Third Way’s “Come Let Us Reason Together” has already received plenty of attention. So far it’s been the subject of a Newsweek feature, an op-ed column in the Washington Post, and blog commentary, notably by my friend Pastor Dan at Street Prophets. The variety of these reports speaks to the diverse perspectives on religion and politics, even within the ranks of progressives
EJ, while certainly a faithful and religiously informed person, approaches it as a secular political journalist, saying that Third way “takes a step toward religious conservatives by acknowledging the legitimacy of many of their moral concerns,” and treating it as a self-evident good.
Pastor Dan, coming from a progressive religious activist perspective, offers a different take:
Furthermore, as the study’s authors themselves point out, more than half of American evangelicals live in the South. Assuming that the Democrats do a bang-up job with the modernists and even attract a few centrists, that means they’ll win one-half of 2-5% of the electorate in the areas that make up the Republican base. That’s just not enough to put a state like Alabama into play, and even in a swing state like Virginia, the smart money is on the non-evangelicals in the D.C. suburbs…Forgive me for thinking that no matter how closely aligned young evangelicals are with the rest of the public on issues, 74% support for Republican candidates means they’re not ripe for the plucking by Dems
Dan’s talking about electing Democrats tomorrow, but taking a more long-term view, I can’t think of why it isn’t worthwhile for progressives and evangelicals to build some basic, shared understandings that can turn Deal-breaking Wedge Issues into merely Serious Issues. One question beyond Dan’s analysis and Third Way’s report are the criteria by which people determine that they are conservative. Leaving aside the half of evangelicals who label themselves moderate or progressive, how many self-identify as conservative because they think liberals hate God and love abortion? That is a topic that must be addressed before “Come Let Us Reason Together” can be written off as electorally insignificant. (Note: I agree with Dan that conservative demagogues bear great responsibility for such negative perceptions of liberals.)
Whether centrist and conservative evangelicals are “ripe for the plucking” right this minute is beside the point. “Come Let Us Reason Together” is not a Democratic strategy memo for 2008. It is an effort to establish a basis for communication and cooperation between two large groups that have had neither in recent years. And dialogue is essential to healthy democracy. It proposes grounds of agreement that seem mundane to Dan, and that’s fine, but they are meant to foster mutual respect and enable productive communication between people who think of each other in such caricatured terms as baby killer or woman oppressor, libertine or theocrat. Before you can say to another person, “come let us reason together,” you must believe that you are talking to a reasonable person. By establishing what some people might view as “so what” shared understandings, we at least establish that each other can be reasoned with. That might seem a small step, but the first one always is, and right now the end of the culture war is ripe for the picking, so we should get to stepping.
Although I’ve lived in liberal Washington, DC for the past year, I’ve spent most of my adult life out in “Jesusland.” I have known many good people who automatically voted Republican because of same-sex marriage and abortion, to the exclusion of all other issues. I want these people to open themselves to progressive candidates who seek justice and peace, but I recognize that abortion and same sex marriage are not going away, and that people are not going to magically flip on the issues or decide that they don’t matter any more. Establishing a common framework is thus critical to outgrowing the poisonous divisiveness that has sullied our public life.
Whether or not working on this is electorally necessary for Democrats is beside the point.