What if your job was to convince evangelical voters that a liberal president is not only the best thing for America, but consistent with the Bible? Daunting task? Walk in the park? Somewhere in between? Personally, I say impossible. I’ll explain. But apparently, some are willing to take on the job.
Burns Strider. Joshua DuBois. Shaun Casey. Eric Sapp. Mara Vanderslice. Not household names, these five professed evangelicals may hold the key to Democratic victory in the 2008 presidential election. Their mission: Convince white evangelical voters that a liberal agenda is consistent with the Bible and that the expressed Christian devotion of Democratic candidates is authentic.
Three of the five are official religious outreach advisors to prospective presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Kerry. The other two run a consulting firm that advises those hoping to quarry evangelical votes. Their goal is to turn the 74-25 advantage among white evangelicals that GOP candidates for the House of Representatives had in 2004—a margin that slipped 7 percentage points in 2006—into a 50-50 proposition. Their method is to equate federally-funded poverty, health-care, and foreign-aid programs with biblical mandates to help the poor.
Well, one’s out of job (Kerry). But that would have been the most challenging of all three with Kerry’s “Elite-to-peasant” outlook.
Poll numbers hint that most Bible-believing Protestants remain skeptical about tax-funded charity but some are wavering—and Strider aims to convince them that the governmental budget is “where our priorities and our values are put into action.”
The Bible is clear on this. Even most of my liberal friends agree that the church should have the responsibility of taking care of the poor. By “the church”, I am referring to members of any church. Each church should be able to take care of the elderly and orphans in their own community.
He [Strider] must also convince greater numbers of evangelicals that Hillary Clinton shares their faith. The New York senator has long sought to connect to religious values voters.
As the former first lady now readies for another run at the White House, most evangelicals remain skeptical of her faith and politics. Clinton avoids using the language of a born-again believer. Her speeches on faith emphasize the principles of kindness rather than a personal relationship with Jesus. During her White House days she attended Foundry United Methodist Church, a D.C. congregation with a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Group, and has attended UMC churches throughout her life. Asked what church Clinton currently attends, press secretary Sam Arora said he did not know.
Strider shares similar theological commitments: His family of four attends Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church across town. When given an opportunity to express his stance on abortion, the former lead staffer of the Democrats’ Faith Working Group said he has “never supported criminalization.” He believes politicians should work to reduce the number of abortions without making them illegal, a position many Democrats share.
No born-again believer? Any Christian knows that the minimum litmus test for another’s claiming to be a Christian is whether or not they profess to be born-again. As long as Hillary avoids this, her evangelical winnings will be minimal. Besides, claiming to be born again and showing it your life are two different things. She would have to demonstrate proof for most evangelicals.
Joshua Dubois, Sen. Obama’s director of religious affairs, is guarded in discussing his personal positions. The stepson of an African Methodist Episcopal minister, he did not offer his view of abortion during a WORLD interview, but he spoke readily of his college conversion to Christianity. He said a childhood spent going through the evangelical motions turned into a robust and genuine faith: “I am saved by the grace of God. I’m a strong believer in Jesus Christ.”
Such explicit born-again language is more likely to resonate with Bible-believing evangelicals. DuBois, who maintains membership at a United Pentecostal Council Assemblies of God church in Cambridge, Mass., intends to use such credibility to vouch for the authenticity of Obama’s faith. “He’s also a Christian, a very strong one at that,” DuBois said of his employer.
Unlike Clinton, Obama entered the fray of speculation over the 2008 presidential race largely undefined in the minds of American voters. Tapping DuBois to manage the faith outreach of his prospective campaign fits well with the Illinois senator’s consistent efforts to project an evangelical image. Obama raised eyebrows on both sides of the political aisle when he spoke at the AIDS conference of evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren last month. The charming Democrat also has broadcast his faith in numerous interviews and speeches since taking national office in 2004.
Obama is more outspoken about his spiritual beliefs than Hillary or Edwards combined. But his Catholic-slash-Muslim education will warrant further scrutiny from evangelicals before they sail with him.
Many evangelicals contend that Obama does little more than support liberal politics with liberal theology—hardly ground-shaking conduct. His adult conversion to Christianity took place in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, where he and his family remain members. Trinity is an African-American congregation fiercely committed to liberation theology and income redistribution. Such doctrines have largely shaped the faith of a man with little prior religious experience. The stepson of a Muslim, Obama split his early primary education between Islamic and Catholic schools in Jakarta before moving to Hawaii at age 10 to spend adolescence with his white middle-class grandparents, who did not attend church.
DuBois admits that Obama’s outspoken faith only appears novel in light of Democrats’ recent deference to the party’s avowed secularists. In reality, Obama’s brand of religiosity amounts to a social gospel, emphasizing the humanitarian example of Jesus over the way His death and resurrection solves humanity’s sin problem. “The progressive movement in the early part of the last century was infused with Christian values and people of faith—same with the civil-rights movement,” DuBois said. “So this isn’t a new thing, but it’s a good thing that it’s happening now.”
Significant portions of the Democratic Party disagree, decrying such an open discussion of faith from their leaders. Many left-leaning bloggers responded to Clinton’s and Obama’s hiring of religious outreach specialists with the literary equivalent of rolling eyes. “Some folks on the left are uncomfortable with these topics,” DuBois said. “There is a constitutional and clear separation between church and state embedded in the fabric of our country. And some folks think that means we have to be separate not only in our legal approach to policy but also who we talk to, who we engage with, whose concerns we can li
Not even Obama’s spiritual advisor can confidently say that separation is a Constitutional right. But Americans United thinks justices should protect right of citizens to fight the government’s promotion of religion.
This is pretty obvious to me: Liberals want to hijack Christianity to pad their campaign, lure as many evangelicals as possible into voting for them, and then dump the “religious speak” out of respect for a belief in a myth of separation.
Some pundits question whether the chance to scrape off evangelical votes from the GOP is worth the risk Democrats face of deflating their secularist base.
Common Good Strategies consultant Eric Sapp believes said, “My hope would be that Christians become a perennial swing vote.”
They certainly were in 2004. And probably in 2000 too. They voted “Right” both times. I seriously doubt if they will be swayed by either far leftist Hillary or Obama by 2008.