Cizik wasn't the only example of this shift at the Prayer Breakfast. At the main event earlier in the day, keynote speaker Bono (of U2 and antipoverty crusading fame) enjoyed a far more enthusiastic reception than President Bush, whose applause was, several conservative religious leaders told me, surprisingly weak. ("He got a standing ovation when he entered, but that's because you have to stand," observed one evangelical.) It could have had something to do with the fact that Bono highlighted this tension between what's good for corporate interests and what serves the cause of justice. He went through a litany of examples-trade agreements that make it harder for Third-World countries to sell their products, tax policies that shift debt to the next generation, patent laws that raise the price of life-saving drugs-and then put the challenge to his audience: "God will not accept that. Mine won't, at least. Will yours?"

Evangelicals-particularly centrists-are increasingly answering, "No!" Rick Warren has recently started a campaign to end global poverty, reminding his followers that "Life is not about having more and getting more-it's about serving God and serving others." Groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) are taking up Cizik's cause; 63 percent of evangelicals in a recent survey released by EEN said that global warming was an immediate concern. Half went even further, agreeing that steps needed to be taken to reduce global warming, even if it meant a high economic cost for the United States. Former National Review writer Rod Dreher has a just-published book that urges religious conservatives to question negative consequences of the free market.

The list of issues these evangelicals care about extends beyond the social hot-buttons that win elections. And yet, as Cizik notes, when they try to promote concerns that threaten the interests of big business, evangelicals are stymied every time.

Giving Karl Rove Heartburn
Like an abusive boyfriend, Republicans keep moderate evangelicals in the coalition by alternating between painting their options as bleak and wooing them with sweet talk. You can't leave me-where are you going to go? To them? They think you're stupid, they hate religion. Besides, you know I love you-I'm a compassionate conservative. The tactic works as long as evangelicals don't call the GOP's bluff and as long as Democrats are viewed as hostile to religion.

Randy Brinson is proof that some evangelicals are willing to take their chances and cross over to see what Democrats have to offer. There is a growing recognition among mainstream Democrats and the once-quiescent Religious Left that they can reframe issues they care about in terms that appeal to religious voters. But winning over moderate evangelicals-or moderate religious voters generally-will take more than just repackaging old positions. It will require aggressively staking out new positions that can be used to demonstrate the tension within the GOP's religious/business coalition-embracing, for instance, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. And it means forwarding new ideas that can counter the conservative-promoted image of progressives as anti-religious-ideas like Bible-as-literature courses in public high schools, which might anger some secularists on the left but are perfectly consonant with liberal values.


Despite all of the punditry about a "God gap" at the voting booth, this is a better moment for Democrats to pick up support from religious moderates than any other time in the past few decades. That's because evangelicals themselves are the ones who are broadening the faith agenda, insisting that there are issues they care about beyond abortion and gay marriage, connecting Gospel messages about the golden rule and the Good Samaritan to the policies they want their government to support.

For 30 years, the Republican advantage among religious voters has come from being able to successfully control the definition of "religious," conflating it with "conservative" and encouraging the media to do the same. Measured against that yardstick, most Democrats come up short. But when the standard is more complex, when being religious also means caring about the environment and poverty and human rights and education, the playing field levels. Soon enough, Republicans start to miss the mark, and Democrats get a little closer.

This is what gives Karl Rove and the other GOP headcounters heartburn. A third-party candidacy by Roy Moore would be troublesome, but conservative evangelicals are ultimately loyal to the Republican Party. And while it might irritate business supporters, the administration could probably toss moderate evangelicals a few crumbs on the environment or global poverty. But once that door is opened, it can't be shut again. Whether or not large numbers of moderates migrate to the Democratic Party, if they succeed in expanding the scope of "religious issues," the GOP will lose its lock on faith.

And so Republicans revert to the only tactic they have left: fear. The fight down in Alabama has shown that they will do whatever they have to in order to prevent Democrats from claiming a piece of the religious mantle, even if it means taking what could be portrayed as the "anti-religion" stance themselves.

On the same day that Alabama Republicans launched their filibuster of the Bible literacy bill, state GOP chairwoman Twinkle Cavanaugh published an op-ed that charged the Bible curriculum was written by "ultra-liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council for Islamic Education, and the People for the American Way." (It was not.)

Randy Brinson chuckled as he reported this to me, saying, "This is smokin' them out. Now we see what they really care about. It's not religion; they care about power." He may have the last laugh. According to convoluted state law, Democrats can revive the Bible literacy bill after the Alabama legislature approves all of its budget bills this spring-and they have the votes to pass it.