In last week’s election, social conservatives failed to pass an anti-abortion amendment in the red-state stronghold of Mississippi, triggering questions about the role of hot-button social issues and the Religious Right’s influence in the 2012 election.
Rather than putting their full energy into causes such as “personhood” amendments, Religious Right organizations and leaders seem likely to focus primarily on economic issues. As jobs and the economy push social issues to the back burner, conservative Christian groups have latched onto the Tea Party’s extreme agenda.
Last year, the Family Research Council ran political ads focusing on the so-called threat of big government rather than abortion or same-sex marriage. This year’s Values Voters Summit, where GOP presidential candidates wooed Religious Right leaders, focused more on the economy than the culture war. Ralph Reed is predicting that “Teavangelicals” will decide the 2012 election. And it’s not just idle speculation – Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition will reach millions of Christian voters, spreading a low tax, small government gospel that disingenuously invokes “fiscal responsibility” as an excuse to gut crucial protections for families.
That might sound like shrewd strategy, but it also creates opportunities for progressives. Polls consistently show that Americans reject GOP efforts to slash taxes for millionaires and make draconian cuts that harm working families and the most vulnerable. A recent survey by Public Religion Research Institute shows that most people of faith are more sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement’s concerns than the Tea Party’s agenda. The poll found that 60 percent of Catholics and majorities of mainline Protestants and white evangelicals think we would be better off if the distribution of wealth were more equal.
The Religious Right’s stance on salient political issues is neatly aligned with the conservative coalition but clearly at odds with the views of most Americans. Progressives need to counter by offering a message that speaks to religious voters’ values of fairness, responsibility, compassion and justice.
I’m not saying quoting Scripture will win over conservative evangelicals, but presenting moderate people of faith with an authentic moral argument for a progressive economic vision will not only resonate, but also help change religion’s role in our political discourse. As my friend Richard Cizik said in a must-read Washington Post op-ed, “it’s time for a new values debate.” The more the Religious Right mimics the Tea Party, the less they reflect the Gospel. Let’s call them on it.
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Herman Cain’s backslide into anti-Muslim bigotry continues this week with new comments in his interview with GQ magazine. Asked about his previous comments suggesting that, as President, he would not appoint a qualified Muslim to his cabinet, Cain reiterated his original sentiments:
Devin Gordon: Do you think that there is a greater tendency among the Muslim faith for that kind of extremism?
Herman Cain: That would be a judgment call that I’m probably not qualified to make, because I can’t speak on behalf of the entire Muslim community. I have talked with Muslims that are peaceful Muslims. And I have had one very well known Muslim voice say to me directly that a majority of Muslims share the extremist views.
Chris Heath: A majority?
Herman Cain: Yes, a majority.
Devin Gordon: Do you think he’s right?
Herman Cain: Yes, because that’s his community. That’s his community. I can’t tell you his name, but he is a very prominent voice in the Muslim community, and he said that.
Chris Heath: I just find that hard to believe.
Herman Cain: I find it hard to believe.
Chris Heath: But you’re believing it?
Herman Cain: Yes, because of the respect that I have for this individual. Because when he told me this, he said he wouldn’t want to be quoted or identified as having said that.
As a reminder, Cain’s original apology came as a result of his visit to the Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Virginia where he met with nationally respected Muslim leaders who Demonstrated the overwhelmingly peaceful, moderate nature of the Muslim community. When Cain says that he believes anonymous smears against Muslims writ large, he’s implicitly and unfairly accusing the Muslim leaders he met with, as well as millions of other Muslims.
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Audience reactions at this year’s GOP presidential debates have drawn attention and controversy, with audience members cheering the death penalty, attacks on the unemployed and letting the uninsured die as well as booing a gay soldier who asked a question about “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
This Saturday’s CBS/National Journal “Commander in Chief” debate was no exception, with an interesting audience reaction to a question about the acceptability of torture. This time there was a split reaction: some audience members applauded Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann’s support for waterboarding while others cheered for Ron Paul’s disagreement.
