Today's New York Times
has an article about Mara Vanderslice
, who is working with Democratic candidates on outreach to religious voters in red states, and red areas in blue states.
I don't have a problem with reaching out to religious voters, nor do I have a problem with the idea that so-called Christian values ought to extend beyond hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage. My problem is that this misguided effort by Democrats can only have one result if such outreach is to succeed -- complete capitulation to the "Christian nation" beliefs of such voters. It's not that we secular Democrats are intolerant of Christians. Our reticence about such outreach is based in the fact that prosletyzing and conversion, often forced conversion, are so much a part of Christian heritage, and are still at the heart of evangelical Christianity today.
No one, not even the most ardent secularists, is telling Christians that they can't worship at the church of their choice. No one is telling them that they can't believe abortion is a sin, or that homosexuality is an abomination. I think they're wrong, but unlike Christians, I'm not forcing anyone to believe anything. But their right to believe stops at the bodies of women other than their own, and at the door of the homes of gay couples. That they think abortion is a sin does not give them the right to make that decision for someone else; and that they think homosexuality is an abomination that they don't want to have to look at does not give them the right to have their delicate sensibilities codified into law.
The kind of Christian voters to whom this outreach is designed to appeal are not the kinds that Rev. Welton Gaddy tries mightily to promote on State of Belief
, his weekly radio show on Air America Radio; the kind who believe that caring for the poor is a Christian value. It's designed to appeal to the kind of busybody moral scolds that have been the Republican base since the Reagan years.
Barack Obama, who is widely expected to make a presidential run, has already decided that Christians should be the arbiters of morality for the entire nation, as Digby pointed out last month
Let me be clear about this. I do not dislike Obama nor do I think his conciliatory tone is necessarily incorrect. There is utility in showing the religious right's fundamental intolerance if nothing else. I do find his split-the-difference, triangulation tiresome, however, in the same way I find the news media's he said/she said analysis lazy. It does not clarify anything, it obscures reality and it makes it difficult for Democrats to take a stand on the social justice issues that might just inspire some people of faith. You will notice that in his statement above about absolutism he only calls out two groups by name --- Democrats and Muslims. Yet, there is no more intolerant group of people in this entire country than the religious right. By failing to "include" them by name in his call for conciliation he validates their phony argument that they are the victims of intolerance.
Democrats had better realize that the flavor of Christianity whose voters they covet is one of "My way or the highway." Are we going to throw all of our Democratic values out the window because a few voters who are unlikely to go Democratic anyway simply cannot handle anyone else having a different idea of what constitutes morality? There are worse ways to live than "Do what thou wilt, harm none", which is largely what Democrats have stood for.
There is a reason for separation of church and state. And if anyone doubted why such a wall is important, Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode's disgusting display of ignorant bigotry
last week is Exhibit A. As soon as a particular religious tradition refuses to allow that there are many paths to enlightenment, intolerance of people who do not toe a particular religious line is sure to follow. We cannot prevent such intolerance from occurring within the churches of America, but we do not have to codify it into law.
Democrats can try to plow the furrows of evangelical voters if they want. But there are plenty of us out here who are watching, and the minute we see a Democratic candidate embrace theocrats, we will be more than happy to withdraw our own support.