Listening to the three Democratic evangelists, er, presidential candidates at Monday night’s Sojourners’ Faith, Values, and Poverty Conference, I couldn’t help noticing some serious mistakes they are making in trying to sound like “Godly” political leaders. They need to repent of some big mistakes.
- They are falling into Bush’s “pastor in chief” trap. When he was running for president in 2000 and again in 2004, Bush convinced Christians to vote for him because of his theology and because of the way he practiced his faith. He talked about Jesus as “his personal Lord and Savior.” Behind closed doors he talked to countless clergy about his conversion experience , and the campaign encouraged those pastors to go and spread the word of his faith. Christians ate it up. But times have changed. Christians have witnessed the disaster that is the Bush presidency are wising up and beginning to ask new and different questions of the men and women running for president; they want more than symbols, they want substance. Right now too many of the Democrats seem to think that if they mention Jesus’ name more than the other candidate they might win. Enough already. We want you to show that you can lead in perilous times.
- They think the “religious left” has the power of the “religious right.” During the past 20 years a single thing has distinguished the religious right from the religious left. The religious right is organized and efficiently run. The religious left is not. Metaphorically, the religious right has been Wal-Mart and the religious left a nice farmer’s market. That is beginning to change. The religious left is getting more organized but it is still in its political infancy; think corner grocery store. Democratic candidates need to understand that simply showing up at religious left events isn’t going to win them all that many votes.
- They are avoiding faith “specifics.” Perhaps it is because the candidates fear that they will alienate the secular elements of the Democratic Party or perhaps it is because they don’t know what to say, but the presidential candidates have been fairly silent on the potentially divisive ares of faith politics. That needs to change. For instance, they need to say whether they support federal funding of religious charities and whether they believe religious charities have the right to hire and fire based on faith. Should an Orthodox Jewish charity be forced to hire a homosexual baptist? Should a Scientology charity be forced to hire an evangelical Methodist? Be specific.
Those are the mistakes that the Democrats are making. Here are the things that they need to do to prove their faith chops.
- Abortion and homosexuality – deal with them. Pro-choice Democrats aren’t ever going to win over single issue pro-lifers. Fine. But there are scores of millions of evangelical voters who care about abortion and homosexuality but aren’t single issue voters. The Democrats need to give them a reason to take a second look. One way of doing that is by being morally and politically honest about abortion. If you are pro-choice say that but say just as clearly how you want to reduce the number of teen pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies in general. Talk about gay marriage in blunt terms. Make your case one way or another but don’t try to skirt around the issues by being cute. Don’t do the “I’m morally opposed but…” thing. It makes you look dishonest. Actually it IS dishonest.
- Go straight to evangelicals. Groups like the Family Research Council are planning massive gatherings this fall. Invite yourself – since these groups are all ostensibly non-partisan for tax purposes they have to let you speak. Go. Speak. Talk about your faith, talk about abortion, talk about faith-based charities, talk about the poor. Go to evangelical churches that might not ordinarily welcome you. But if they have opened their pulpit to Republicans, they should open their pulpit to you. Don’t be bashful.
- Do what President Bush hasn’t done. He promised $8 billion a year in charity tax credits and other assistance for the poor. Boldly say that your faith compels you to do that which was left undone; that your faith compels you to help the poor. It is the right thing to do.
That it is huge news that Democratic candidates are talking faith mainly shows how devoid of faith the party had become – Howard Dean’s famous statement that Job was his favorite book in the New Testament comes to mind. The question for them now is no longer one of words, it is one of deeds. And that is downright Biblical.