Cain and Bachmann:
While Republican support for waterboarding is exceedingly high (a CBS poll from last week found GOP support at 70%), it’s good to see that there is still a vocal minority of conservatives who reject this misguided policy that compromises core American values.
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State ballot issues loom large as voters flock to the polls today. Mississippians will decide on Initiative Measure 26, which would legally classify a fertilized human egg as a person. It would not only outlaw all abortion (including cases of rape or incest), but could also prohibit in-vitro fertilization and commonly used contraceptive methods. The Mississippi Medical Association even said this measure “will place in jeopardy a physician who tries to save a mother’s life by performing procedures and employing techniques have used for years.” IM 26 is not only radical, it’s downright dangerous.
For years I’ve worked with leaders on both sides of the abortion debate to find common ground without compromising core values. This approach not only helps defuse polarization, but also builds broad support for policies that assist pregnant women and prevent unintended pregnancy, which reduces the number of abortions. IM 26 is the absolute opposite of this approach. Even the Mississippi Catholic bishops and the National Right to Life Committee don’t support it.
A victory for working families?
As we’ve discussed before, Ohio voters are deciding today on Issue #2, a ballot initiative on whether to repeal Senate Bill 5 — deeply unpopular legislation that effectively stripped teachers, nurses and firefighters of the ability to collectively negotiate for safe working conditions, reasonable benefits and fair pay.
While progressives and labor are well-mobilized, a victory can’t be taken for granted. Defenders of SB-5 have mounted a massive disinformation campaign to confuse voters. But clergy across the state are standing up for working families and helping ensure the outcome reflects their commitment to workers’ rights.
Fraudulent claims of voter fraud.
Unfortunately, many states are erecting barriers to voting that could protect unpopular legislation like SB-5 from repeal efforts. Since the 2010 elections, a dozen state legislatures have restricted voters’ ability to cast ballots by adding onerous new ID requirements, restricting voter-registration efforts, or curbing early voting. While proponents claim these measures are necessary to prevent voter fraud, numerous investigations have failed to find any evidence that fraud is an actual problem. (Voter fraud was also a pretext for Jim Crow laws such as literacy tests.)
These statutes disproportionately affect groups more likely to support progressives – students, minorities and low-income voters. Using a nonexistent problem as a pretext to prevent people from voting is a dishonest tactic that runs contrary to American values. Preventing people from voting instead of trying to win them over clearly indicates a lack of commitment to their values and their well-being.
As radical politicians push unpopular policies that undermine democracy, severely restrict workers’ rights and dangerously redefine personhood, it’s more important than ever for people of faith to bring the focus of our nation’s politics back to the common good.
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Disappointingly, extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric has become a feature of the GOP presidential campaign. Nearly all the candidates seem to believe that no attack is too extreme when it comes to demonizing and threatening undocumented immigrants, some of the most vulnerable people in our country. But recent efforts by some evangelicals suggest that this swing to the right on a basic issue of fairness and compassion won’t go unchallenged.
No one would describe Mat Staver, Richard Land and Sam Rodriguez as progressive leaders, and yet even they have made a point of reaching out to the Republican candidates to take issue with anti-immigrant posturing on the campaign trail.
Land also joined Jim Wallis at evangelical Cedarville University this weekend for a conference on immigration that specifically addressed this same problem. Carl Ruby, vice president for student life at the school, compared today’s moment to the history of civil rights:
Most white evangelicals didn’t support the civil-rights movement 50 years ago, and today’s white evangelicals find that regrettable, Ruby said. He doesn’t want evangelicals to feel the same way about the immigration issue someday.
While some of these efforts are motivated by electoral politics (see Staver’s fear that alienating Latinos will “push them..into a liberal, political, leftist machine“), if religious conservatives succeed in walking the GOP back from this dangerous cliff and away from policies that would do serious harm to American families, it will be an important victory.
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