Compared to the Republican Party, the Democrats’ embrace of politicized religion came late. And because Democrats have only in the last 5-6 years learned how to do the God talk (thanks in large part to the efforts of Jim “The Prophet” Wallis) they can be excused as greenhorns when they whine about not getting the Church folk more mobilized for blatantly partisan efforts.
But it is really annoying when those in the pews don’t go the extra mile, isn’t it?
In a media gabfest with religion reporters this week on Capitol Hill, Democratic senators “acknowledged the involvement of faith communities in debating moral and social issues such as health care reform and economic recovery,” according to a report by PBS.org. But the senators also questioned “whether there are limits to the role religious groups can play when it comes to what Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar called ‘dealing with the nitty gritty’ of partisan politics.” She’s frustrated.
Klobuchar said in conference calls with Minnesota faith leaders about Senate slowness on immigration issues she has been told that when it comes to pure political strategy, religious groups are “not involved” and “don’t deal with that stuff.” How, then, can faith communities “play a larger and louder role” and “push back,” she asked, at a time when the politics of immigration reform are most at issue? Can they serve as a force and a voice for getting past political differences to common ground?
The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein fleshed out the complaint in “How Influential is the Progressive Left?”:
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar addressed, perhaps unintentionally, a question many Democrats ask privately: How influential, really, are faith groups on the left? How vast are their e-mail networks? How organized are their members? How deep are their pockets? How aggressive are they willing to get?
Klobuchar was relaying conversations she had with some faith activists pushing her on immigration reform, and how she explained to them the challenges posed by a lack of GOP support. The activists, she said, didn’t seem especially interested in the politics, being primarily focused on what they saw as the moral imperative of reform. “The question for me is, where does the faith community’s role begin and end?” she said.
But Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow was there to reassure Klobuchar that “some religious groups do, in fact, have ‘comfort in the partisan arena’ and are willing to ‘get into strategy and partisan differences.’”
Stabenow, the chair of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, and a person who feels the effects of global warming on bumpy plane rides, observed that a government budget is “a moral document.” Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, the Prophet.
In the last election cycle, when Jim Wallis was panting after Democrat candidates with his talking points, he was fond of referring to government budgets as moral documents. Yes, and by that debased yardstick, what government action doesn’t have a moral dimension? Zoning appeals? Water bills? Parking tickets?
In 2005, Newsweek wrote about Jim Wallis schooling Howard Dean on the God talk:
Politics is about connecting. It’s no accident that the two Democrats elected president in recent years have been Southern Baptists. Jimmy Carter is a born-again evangelical, and Bill Clinton has a deep appreciation and knowledge of religion. Voters want to know about the moral compass of their leaders, and religious expression is one of the guideposts. Dean understands the challenge, and it doesn’t mean that he has to take a press pool with him to church on Sundays. But he has to begin to define Democratic ideas and policies in moral terms. For starters, Wallis says budgets are moral documents. They reflect the values of a family, city or nation. Democrats should do a “values audit” of President Bush’s budget—who wins, who loses, who suffers, who benefits.
The problem with this of course is that when you offer up religious faith to partisan political ends — to either the left or the right — you offer up a counterfeit, a faith that is oriented toward toadying favor with too-often-corrupt power structures, not toward the glory of God. “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1-10). This counterfeit faith, so cheaply offered, lacks the Truth that is in real faith and because the counterfeit so disappoints those for whom it promised political ends, there is no gratitude but plenty of scorn. Like the sentiments you get from the likes of Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
And what of the “faith friendly” GOP, where the altar fires are tended by the Religious Right? Recall the New York Daily News story that described how the Republican National Committee “spent almost $2,000 [in February] at an erotic, bondage-themed West Hollywood club, where nearly naked women – and men – simulate sex in nets hung from above.” Now there’s some family values for you!
Asked at the Capitol Hill media event about a reported decline in Democratic Party outreach to faith communities, PBS said that Stabenow characterized Senate Democratic outreach as “aggressive” and “not diminishing.” And, she added, “Every issue is about values.”
Yes, Senator, indeed it is.