Advice on Evangelical Outreach
In the New York Times this week, Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann theorizes how different faith experiences affect how evangelicals conceive of politics and offers some advice to progressives looking to connect with to these religious voters:
When secular liberals vote, they think about the outcome of a political choice. They think about consequences. Secular liberals want to create the social conditions that allow everyday people, behaving the way ordinary people behave, to have fewer bad outcomes.
When evangelicals vote, they think more immediately about what kind of person they are trying to become — what humans could and should be, rather than who they are. From this perspective, the problem with government is that it steps in when people fall short. Rick Santorum won praise by saying (as he did during the Values Voters Summit in 2010), “Go into the neighborhoods in America where there is a lack of virtue and what will you find? Two things. You will find no families, no mothers and fathers living together in marriage. And you will find government everywhere: police, social service agencies. Why? Because without faith, family and virtue, government takes over.” This perspective emphasizes developing individual virtue from within — not changing social conditions from without.
If Democrats want to reach more evangelical voters, they should use a political language that evangelicals can hear. They should talk about the kind of people we are aiming to be and about the transformational journey that any choice will take us on. They should talk about how we can grow in compassion and care. They could talk about the way their policy interventions will allow those who receive them to become better people and how those of us who support them will better ourselves as we reach out in love. They could describe health care reform as a response to suffering, not as a solution to an economic problem.