What do the death penalty, the Sudan, Iraq, and the environment have in common? Many of my Republican friends identify these issues with far-left hippies, protesting in tie-dye, singing Kumbaya. While, in fact, these are issues the left cares about, they are also issues of great moral importance to the religious community – the same community that Conservatives argue to have ownership of.
As a progressive and a deeply religious person, I can tell you Republican conservatives are dead wrong.
The lazy reading of the polls by the media, and a lot of spin, is what has led to such simplistic characterizations of religious Americans as ‘Conservative"’ (as an aside, the Democrats haven’t exactly helped themselves by insulting the intelligence of deeply religious voters). A deeper examination of polls finds some interesting results. Yes, for some evangelical Christians, the phrase “moral values” centrally expresses an antipathy to abortion or opposition to gay marriage – issues the GOP plays to the hilt. But to many more voters, polling shows, “moral values” means caring for the poor, safeguarding the environment and expressing kindness to neighbors. You know, those things that some guy named Jesus teaches us are important.
This is proven on a host of issues.
Catholic priests and nuns are more on the forefront of the fight against the death penalty than liberal activists like Alec Baldwin.
Before the Congressional Black Caucus or the left got interested in the Sudan, evangelical Christians were on the ground there, aiding those in need.
The most effective environmental message I have ever seen were billboards in the rust belt calling for conservation that read, “What would Jesus Drive?” It wasn’t the Sierra Club or Greenpeace sponsoring the ad, it was the Evangelical Christian Network.
When Pope John Paul was near death, he called the President to him not to talk about abortion or gay marriage or pornography. The most important issue to the Holy Father was avoiding a war in Iraq.
Conservatives are fooling themselves if they believe they can continue to hold on to religious voters by supporting penny-ante issues like posting the Ten Commandments in public places. It’s not the support for those things that has moved many religious Americans to pull the GOP lever on Election Day, it is that Conservatives are smart enough to sit down and listen to religious leaders, and show them proper respect.
Bill Clinton understood this, and that it why he was the last Democratic politician to effectively reach out to the religious community and bring them into his camp. Unlike President Bush, Bill Clinton didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve. He didn’t brag about all the times he went to church, or claim that he had a direct line to God. What Clinton did, with great mastery, was sit down and listen to communities of faith and let them know he heard them, understood them, and would work with them on the greater issues of our time where they saw eye to eye. On issues they did not see eye to eye on, such as gay rights, he was honest about his difference of opinion and moved on.
I ran into Bill Clinton not too long ago, and asked him about this. He told me that religious communities are telling him that they would like to work with the left on issues like Iraq, the environment, Sudan, and the death penalty, but since Clinton left office, no Democratic politicians are calling them anymore.
The key here is that religious Americans do have more in common with progressives on the major issues of our times than they do with conservative Republicans. If Conservatives were smart, they would begin to open a dialogue with religious leaders on the “liberal” issues above, and begin to show genuine concern on them, before Democrats wise up, take Bill Clinton’s advice, and make a move for this critical constituency by inviting them to the table.
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