Friday, March 09, 2007

Faith in Texas - Another Plan to Retake Texas and America

Today Chris Bell, Democratic candidate for Texas governor in the ’06 election, sent out an email message to the supporters of his campaign announcing the formation of a new PAC, “Faith in Texas Fund”. The fund, he writes,
“will seek out and support candidates for office who view public service as an honor and responsibility to serve the needs of ordinary Texans. A major goal of FIT is to push for comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reform; it would do wonders for liberating our elected leaders to act on behalf of those most in need.”
This is a fund that we heard about last December. But there is more to it than that. Ordinarily I would greet this with a smile and a yawn, but there is something new here. He lays this at our feet for consideration:
“During the campaign, I began a discussion of "faith in politics" that sought to highlight my own beliefs of how faith should influence public service for the benefit of all our citizens. The focus was not on religion or its organizations, but on how best we can apply the common tenets of our varying faiths into leadership that governs with compassion to the poorest in our society, and places the health, education and welfare of our children above all else.”
This struck a chord in me.

No I am not a religious person. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I was raised by a fallen Catholic and a fallen Southern Baptist who thought that I should make my own choice in my faith. However, what they didn’t realize is that when one is presented with no choices, no choice is made. While I am not religious, I do respect the religion and religious beliefs of others.And so I respect what Chris Bell is doing. It all gets back to how evangelical Christians have been attracted by the neo-conservative right.

There is a great article on this published last September at MySA.Com.

For whatever reason, faith plays a large role in Texas politics. Realists recognize that for the Democratic Party to retake Texas, room must be made in their big tent for people of faith. Democrats get just about 100% of the atheist vote, and quite a bit of agnostic as well. Atheists number 10% in this country. You don’t retake Texas by looking down your nose at people of faith, whatever faith that is. Exit polls in ’04 and ‘06 tell the tale. People who were religious were most likely to vote Republican. Peggy Fikac, in a MySA article posted last September cites a Pew Research Center poll:
“. . . just 26 percent of Americans called the Democratic Party friendly to religion. Forty-seven percent called the GOP religion-friendly.”
The perception that Democrats disdain religion is well-founded. That, at one time, the Left was openly religious, was a no-brainer. The civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s was largely a religion-based movement. However, Democrats and Republicans apparently switched sides when too much social change in the 60’s and 70’s stirred up religious conservatives whose religious leaders also used and abused racial fears to attract conservatives to their fold. Democrats, on the other hand, spearheaded the social changes that alarmed religious conservatives. Democrats need to quietly remind the country that God is not a Republican and indeed voting for CHIP or an end to the war in Iraq is something Jesus would approve of.

I can’t say it better than my friend Paul. Quoting from Take It Back by Carville and Begala:
"We don’t think Democrats should ape Republican’ sanctimony. We do not think Democrats who don’t have faith should suddenly adopt one – or worse, fake it. that we’re saying is that Democrats of faith should not hide their light under a basket.”
And again, back to my man, Chris Bell:
“It's the biggest mistake that the Democratic Party has probably made in the last 25 years. For us to leave people with the impression that we're not concerned about faith, that we're not concerned about morals and values, and that we're not going to be a part of that debate simply took the party in the wrong direction.”
Chris Bell is, again, dead spot on. Democrats don’t have to wear their religion on their sleeves like Republicans. They simply need to keep faith in the political argument if that is their inclination. Rather than sounding like sociologists in the debate on helping the uninsured poor, if you are religious, point to your faith as a source of your values. Rather than sounding like a compassionless scientist in arguing for stem cell research, remind people about the compassion of religious figures throughout history who helped the ailing and handicapped.

Democrats must no longer be viewed as the people who disdain religion. This is especially true in Texas. Democrats of faith must convince those with strong religious beliefs that their political opinions and beliefs are faith-based. Only then will we find common ground and put Texas back on the right (that is, left) path.

Democrats who disdain religion just need to sit down and be quiet for awhile.


Marsha said...

All I can say is WOW! Just think what a wonderful progressive Governor we would have had if Chris Bell had been elected. Texas might even had made it into the 21 st century.

Anonymous said...

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Republican Party's Biggest Problem

by digby

Here's another dispatch from Bill Sher who's blogging from CPAC. It may surprise you but it's actually quite true:

Today through Saturday, when Republicans and conservatives gather in Washington for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, will they face up to the biggest obstacle preventing them from connecting with voters? Their "secular problem."

Lots of ink has been spilled about how Democrats and liberals suffer from a "religion problem" -- a perceived hostility towards Christianity and religion in general. But Pew Research Center exit poll data from the 2006 midterm elections shows the opposite.

Democrats crushed Republicans among secular voters, broadly defined as those who attend church seldom (favoring Democrats 60% to 38%) or never (67% to 30%). Republicans retained strong support among those who attend church more than weekly. But among those who only go weekly -- the larger portion of the religious vote -- the Republican lead shrunk from 15 points to 7.

In short, Republicans failed to be competitive among secular voters, while Democrats were at least competitive among regular churchgoers. And since the secular vote is roughly equal to the regular churchgoing vote, according to the last several national election exit polls, that means Republicans and their conservative base have a far bigger secular problem than their rivals have a religion problem.

How might the conservative activists conferring in Washington this week address their secular problem?

I can't speak for all secular voters, only myself. But I would suggest it's not an issue of language. Stripping all references of God and faith from conservative political rhetoric would only be dismissed as superficial and pandering. Sincerely conveying how faith shapes one's views, in and of itself, does not turn off most secular voters.

One symbolic act that might be useful would be to have some conservative politicians come out of the closet and announce they are atheists or agnostics. If it was clear that conservatism fully embraced religious diversity, including those who do not worship God, that would allay concerns that conservatism is about installing a soft theocracy.

Now this is so jarringly outside conventional wisdom as to be laughable. But the numbers are correct. And people who follow religious trends in this country are worried about the fact that the fastest growing religious group in this country is the unchurched:
Since 1991, the adult population in the United States has grown by 15%. During that same period the number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled, rising from 39 million to 75 million - a 92% increase!

These startling statistics come from the most recent tracking study of religious behavior conducted by The Barna Group, a company that follows trends related to faith, culture and leadership in America. The latest study shows that the percentage of adults that is unchurched - defined as not having attended a Christian church service, other than for a holiday service, such as Christmas or Easter, or for special events such as a wedding or funeral, at any time in the past six months - has risen from 21% in 1991 to 34% today.

This is not to say that the unchurched have no religion or aren't involved in religious activities, once again proving that seculars aren't hostile to religion:

Hal said...

This is unbelievably good news. If having a secular life means voting Democratic, that’s good, right? That their numbers are still in the basement, well, that’s bad. I’ll bet those numbers aren’t paralleled in Texas, where there is one church on every other block. Hoping that people will, in growing numbers, adopt a secular life so that we can one day elect Democrats doesn’t get it done next year. The ’08 strategy needs to encompass both sectarian and secular elements of society. If seculars are “turned off” by someone who articulates a faith-based value, to whom will they turn to cast their vote? The neo-con evangelical alternative? Gimme a break.

Frankly, speaking as a secular person, I do not look forward to a faithless world. It will be a very boring place to live.