine concern for their total well-being. We recognize our responsibility to victims of poverty, prejudice, injustice, and other forms of human suffering.
The poor will always be among us, and we cannot ignore their plight; the Bible clearly states our obligation to those living in poverty. But there are many others, whether they are poor or not, whose situation requires our aid. They include persons in prison, immigrants, widows, orphans, the unborn, the handicapped, the homeless, the elderly, and victims of abuse. We also respond corporately to large-scale tragedies, giving sacrificially to help victims of natural disasters or social strife.
Demonstrating social concern also involves raising our voice against injustice and prejudice. We stand against discrimination, slavery, and injustice, insisting that equal rights be granted to everyone. We advocate fairness in the workplace, in the courts, and in all other settings, and seek the end of any discrimination based upon racial, national, economic, or social differences.
He then said, "If those aren't Democratic principles, then I don't know what is." Why wouldn't Republicans see value in helping the poor and working toward civil rights? Why wouldn't Republicans want to advocate equality? Why wouldn't Republicans, the self-prescribed religious and moral conscience of the political environment, want to show common decency and compassion and a true love for all people? Why wouldn't they act out of respect rather than fear or distrust? Why wouldn't they choose to serve the needs of those who can't be heard rather than serve their own needs first?
Three, why on earth can't the Dems put this idea together? Why can't they defend their liberal choices by backing it with Christian conviction rather than perpetuating the "we're not Republicans, that's why" mantra. Okay, so abortion and gay rights aren't exactly Bible-friendly topics, but compassion is. Love for your fellow man is. Forgiveness is. Come on, guys!!! Let's think about this a little before completely distancing yourselves from any sort of religious affiliation and automatically offending the majority of the country.
Personally, I'm damn proud to call myself a Liberal Democrat. And a Christian. And I'll happily admit to both.