Pew: Overall ‘God gap’ narrow, evangelical ‘God gap’ narrowing

November 1, 2007, 5:13 pm | Posted by

Yesterday’s Pew election poll pitted Giuliani versus Clinton in the general election, and the data reflects what the news has been saying ever since last November: the Republican advantage among Christians is evaporating. (The poll didn’t have breakdowns of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus). Comparing the ’04 presidential exit polls and Pew’s latest survey, Clinton has gained 9 points among weekly churchgoers, and nips at Giuliani’s heels 48-52. The gap amongst white evangelicals is still a yawning 33-67, but that’s an 11-point improvement from the last election. Clinton gained ground amongst every religious category except mainline protestants, from whom she lost one percentage point.

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Mukasey: What is this torture you speak of?

November 1, 2007, 1:32 pm | Posted by

Michael Mukasey stands to become the chief law enforcement officer of United States, so his opinion on the legality of various interrogation techniques is more than an abstract or academic concern. Mukasey can say with great certainty that torture is unconstitutional, but that’s not so meaningful if you don’t quite know what torture is. He’s not so sure about waterboarding (which was used in the Spanish Inquisition):

Sen. Whitehouse called Mukasey’s answer “purely semantic” and “a massive hedge.” I’d also add “absurd.” If it’s hard for him to make up his mind about whether waterboarding is torture, it should be easy for us to make up our minds about him.

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An All Saints Crackup?: Evangelicals and Catholic cons

October 31, 2007, 2:38 am | Posted by

Let’s probe a real All Hallows Eve fissure in the popular “crackup” narrative developing on the religious right. Noting the effect of the Giuiliani campaign on this “death,” “reconfiguration,” or “reformation,” of social conservatives, the American Spectator‘s W. James Antle III prognosticates in The Politico, on the effect a Giuliani win in November would have on the role of abortion in his own party. He writes:

For starters, the media will portray a Giuliani win as a victory for the right to choose [between pro and anti] and the final defeat of the religious right. The GOP is filled with politicians who oppose abortion only because it is the path of least resistance. President Giuliani would alleviate the pressure. Republicans who aspire to the presidency have always been well-advised to become anti-abortion. A Giuliani defeat of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would advertise that such conversions are no longer required.

If this plays out, Giuliani could be creating a kind of reverse litmus test for future GOP candidates. Antle argues:

It will also reveal whether those who speak on behalf of “values voters” know what they are talking about. Giuliani has previously donated money to Planned Parenthood, praised Margaret Sanger and advocated taxpayer-funded abortion. He remains in support of abortion rights and in favor of domestic partnerships.

It’s important to stop here and point out that Pat Robertson is supporting Guiliani, but not conservative Catholics. Now whatever one thinks about the sincerity of Robertson, this raises the deeper question about how this will play out with the Catholic/evangelical social alliance of the past elections. Antle mentions Brownback dropping out, but he fails to note that the majority of Brownback’s votes and money came from conservative Catholics. This gets at a deeper problem both in the reporting on the religious right and the “crackup” narrative.

Unless Guiliani starts genuflecting in some churches and on the old social issues, and sans a Brownback endorsement, the cracks may widen between evangelicals who emphasize fighting “terrorism” and antiabortion Catholics who feel betrayed for supporting an unjust war.

On this day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the Wittenberg door, it will be interesting to see how some of the major conservative Catholic leaders — who have carried Protestant culture war water — will react. Will they feel tricked by a Guiliani-comfortable party, or will they treat everyone to a real “crackup” narrative, aka, a schism?

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Wrap-up of “The Evangelical Crackup”

October 30, 2007, 5:51 pm | Posted by

Yesterday’s New York Times magazine article about the fissures and shifts in evangelical Christians’ political and theological orientation set off a blizzard of blogging. I saw great posts all over the blogscape, and after reading around ten lengthy posts, I fear I’d meld them together if I tried to comment on all the commentary. (Besides, blog roundups are Alex’s specialty.)

So I’ll just stick with an out-of-the-way response in traditional media: the editorial in today’s Wichita Eagle, whose namesake city David Kirkpatrick used as the anecdotal frame for his NYT story. (You might’ve seen the Eagle editorial in FPL’s daily newsreel today.)

Called “No ‘evangelical crackup’ in Wichita,” it didn’t take as much issue with Kirkpatrick’s story as the title suggests:

To assess the state of the religious right, the New York Times Magazine came to the right state — Kansas, and specifically Wichita. The resulting cover story Sunday oversold the idea of an “evangelical crackup,” but there is no question that in Wichita and far beyond, Christians are rethinking how and how much to bring their Bible-based values to bear in the public square.

However, they do (vaguely) point out local trends that don’t quite jibe with Kirkpatrick’s central argument:

Some evangelicals in Wichita and elsewhere in Kansas have not extinguished their agendas, only refocused them locally. Look at the proliferating petition drives to call grand juries to investigate sexually oriented businesses and abortion provider George Tiller.

And the mission work going on among local churches across the ideological and denominational spectrum remains strong and inspiring, meeting needs and lifting up the downtrodden in Wichita and far beyond.

The Eagle also regurgitates some of Kirkpatrick’s point about evangelicals’ political dissatisfaction and shifting priorities. All told, it’s not a very striking response content-wise, but it’s always useful to look at local responses to national media attention they receive. Wichita’s hometown newspaper’s reaction seemed to be that Kirkpatrick got it mostly right, but with a couple of notable (yet small) exceptions.

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Faith in schools

October 30, 2007, 11:27 am | Posted by

Today the AP reported a John Hopkins study that found 12 percent of America’s high schools ‘dropout factories’ that graduate less than 60 percent of students who enter as freshmen. And according to the report,

The highest concentration of dropout factories is in large cities or high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around, because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones — the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.

Aaron at Faithfully Liberal offers a personal testimony from his experience in a ‘dropout factory,’ and I’d like to add my own. In 2001, I taught 110 seventh graders in a rural school that was 90 percent African American and 50 percent impoverished. When I returned for their graduation this spring, about 65 kids crossed the stage. The kids who dropped out are effectively locked in poverty, and most of the graduates are academically far behind their peers in more affluent districts, which restricts their opportunities as well. Simply put, America’s education system contributes to the trap of concentrated poverty, and that is a moral scandal in a country that prides itself as a land of opportunity filled with people of deep faith.

No Child Left Behind created as many problems as it solved at my school, and vouchers would have done no good because there’s only one private school nearby, and it’s all white (actually, there are many other reasons vouchers wouldn’t work). But what’s missing isn’t just the right policy fix, it’s the sense of urgency. If Americans cared more about poor kids, we’d have taken much more drastic action by now. After all, this problem has been with us in some form or another since the country was founded.

When I was in Teach For America, we talked often about long-term goals, and the most eloquent one I ever heard was that one day we would look back at America’s separate, unequal education system as a thing of the past and ask ourselves as a society, “how did we ever let that happen?” To that I’d add “..and may God forgive us.”

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