Religious Voters and the Democrats


ClintonA recent piece in Daily Kos writes

t’s difficult to see why any believer, fundamentalist or “moderate,” should receive special treatment ― especially when even the most moderate and “progressive” Christians are nurturing the xenophobic, racist, uncharitable and decidedly “un-Christian” America we are finding ourselves in today.

And make no mistake: there is no dichotomy between religious fanatics, fundamentalists and evangelicals on the one hand and moderate, “progressive” Christians on the other. Any difference is a matter of degree, not kind.

This paragraph alone suggests a complete lack of awareness of progressive Christianity. I’ll address this in a moment. But first I want to address the idea that the religious and Christians are opposed to progressive policies and the Democratic Party. Most readers are aware of the 81% of white evangelicals who voted Donald Trump. And that this voting bloc has remained the most loyal to his presidency.

But I want to highlight some other numbers for Hillary Clinton.

68% of the religiously unaffiliated voted for Hillary. That number has been rather consistent over the last several presidential elections. It may be feeding the bias of the Daily Kos piece. And the religious unaffiliated are now the largest voting block among Democrats. Expand this to self identified liberals, we discover 62% don’t attend church. It is clear that the non religious are significant group in the progressive coalition in this country.


But I say coalition, because if you look at the numbers, 63% of self identified Democrats and those leaning that way (folks we need to win an election at a minimum) also identify as Christian. We all know Trump’s 81% of white evangelical voters. But here are some numbers that we should just as readily be aware of.

68% of Hispanic Catholics voted for Hillary Clinton. The same percentage of the religiously unaffiliated. 71% of Jewish voters voted for Hillary Clinton. 74% of Muslim voters voted for Hillary. 90% of black Protestants voted for Hillary. To portray the political divide we have in this country as a religious versus secular divide, is not true to how voters actually sorted themselves out over a series of recent elections.

Does that mean the religious should be more privileged, have some higher status in the Democratic Party coalition? No. Does it mean religious beliefs should not be questioned? No. We do that in the church I serve every Sunday. But it does mean that the religious are not the enemy either. The religious and secular should both be treated equally as important parts of a progressive coalition that can both stop Trump and, more importantly, win victories.

I think a piece like what was written on Daily Kos only can happen to the degree that liberals are cut off from Hispanic and African American voters. You have to live in a fairly white world to make the leap that religious means Trump voter. And while my world is pretty white here in Oklahoma, anybody involved in the Democratic Party, should never be tempted to fall into that illusion.

And then there is this:

Christian moderates and “progressives” don’t seem to have a problem with (to name a few) these violations of the establishment clause of the First Amendment:

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, established by George W. Bush in 2001. Religious monuments, including the Ten Commandments and veterans memorials with Christian crosses, on public land. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance including the words “under God” (added during the McCarthy era) and reciting Christian prayers before public meetings. Politicians’ public piety ― such as citing their favorite Bible verses, or praying for rain on the statehouse steps. Not taxing churches that use pubic services. Preaching politics from the pulpit

Of course, to be a Democratic voter, does not mean that one is a liberal or a strong defender of the separation of church and state or other progressive values. Though they are not disconnected. I don’t have numbers to break down those issues. But what I wanted to do is to highlight a few examples here in Oklahoma.

It was a Southern Baptist minister who brought a lawsuit challenging the 10 commandments on lawn of our state capitol building. It was a Southern Baptist minister in my town that led the successful campaign to stop State Question 790 which would have ended the separation of church and state in our constitution and would have allowed public moneys to churches and religious organizations.

As a pastor, I sit on the board of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Oklahoma.  In Oklahoma, we have a coalition of the religious and secular, fighting for separation of church and state, fighting for accurate science standards in the classroom, fighting for reproductive justice, and for LGBT equality.

None of this is to suggest we are the majority of the religious. Or that the religious right does not pose a real and significant threat to progressive values. It certainly has locked out the Democrats in this state. But it does suggest that there are really such things as progressive Christians and we don’t need to be referred to in scare quotes. If progressives are going to win, it will take a coalition of the religious as well as the secular working together to pull it off.

To do that, some of us progressive clergy will speak politics from the pulpit. That is not the same thing as endorsing candidates. But it does mean that when the poor are attacked, when our Muslim neighbors are attacked, when the common good that sustains good schools and social services are under attack, progressive churches need to speak clearly on these issues.

And if you decide to tax the churches, it will be the small progressive churches that are hit the most, not the large mega churches that appear to drive right wing politics in the country. If you care about a progressive future, you won’t try to purposely disable small liberal churches in the process. We are going to be part of an kind of future you are seeking to build.

Dwight Welch is the pastor at the United Church of Norman, Oklahoma


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