Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

The “Pro-God” Parts of America

Look carefully and you’ll notice that Republicans lately have not only been saying that Red Staters are more “pro-America” than others but also that they’re more pro-God.
John McCain said recently that Western Pennsylvania is the “most God-loving” part of the country. A Republican congressman Robin Hayes declared, “There’s a real America, and liberals hate real Americans that work, and accomplish, and achieve, and believe in God.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said last month that Democrats “find Governor Palin quite horrifying because she actually believes in God.”
Here’s the sad thing: I think many on the right actually believe that Democrats, by definition, don’t believe in God — and that those who claim they do are phonies.
Former Senator Rick Santorum recently explained that Obama and liberal Protestants in general couldn’t really claim to be real Christians because of their theology. “When you take a salvation story and turn it into a liberation story you’ve abandoned Christiandom and I don’t think you have a right to claim it,” he said. “You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian.”


Conservative columnist Cal Thomas had earlier made a similar point after reading that Obama left open the possibility that non-Christians might be able to get into heaven:

“Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Obama doesn’t meet that requirement,” Thomas said. “One cannot deny central tenets of the Christian faith, including the deity and uniqueness of Christ as the sole mediator between God and Man and be a Christian. Such people do have a label applied to them in Scripture. They are called ‘false prophets.'”

I can recall vividly the moment when I realized most clearly that the religious gulf among Americans has become not about differences in worship but about the legitimacy of other people’s worship. I had been spending a lot of time talking with conservative evangelicals about the religious landscape and then happened to find myself at a liberal protestant church for worship services. I was struck by how, well, religious it was – like they actually seemed to deeply love Jesus Christ, his word, his life and his meaning.
It probably shouldn’t have surprised me that I’d find religious people in a church service but I’d absorbed the notion from my conservative evangelical friends that liberals who do attend church do so for political reasons, not because they love God.
This view helps explain the disdain some conservatives have for Obama’s religiosity. As one person posted as a comment on my blog, “”Obama as an adult joined the a Black Liberation UCC church. There is decidedly nothing Christian about this religion.”
If Beliefnet has stood for anything, it’s that to worship God deeply does not require demonizing other faiths. This is not the same as saying all religions are true but rather that citizens of a pluralistic nation should aspire to a basic respect of each other’s faith and the sincerity of their spiritual journey.
Democrats are not blameless. I’ve seen some mock Sarah Palin’s membership in a Pentecostal church as proof of her unfitness for office. Conservative evangelicals are often cast, privately, as wacky or stupid. It offends me when Obama supporters send around the video of Palin being prayed for by a Pentecostal minister decrying witchcraft. What’s she supposed to do? Interrupt the prayer and say, “sorry – can’t sign on to that part. Please resume”? As regular readers of this space know, I’ve defended Sarah Palin’s faith repeatedly.
But I don’t want to engage in false equivalence on this point. I’ve seen and read many bigoted rank-and-file Democrats but I’ve yet to see a major Democratic Party leader suggest that the faith of Republicans or conservatives is illegitimate. (If I’m missing an example, please point me to it). Indeed, Obama ruffled feathers on the left by declaring a few years ago. “There are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word “Christian” describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.” He has challenged Democrats to embrace religious ideas and impulses as a legitimate part of political discourse.
One of the most stunning things about the latest raft of polls is how well Obama is currently doing among the very religious. He’s now beating McCain among mainline Protestants who attend church weekly and tying him among Catholics who attend mass every week. If Obama wins, it may well be because millions of devout Americans support him. Conservatives who continue to push the idea that a vote for McCain is a vote for God, will only end up losing more and more religious voters who resent being told their faith is inauthentic.

