Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Missionary Position

Ruth Marcus on the Democrats’ trying to win over the evangelical vote:

Democrats these days are a party on a mission that might sound impossible: to persuade evangelical Christian voters to consider converting — to the Democratic Party.

Just as Republicans have worked, and to some extent succeeded, at peeling off some African American voters from the Democratic Party, evangelical voters are too big a part of the electorate (about a quarter) for one party simply to write off.

Democrats have a shot at luring some of them, but it’s a long shot, and one that poses dangerous temptations for the party as it tries to narrow the God gap.

[…]

To some extent, Democrats could help themselves with evangelicals simply by showing up — at the megachurches, on Christian radio and in other venues where Democrats have been scarce. Whether the Democrats are deploying the right messengers is more questionable: a liberal San Francisco Democrat and a civil union-signing Vermont governor may not be the party’s best bet with evangelicals. More important, occasional drop-bys and clunky dropping of biblical references aren’t going to do the trick. These voters weren’t born again yesterday.

Rather, the Democrats’ discussion with evangelicals has to get beyond linguistic “reframing” to substantive areas where the Democrats and evangelicals can find common ground: poverty, the environment, Darfur.

The question is whether differences on the much hotter-button issues of abortion and gay rights are nonetheless deal-breakers. For the traditionalist evangelicals, almost certainly they are. But some centrists may be reachable; they may be opposed to same-sex marriage, for example, but more supportive of other equal rights measures for gays.

It’s become obvious that some of the right-wing evangelicals have gone beyond the fringe for a lot of moderate and even Republican voters; the excesses of the Terri Schiavo episode last year turned off a lot of people and conveyed the image of froth-mouthed intolerance for those who might have a different view on faith and practice.

It’s also interesting to find that there are full-tilt evangelicals who are openly welcoming gay and lesbian church-goers. I recently became acquainted with a blog called Straight, Not Narrow, and followed the link to his church. The mission statement is unabashedly evangelical, and unabashedly pro-gay.

We desire to be bridge builders in the Christian community. We are a congregation that seeks to bridge the non-gay community with the gay and lesbian communities through our relationship with Christ. Our primary purpose is to minister to the spiritual needs of the gay and lesbian community in the metro Washington, DC, area by providing a safe, nurturing environment for praise and worship, Christian fellowship, and study of the practical application of Bible-based principles of how to live a spiritually fruitful and prosperous life through our covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father!

I have to admit that I was surprised — and impressed. Chalk it up to my own ignorance that “evangelical” didn’t automatically mean “anti-gay,” but the atmosphere has been so poisoned by the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell over the last thirty years that the more tolerant among them have been shoved aside — when was the last time you saw someone like Apostle Dale Jarrett on Larry King Live?

It would be great if the Democrats could attract more faith-based voters, and not for the obvious reason of getting their candidates elected. It would do a lot to educate everyone — including Democrats — that the Religious Reich doesn’t rule the world just yet.