Is phony “outreach” the only way for Dems to gain religious voters?

california religion voters, democrat party religious outreachA mid-December story from The New Republic traces “How Democrats gave up on religious voters.” In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential elections, when evangelical Methodist President Bush got more of the religious vote than did Catholic John Kerry–even from Catholic voters–Democratic activists, party officials, and members of Congress initiated a range of efforts to draw religious support. The religious vote and enthusiasm for Barack Obama in 2008 seemed to vindicate their conviction that Democrats need not concede the religious vote to Republican candidates.

Yet in last November’s mid-term elections, the proportion of the Catholic and white-evangelical vote for Democratic candidates declined back to its old, strongly pro-Republican, level. What happened?

The article proposes as the main cause this: “the left has become sluggish in its courtship of religious voters, significantly scaling back its faith-outreach programs.”

The article is well worth reading, and yet that central premise surely is deeply flawed. The way to win the support of religious voters is not more energetic “outreach” but rather standing up for the essential concerns of those voters.

That’s an inherently difficult task, of course, for the parties must take positions on multiple issues, and religious voters hold diverse views. Further, neither party’s agenda meshes perfectly with the policy convictions of all or most religiously motivated voters.

Yet, in the contest for the religious vote, the Democratic Party has hobbled itself by not standing as firmly as Republicans on the side of religious freedom for individuals and institutions. Religious voters (with few exceptions) don’t want to compel all of society to follow their faith-based convictions, but they do want society to protect their ability to live by those convictions. Democrats can gain the sympathetic ear of more of those voters not by cranking back up their outreach efforts but instead by demonstrating in word and deed their commitment to a very robust institutional as well as individual freedom of religion.

~ The Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance works to safeguard the religious identity, faith-based standards and practices, and faith-shaped services of faith-based organizations across the range of service sectors and religions, enabling them to make their distinctive and best contributions to the common good.

See additional debate on this issue from Daniel Schultz.

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Comments

  1. Kenoli Oleari says

    Thanks BGR —

    You wrote:

    “Your fidgeting thru the Lord’s Prayer at an AA meeting or local Business Xmas luncheon, overlooks a fundamental freedom of association. You don’t have to participate.”

    >>Maybe, but does sitting through a prayer have to be a requirement for being part of a public function? Should my only recourse be to not participate? Should I expect to take the group through some rite that has meaning for me or we could all accept the fact that we each make meaning in different ways and not expect everyone to participate in our individual rituals. It might feel different, in fact, if public events included a variety of rituals, asking everyone present to respect the diversity of voices and beliefs present. It gets a little grating that the one voice that keeps wanting us to all pay attention is the Christian voice.

    You also wrote:

    “That is a far cry from government prosecution or decertification of catholic hospitals, doctors, pharmacists, caregivers, faith-based social welfare agencies, and others that take their calling seriously only to be sued for some trumped up charge of discrimination from those on the Left that truly do mean to wipe out any reminder of civil or moral obligation for the sake of individual freedom and other excesses of the French Revolution.”

    >>I’m with you about the fact that the government has gone overboard in its attempt to appear not to endorse religion for fear of reprisal. It has done this in many other ways out of fear of other kinds of legal retribution. It feels similar to locking up the grounds of a local closed school to keep kids from playing there for fear of liability lawsuits. It is my perception that our world is too entirely full of the fear of consequence and too quick to try to control all aspects of life.

    At the same time, I do know that the government does fund religious groups to provide public services, healthcare and the like, as long as the funded groups don’t impose their religious beliefs through those services. Both the funding and the expectation that they not proselytize seem fair.

    –Kenoli

  2. says

    Thanks for your thoughts Kenoli. In getting to your question, “How does one address these issues in a way that attracts Christians politically? De we all have to agree to be part of Christian practice for Christians to feel secure in their beliefs?” I’d start by stipulating that both the left and the right need to “repent” from their own internal totalitarian leanings in trying to own it all.

    In a society with many different worldviews—whether traditional religions or secular humanism’s faith in progress thru science that is supposedly neutral to ultimate questions—genuine principaled pluralism will not only maintain freedom for all to bring their faith to the public square, but also protect ways that those heartfelt issues are worked out in a variety of social contexts and institutions, whether in the home, schooling, medical care and personal feredoms, workplace issues, and the legislative process, that cannot be limited to merely cultic expression as worship.

    And that pluralism must also be structural, not just “individualistic” in recognizing that social structures— as more than just a creation by “contract” (conservatism) or as creatures of the crown or state (liberalism)—have their own legitimacy and authority in civil society that includes government (not the other way around) .

    When either conservatives or liberals begin calling themselves more “christian” than the other guy, it’s time to either laugh or run away fast. At the same time, Establishment comes in many guises, whether in a public school monoploy or public nativity scenes, eh?

    Your fidgeting thru the Lord’s Prayer at an AA meeting or local Business Xmas luncheon, overlooks a fundamental freedom of association. You don’t have to participate.

    That is a far cry from government prosecution or decertification of catholic hospitals, doctors, pharmacists, caregivers, faith-based social welfare agencies, and others that take their calling seriously only to be sued for some trumped up charge of discrimination from those on the Left that truly do mean to wipe out any reminder of civil or moral obligation for the sake of individual freedom and other excesses of the French Revolution.

    For Christians who have no idea what I’m talking about, read some Abraham Kuyper. Start with the Stone Lectures.

  3. Kenoli Oleari says

    It seems to me that the Democratic orientation towards compassion and, dare I say it, “empathy” ought to resonate with Christians, after all weren’t these elements core to Jesus’ teachings? They certainly were the last time I went to Sunday school. Yet the Christian vote seems to resonate with Republican “me-ism” along with some derision for compassion, in contradiction to these values. It is interesting to me that this article states that Christians are concerned that their right to practice their religion may be threatened. I have to believe it, I guess, but as I drive through every community I see church after church and have never heard of a church being shut down or suppressed in any way. What Christians seem to want in this regard is the right to conduct Christian rites in a way that includes nonChristians in these rites, in places like schools and public gatherings. Isn’t the issue here more of asking Christians to have a tolerance for non-Christians than protecting Christians from intolerance toward them? I go to many public meetings where I feel big social pressure to participate, for instance, in prayers in which the whole audience is asked to participate. It doesn’t give me the sense that Christians are pressured to abandon their beliefs or practices. How does one address these issues in a way that attracts Christians politically? De we all have to agree to be part of Christian practice for Christians to feel secure in their beliefs?