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posted October 24, 2008 at 2:03 pm

It amazes me how often people equate what they believe with what they claim is God’s plan, commandmants, or wishes. Accoring to the tenents of most religions God stopped speaking directly to humans a long time ago. M

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posted October 24, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Another great post!
I am a moderate to liberal Christian. I have no problem with anyone’s religious beliefs as long as they do not try to force their beliefs on others.
It is my opinion that many on the religious right are hypocrites that judge and demonize others.
Apparently Cal Thomas does not remember George W Bush’s interview with Charlie Gibson before the 2004 election and interviews with Billy Gramm.
Bush said he thought all religions made it to heaven, they just had a different route, including non-terrorist Muslims. Do a search on youtube. I also found a transcript on the Internet.
Bush’s statements did not reduce support with Evangelicals or James Dobson.
Billy Graham made similar statements, while acknowledging his thoughts had changed with age. Graham said he could not speak for God on who made it to heaven
Yet many Evangelicals have continually smeared Obama. The majority have never listened to the complete Rev Wright sermons or learned what to know he was G** D*** the Bush administration, not the American people, for starting an unjust war in Iraq that would kill innocent people. He talked about the deaths of the little babies by using verses from the old testament, think it was Psalms, about babies heads being smashed against the rocks.
I did not like the style of Wright’s sermons, which are too loud for me. I thought his message was outstanding. Wright would not be a well respected pastor for a large number of pastors if he was the person painted by the media and others.
While Steven has been great at not demonizing people, there are other blogs on Beliefnet that do demonize Obama and Wright.
Crunchy Corn had a recent blog about how the right should be using Wright. He makes very negative statements about Wright. It is my opinion that the statements were demonizing.
I have been shocked that Beliefnet allows Michele, Reformed Blabbering Chick (may not ne exact) blog. She uncritically spreads false statements from the McCain campaign. She makes terrible statement.

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posted October 24, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Steven, One of the reasons this works is because there is a counterpart in religion. I converted to Judaism through Reformed and Conservative synagogues. However, I did go through all the training to convert to Orthodoxy, but did not. I used to study with Orthodox friends who would get angry at exclusionary comments made by liberal Jews, but then had to remind them that, technically, for them, I wasn’t Jewish either,and they were excluding me. As well, I did hear personally exclusionary comments from Orthodox Rabbis pertaining to all reformed Jews.
My point is that Conservative/Orthodox groups often completely exclude more liberal groups from the whole faith, while liberal groups might disagree with more orthodox groups, they wouldn’t deny them inclusion.
So, exclusion from the faith exists in religious discourse, and can be quite effective if turned to political uses.
One thing about Judaism which might or might not differ from other religions. By and large, Orthodox Rabbis and friends had no problem being my friend, studying with me, or praying with me, even though I didn’t count for a minyan. I know that there are other orthodox groups that would completely exclude me, but my experience was, although I couldn’t participate in certain rituals, as long as I was studying and keeping an open mind about orthodoxy and even living it, I had no problems. Again, I have no idea how common my experience was.
PS. When I was a Zen student in college, I did have friends and even a teacher or two who would make a point of saying that people who called themselves Buddhists, say, weren’t really Buddhists.

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posted October 24, 2008 at 3:51 pm

When the Bible says not to judge, it is referring to not judging someone lest you yourself be judged. The Bible never says do not judge at all. The reason alot of conservatives say that most democrats cannot truly be Christians is that a good majority of elected democrats (liberals) are PRO abortion and PRO gay marriage. Bush was wrong in his statements. The Bible is clear on how to get to Heaven. “I am the way the truth and the life; NO MAN cometh unto the Father BUT BY ME.” — Jesus Christ (John 14:6). “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13).
7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.
8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

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posted October 24, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Thanks Steven for great comments on this subject. When so many of the blogs on Beliefnet are only one way or the other, it is refreshing to find the diplomacy of middle ground.

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posted October 24, 2008 at 4:27 pm

I love Jesus but am deeply offended by the lack of basic information about what he said and did by those who claim the exclusive right to define what being “Christian” means.
With respect, I’ve read the book. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Jesus himself specifically say that at the end of time he is not going to know people who say, “Lord, Lord” and didn’t follow the very clear agenda he laid out. And didn’t he also say that he is going to recognize and welcome folks who never heard of him but served him and his agenda anyway?
I remember once going into a great all you can eat barbeque place in Lexington, SC and seeing a sign above the cash register that said, “Only Jesus raised someone from the dead.” The cashier affirmed the slogan until reminded of an Old Testament major prophet. Then he blamed the owner, and said he just worked there.
It’s exasperating how ignorant self-professed Christians are about what the book says and about what Jesus actually said and did. In addition to reading their own book, it might be useful to read the books that Obama wrote. Jesus had an agenda. With respect, Obama’s agenda and his approach seems to me very Jesus-oriented, and far more conservative in the traditional meaning of that word than either of the major parties have offered Americans in recent years.

