Amy Sullivan, the editor of Washington Monthly and fabulous inaugural alumna of Faith in Public Live, has a piece posted on Slate that’s worth a read. “Not God’s Party: A new poll shows Democrats are losing (more) religious voters.” As always, she provides sharp analysis of the religion and politics scene, with a sense of perspective that’s always appreciated.
The piece has a great ending, quoted below, but the tone of the poll analysis seems off. From the headline, Sullivan focuses on continued Democratic weakness (which is actually just a leveling that remained within the margin of error from earlier polls), and doesn’t give nearly enough attention to the fact that the Republican party suffered an even bigger hit. This Republican slippage combined with steady numbers for Dems is the real story of the poll. It just may be that the unholy alliances between Religious Right leaders and GOP officials who have no real interest in delivering victories for the Religious Right is finally being unravelled by years of broken promises. It’s not even mentioned that the percentage of the population that sees the Dems as unfriendly to religion is totally level at 20% since 2005. The headline writers at Slate must have missed that.
A great quote below. Note her emphasis on state and local campaigns. That’s exactly what we’ve found through our work with groups across the country. Check our Best Practices page and Mapping Faith resource to see just how many of these groups there are in your community.
The DNC should ramp up that search. But the party’s leaders also should remain calm. The Democrats’ most productive activities on the religion front have taken place at the state level and in local campaigns. This work may not bear fruit nationally for a few years, but it’s important to hang in there and keep funding it. Democrats also need to avoid the temptation to play preacher: One cringe-inducing “Praise Jeeeeezus!” from Howard Dean spoils the quiet faith of Democrats like Tim Kaine and Jennifer Granholm and Barack Obama. And they should shout from the mountaintops about Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid’s plan to reduce abortion rates, talk to every evangelical who will listen about tackling global warming, and re-embrace the concept of the common good that once united religious and political progressives. Democrats, take those lights out from under your bushels.
add a comment »
Katherine Harris, that paragon of upright-judgment, is at it again, as many of you likely know. There’s been much good written about her statement that the Seperation of Church and State is a lie. Check out Vince Isner of Faithful America for a particularly well-put response. Crossposted from Faithful America
First it was Oral Roberts… then Robert Tilton…then Pat Robertson… Now it seems Florida Representative and candidate for Senate Katherine Harris(remember the hanging chad?)is now claiming to speak for God. Now listen up all you Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Unitarians, and other non-Christian U.S. citizens: If you are not electing Christians to represent you, you are simply legislating sin… according to Ms. Harris, that is.
I suppose her most bizarre, off-the-wall comment is that GOD chooses our leaders… If this is true, then why did HER party go to such lengths to impeach one of “God’s leaders?” If God chooses our leaders, then why vote? Why debate? Why question anything? Why not just close our eyes and let the bombs fall where they may, let poverty fester where it will, let AIDS run it course, let innocent detainees rot in Cuban prisons, let the poor in our land starve in the streets, let the earth choke to death, and everybody just sing Kum-ba-ya until Jesus comes to take the faithful few back home for a job well done?
Normally I find such cocksure ignorance amusing – But ignorance of this magnitude and at her level of influence is not funny. If the separation of church and state is, as Harris declares, a “lie” – then why not rejoice, ignore the constitution of the United States, and simply elect only Harris-like fundatmentalist Christians? That would prove to the world we are no longer a free nation, and all of those people “over there” whom President Bush says “hate us for our freedom” can stop hating us and start loving us as brothers and sisters in Christ… We could even teach them Kum-ba-ya…
Thankfully, Harris does not speak for the vast majority of Christians who honor and celebrate persons of other faiths and beliefs, and who believe that our nation is enriched by diversity. Gratefully, the average four-year old has more horse sense than Harris displayed in her remarks.
add a comment »
Dear Randall and David,
This has been a very enjoyable exchange. I think Randall is right about hitting a raw nerve with the mention of theocracy. As Shakespeare had a character say, “Me thinks they doth protest too much!”
Steinfels’ response to the recent spate of books about theocracy is fairly typical for people who lack full comprehension of the mindset of many of the evangelicals influencing the Religious Right. I witnessed the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention by Christian Nationalists and I observed well organized bands of Christian Reconstructionists takeover the local GOP precincts around the churches that I pastored. In both instances, when I raised a hue and cry about these takeovers, I met the same kind of naÃ¯ve faith and “It can’t happen here” attitude exhibited by Steinfels remarks.
Henry Kissinger had a good grasp of the way that people typically respond to revolutionary powers that do not accept the legitimacy of the existing order. Here’s his analysis:
Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent, they find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework. The defenders of the status quo therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstances are considered balanced and sane. . . . But it is the essence of revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion.
We’ve seen a process like this slowly working its way out in American politics for about a quarter century now. We are dealing with patient revolutionaries. Reconstructionist goals have been advanced and implemented so methodically and incrementally that most of them no longer appear revolutionary. Here is an outline of the blueprint for civil society that R. J. Rushdoony laid out in his Institutes of Biblical Law:
1) Acknowledge the ten commandments as the foundation for civil law (Could that have anything to do with Roy ‘s Rock?).
