Posted on Aug 9, 2004 | by James A. Smith Sr.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--God is cool again in the Democratic Party.
Besides the determined effort to validate its commitment to fighting terrorism, the decision by party leaders during the Democratic National Convention to show more empathy for values and especially for religiously motivated voters was perhaps the most strategic component of John Kerry's coronation as his party's presidential standard-bearer. Only time will tell if evangelicals and other citizens of faith find the new outreach sincere and compelling.
Capping off a week of overt messages intended to attract the faith vote, Kerry accepted his party's nomination with this declaration: "I don't wear my religion on my sleeve, but faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday.
"I don't want to claim that God is on our side," Kerry continued. "As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side. And whatever our faith ... one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country."
In a fiery introduction of his fellow Vietnam War veteran, former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland told delegates about giving his childhood Bible to Kerry on the day the Massachusetts senator announced his presidential candidacy. Other speakers, including several ministers, made repeated biblical references. And the word "values" was among the most popular buzzwords of the meeting.
A week before the convention, the DNC began running a commercial titled "Faith" on Spanish-language television stations in 10 swing states, and convention events included a "People of Faith Caucus" with about 100 clergy and activists.
On the eve of the convention, the party announced the hiring of a director of religious outreach, Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson -- the first ever, BeliefNet.com reported. Peterson's hiring came shortly after Kerry’s campaign officials marginalized their own religious adviser Mara Vanderslice after her participation in liberal protest groups came to light.
Peterson resigned Aug. 5 after news reports revealed she was one of 32 clergy to file an amicus curiae brief supporting Michael Newdow's recent effort to excise the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.
Adding to these public relations gaffes, it's clear Democrats haven't uniformly warmed to the task of reaching out to mainstream religious voters. Former presidential candidate Howard Dean (who said during the campaign that Job is his favorite New Testament book!) told a group of activists in Boston that voters in the South will eventually turn away from voting "guns, God and gays and start voting on education, healthcare and jobs," according to CNSNews.com.
It should come as no surprise that the Democrats' Hollywood caucus may not be entirely on board in the new effort of appealing to religious voters. A panel of celebrities could barely conceal their hatred for evangelicals, according to CNSNews.com. Representative of the actors was notoriously left-winger Alec Baldwin who declared the Republican Party "has been hijacked by these fundamentalist wackos" -- a thinly veiled attempt, yet again, to link evangelicals with the Muslim extremists who commandeered planes on 9/11.
Democrats aren't alone in their discomfort with religious voters. Some Republican leaders are uneasy -- and some hostile -- to the involvement of religiously motivated citizens in their party. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is only one of a number of pro-abortion rights, pro-"gay" rights politicians who will be featured during the Republican Convention in New York.
LIBERAL RELIGIOUS AGENDA
In spite of the flurry of recent activity among Democrats, the truth is the Religious Left is no newcomer to politics. Long before the Religious Right arrived in Washington in the late 1970s, liberal religionists had a well-established presence there. United Methodists, for example, own a large building in Washington across the street from the Supreme Court on one side and the Capitol on the other.
The ultra-liberal, historically politically active National Council of Churches recently published, "Christian Principles in an Election Year," a statement and study guide for churches identifying 10 principles for Christian involvement in politics. The guide urges believers to "find out a candidate's record/platform" on:
-- War/conflict: "War is contrary to the will of God."
-- Urban decay: "We look for political leaders who will rebuild our communities and bring an end to the cycles of violence and killing."
-- Foreign policy: "... our security depends on the well-being of our global neighbors."
-- Economic justice: "God calls us to be advocates for those who are most vulnerable in our society."
-- Racial justice: "Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth" -- which somehow doesn't translate for the NCC into a pro-life position on abortion.
-- Environmental justice: "We look for political leaders who recognize the earth's goodness, champion environmental justice, and uphold our responsibility to be stewards of God's creation."
-- Immigration: "Christians have a biblical mandate to welcome strangers."
-- Healthcare: "We look for political leaders who will support adequate, affordable and accessible health care for all."
-- Criminal justice: "We look for political leaders who seek a restorative, not retributive, approach to the criminal justice system and the individuals within it."
-- Public education and children's services: "Providing enriched learning environments for all of God's children is a moral imperative."
There's little doubt about the type of candidates this effort seeks to assist. Note the absence of any discussion of issues like abortion, gay “marriage” and other matters of concern to conservative, evangelical voters. The guide suggests ending the study with the prayer, "O God, what is your yearning for us in this important election year?"
The NCC reports that more than 3,000 churches have downloaded the guide, which also includes voter registration resources.
Isn't it interesting that liberal watchdogs like Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) have not questioned whether the NCC's education effort violates their tax-exempt status? After all, the left-leaning AU hasn't hesitated to attack voter education causes by conservatives.
In a radio interview on NPR, AU's Barry Lynn (ordained by the United Church of Christ, but never installed as a pastor) tried to smear a Southern Baptist voter registration/education effort (www.iVoteValues.com) as a veiled vote-Republican campaign. AU also has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against Arkansas Baptist pastor Ronnie Floyd claiming his July 4 sermon -- urging members to vote according to biblical principles -- violates his church's tax-exempt status.
NCC liberal churches and Southern Baptist conservative churches are both filled with members who believe they are voting according to their faithful convictions -- and some will inevitably be canceling the votes of their fellow church members.
Although both major political parties have constituencies of religiously motivated activists, the liberal media and the Democratic Party repeatedly suggest -- as the DNC did in Boston -- that somehow it is conservative religious folks who are endangering the Constitution. Worse still are those who attempt to intimidate evangelical churches and voters from responsible Christian citizenship during the election season.
During the Democratic Convention, I did not hear even one political pundit suggest that the party's newfound interest in promoting a religious message imperiled the separation of church and state. But you can be sure this canard will be thrown around generously when the GOP meets in New York -- and some Republicans will be among the first to make the case! These double standards must end.
This election season, evangelicals must send a message to the news media and both political parties: Let religiously motivated voters have a serious debate among ourselves about how issues like abortion, gay “marriage” and displaying the Ten Commandments in public places are balanced against issues like poverty, healthcare and the environment when casting our ballots in November. Let mainline Protestants, Jews and Catholics contend with evangelicals and other Jews and Catholics about the great issues facing our society, fully recognizing the propriety of both liberal and conservative faith voters to participate in the electoral process. And, let the candidates make the case for how their religious values inform their public policy convictions.
Let's put away forever in this country the absurd and dangerous notion that the political involvement of religiously motivated evangelical voters threatens the very ideal of American democracy.
John Kerry would go a long way toward demonstrating the authenticity of his party's renewed interest in religious voters by rejecting the politics of religious apartheid in America and welcoming as legitimate political players even those voters who may be compelled by their values to support his opponent. Only then will his faith claims ring true.
James A. Smith Sr. is the executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness.
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