Some Democrats, worried that their party’s image is too secular, are urging their candidates to get religion.
In September, a group of Democrats launched a new Web site, www.faithfuldemocrats.com, designed to reach out to religious voters. Although not an official party site, the forum is expected to include participation by party candidates and leaders.
The site was created by David Wilhelm and Jesse Lava, two Democratic strategists who say they were dismayed to see so many religious voters gravitate toward the Republicans in 2004. The site, the two say, will be “explicitly Christian” and aimed at members of mainline denominations and moderate evangelicals.
“In the next presidential election, a winning Democratic nominee is going to have to prove that he can navigate the shoals of the faith issue,” Wilhelm told USA Today. “That doesn’t mean you have to go around spouting biblical verses. You should have the ability to speak from your heart on those values that come from religious traditions.”
Not surprisingly, the site will contain explicitly partisan content and will be used to raise money and find volunteers for candidates. After its launch, the site was used to raise money for Bob Casey, an anti-abortion Democrat seeking a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania.
Participants said they are tired of the GOP assuming to speak for all religious people. Among them is Roy Herron, a former minister who runs the Democratic Party in Tennessee.
“I’m tired of politicians and partisans and preachers spelling God G-O-P,” Herron said during a conference call with reporters. “Now many Americans think Jesus never rode a donkey and today only rides an elephant. The truth is, God cannot be held hostage by a political party. And American Christians should not be either.”
Tom Minnery, senior vice president of the supposedly nonpartisan Focus on the Family, was predictably hostile to the new thrust.
“It’s demeaning to speak of God in political terms, but there are moral standards that emanate from the Bible, and Republicans have adopted more of them,” he told USA Today.
The new Democratic effort is clearly part of an ongoing strategy to create a party image that is friendly toward religion. In June, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) gave a well-publicized speech in which he chided his party for failing to “acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people.”
Last year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) convened a 42-member “Faith Working Group,” and this fall, Democratic leaders will unveil an advisory team consisting of religious leaders.
Not everyone is fond of the ongoing efforts to add more religion to politics. In his new book Piety & Politics: The Right Wing Assault on Religious Freedom, AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn warns that these trends are not good for American politics.
“Scriptural affirmation for secular law is what one strives for in a theocracy; commonly shared community values based on the Constitution’s framework for justice is what we ought to seek in a democracy,” writes Lynn.