2) Strengthen patriarchically ordered families (Could that have anything to do with opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and with new Baptist creeds that insist that wives must “graciously submit” to their husbands?).
3) Close the public schools and make parents totally responsible for the education of their children (Could that have anything to do with the incessant push for vouchers and the explosion of home-schooling — especially among Baptists?).
4) Require “tithes” to ecclesiastical agencies to provide welfare services (Could that have anything to do with ‘Charitable Choice’ and Faith-based initiatives?).
5) Reduce the role of government to defense of the nation and the defense of property rights (Could that have anything to do with the rhetoric about ‘starving the beast’ of government and policies that bankrupt the government with expensive wars while cutting taxes?).
6) Close the prisons — reinstitute slavery as a form of punishment and require capital punishment for all of ancient Israel’s capital offenses — including apostacy, blasphemy, incorrigibility in children, murder, rape, Sabbath breaking, sodomy, and witchcraft.
The only thing that still looks revolutionary in this list is the last one. All of them were considered extreme in 1973 when Rushdoony wrote his Institutes.
How sure can we be that this last goal will remain outside the realm of possibility?
All the best,
add a comment »
I supposed there’s not much that can properly be identified as amusing about the actions and agenda of the Religious Right these days — especially their cooperation with the present administration to compromise civil liberties, prosecute an unjust war in Iraq and condone the torture of those the administration has designated “enemy combatants.” But allow me to inject a note of levity (well, almost) into this final posting.
The thing I find most amusing about the leaders of the Religious Right these days is the way fly into an apoplectic fit anytime anyone mentions the word “theocracy.” Kevin Phillips, of course, earned their undying obloquy for using it in the title of his best-selling book “American Theocracy.” To the best of my recollection, I used the word only once in “Thy Kingdom Come,” when I suggested that what the Religious Right wanted more than anything else was a theocratic order patterned after Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. I went on to say that New England Puritanism was a grand and noble experiment that ultimately collapsed beneath the weight of its own pretensions — precisely as Roger Williams, America’s first Baptist, predicted it would.
Despite my singular use of the term “theocracy,” the Religious Right went ballistic. Someone on a radio show (the same right-wing nut who pontificated at length about my unhappy evangelical childhood) yelled and screamed about my use of the word. And another soldier in the army of the Religious Right used the term “theocracy” three times in the title of his review — well, not a review really, more of a hatchet job.
One has to wonder why a single word provokes such a dramatic response. Could it be that it strikes a nerve? Hmmm. The Religious Right passionately denies that it seeks a theocracy, of course, but my view of the matter is that it’s appropriate to administer the duck test: If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s almost certainly a duck.
The first step toward creating a theocracy is to eviscerate the First Amendment and to demolish the line of separation between church and state. And this, of course, brings our discussion full circle. If you seek to undermine the Baptist principles that have served this nation — and the faith — so well for more than two centuries, you begin by undermining the First Amendment.
Once you do that, you’re well on your way to a theocracy.
add a comment »
Dear Randall and Bruce,
Again, thanks much for this exchange. We’ve been going for the better part of a week now, and it’s still fascinating stuff. We’re due to wrap up soon, and was wondering if you two could give us some closing thoughts, and perhaps consider the following excerpt from Peter Steinfels’ book review essay in the latest edition of the American Prospect.
He doesn’t take up your book in particular, Randall, but does raise issues on which I think both of you would have opinions. Reviewing books from Kevin Phillips, Michelle Goldberg, and Jim Rudin, he argues:
But the idea, increasingly voiced by left-of-center activists and intellectuals, that religion is the driving force of the administration’s policies and the leading threat to American democracy is exaggerated and misplaced. Phillips, Rudin, and Goldberg themselves regularly stick qualifying phrases into their declarations of alarm. They know that fanaticism and nuttiness, including downright dangerous nuttiness, can be found all over the place in a religious and political landscape as vast and diverse as America’s. And they know better than to equate hardcore religious-right leaders and organizations, let alone the still smaller kernel of literal theocrats, with evangelical Americans in general, who constitute between 30 percent and 40 percent of the population and who have swung massively into the Republican camp in the last three decades.
The task, in other words, is not simply to shine light on faith-based antidemocratic currents but to map context, patterns, proportions, and trends, tracing not only real connections but also deep differences between what’s marginal and what’s central.
His point seems to me to be that we risk alienating the broad 30-40% of Americans who are evangelical if we overstate the degree of control that ultra-conservative Religious Right leaders exert over them. I agree with that point when broadly applied to the evangelical community, but based on the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention, it seems overly optimistic. Are there, to use his words, context, patterns, proportions, and trends that can give hope that a large chunk of Baptists is not actually under the sway of the Religious Right? And if so, how do leaders like yourselves go about trying to engage and inspire that community?
Thanks agian for taking the time to join us this week, and best of luck as your work continues.
add a comment »