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posted October 24, 2008 at 4:42 pm

“… ‘Do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes Lord, you know I do.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my sheep,'” John 21:15
Real Americans open food banks, homeless shelters, abuse centers and foster kids. Pro God Americans are not just in the rural communities or in Western PA, they are where ever the need is met.
Pro God Americans don’t line their pockets with the hard earn money of the middle class and stash it in off shore banks so that they won’t pay taxes. Real Americans are pro people and pro God. They are more concerned with the welfare of others than themselves. That is the history of America that is great.
Real America is liberal and working in the trenches. They are not the one who tok part in the “White Flight” from the Urban centers but stayed to welcome their new neighbors. They ar enot the ones who abandoned the Public Education but staye dto fix it. They ar not the ones who locked theselves in theirt home wth bars and alarms, but created neighborhood watches to safeguard their neighbors.
I am a real American, I am pro God and I am a liberal. So sue me if I care.

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posted October 24, 2008 at 5:17 pm

Hi, Paul:
I love your agenda. It’s just that I thought it was conservative. Whatever it is, I endorse it and I’ve already voted for it this year. Jesus loved people, not markets. I believe in markets because, properly administered, they serve people. When people aren’t properly clothed, fed, and cared for by markets then I’m for the alternative. I’m just appalled at how people wrap themselves in Jesus and forget what he said and did.

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posted October 24, 2008 at 5:57 pm

Bush is the President to all Americans. I think it is inappropriate to ask anyone running for President whether they believe only people that believe in Jesus are going to heaven.
It does not matter what they believe, we are electing a President, not a church head.
I do not see much Republican concern for the “least of these.” All the false attacks on Obama being a socialist because he want to give a higher tax cut for the lowest earner demonstrates a lack of empathy for the struggling lower class.
The small extra amount could make a major difference in their life. Paying 3 percent more for incomes over $200,000/$250,000 is not to much. They paid substantially more under Reagan and other Presidents.
McCain would save $400,000 per year under his plan, which is a drop in the bucket for a couple worth several million.

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posted October 24, 2008 at 7:04 pm

Josh: Note John 12:32: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”(NIV, emphasis added) Note also Romans 5:18: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of on act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”(NIV, emphasis added) Finally, I point out Mark 9:39-40, in which Jesus chides his disciples who have complained about someone not a member of their group who is driving out demons: “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”(NIV)
Many of the Church Fathers believed in universal salvation: Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Gregory of Nyssa, among others; and Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen were not negative to it, though they did not endorse it, either. More recently, Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the late Pope John Paul II’s favorite theologians (John Paul even made him a cardinal, though he died before the ceremony), wrote a book, Dare We Hope All Men Be Saved? Von Balthasar’s answer to this question was “yes”, that though we can’t dogmatically affirm that all will be saved, it is at least a legitimate hope. The book was controversial, but neither it nor its author was ever condemned by the Vatican.
Now, one is free to believe as one wishes, but I’ll take the above-mentioned worthies over Cal Thomas or Rick Santorum any day of the week. Regardless of what such moderns may say, I think there is good and venerable reason to hold out the hope for the salvation of all; and to believe so does not compromise one’s faith, or make one not a “real” Christian.
In any case, I think that many conservative Christian leaders need to get the beams out of their own eyes before worrying about the motes in others’.

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posted October 25, 2008 at 2:23 am

Hi, I enjoyed reading this, thinking about the differences in different |Christian religions. I am what is known as a Pro life Democrat. I have met many people in Church that are very good Christians that believe that we must take care of “the least of us”, and they do extensive work at helping people, in many ways. I had never given much thought to how the Right looked at Liberals. It makes sense tho, to think that perhaps they don’t believe we love God or believe in Jesus. Gives me something to think about. Thank you.

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posted October 25, 2008 at 3:33 am

Why is waldman surprised at this?
The whole ‘orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy’ in-fighting between christians has been going on since the 2nd century. Hence, it IS tradition.

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