To hell with faith outreach, Dems

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That’s pretty much the reaction of Diana
Butler Bass
, Sarah
and Daniel Schultz to Michelle Boorstein’s WaPo story–at least if it’s the kind of outreach done in the last couple of election cycles by the Eleison Group. The kind that resulted in the sort of blue dog Democratic congressman who votes for the Stupak Amendment and then proceeds to vote against health care reform. The way to go, if faith outreach there is to be, is to reach out to the likes of, oh, Diana Butler Bass, Sarah Posner, and Daniel Schultz–religious liberals who take a flexible view about the authorship of the Bible. I have a suspicion, however, that those three actually vote Democratic already, which suggests that their advice is to preach to the choir. Is that what you do on Sundays, Pastor Dan?

No doubt, liberals tend to get upset when they see Congresspersons they regard as DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) appearing to undermine the progressive agenda. But without knowing whose votes the Speaker has in her pocket in case she needs them, I’m not confident that they are merely Trojan horses of conservatism. Moreover, the false assumption is that having Eleison represent the odd conservative Democrat is the sum total of Democratic faith outreach. On the contrary, the issue is digitized targeting of voters by religious group. It’s nuts and bolts, and it’s worth it.

  • Umm, you may have a point about DBB and I. I for one do think Dems should spend more time on mainliners and less on evangelicals. Sue me.
    But where do you get the idea that Sarah’s a religious liberal, or that she or Diana vote Democratic? I’ve been pretty upfront about who I am and what I believe, but I don’t recall either of them discussing how they vote, and as far as I know, Sarah’s never talked about her religious views at all.

  • Mark Silk

    mea minima culpa.

  • That’s not “minima,” Mark. You’re making a dubious assumption in a post criticizing other people for doing just that.
    Pot, meet kettle.

  • Mark Silk

    Jeez, Dan. What I wrote was that “I have a suspicion” that all of you vote Democratic. And if any of you tell me otherwise, I will acknowledge that my suspicion was unfounded. As to what kind of a religious person Sarah is or isn’t, I guess I jumped to a conclusion based on what she writes (i.e. criticism of biblical literalism: see the fact that she serves as associate editor and blogger at an online magazine that bills itself as “dedicated to…highlighting a diversity of progressive voices.” Again, if I’m in error, I will acknowledge it.

  • Mark,
    I didn’t say what you put in my mouth. You are a much better reader than the sensationalistic headline you put on your blog. I said that Democrats need to figure out how to do religious outreach in a more pluralistic, inclusive way to speak to the new sort of religious diversity emerging in America. I think that they should pay more attention to their religious “base” as it were, and not try to reach so far beyond that that they alienate their most motivated voters. It just makes good sense in trying to create a coherent platform and identity.
    This isn’t anything about “DINOS” (I just don’t think/care about things like that), rather, it points toward an interesting phenom in American religion–that attitudes toward the Bible are moving in a more liberal direction–and that may be good news for more liberal political parties. And that liberal political types might do well to reflect new grassroots concerns regarding religion and spirituality.
    I do think that the “evangelicalism = the only sort of religion that matters politically” strategy is wrong-headed (for demographic, cultural, and theological reasons) and have personally shared my POV w/ a good number of people here in Washington (where I live). But my words in NO WAY mean that Dems should abandon religious outreach altogether or that I think Evangelicals are some sort of Trojan horse. I would like it if Democrats did better, more inclusive outreach–and helped develop a different sort of religious-political language and narrative to meet the contemporary challenges we face.
    I’m pretty sure that anyone who reads or knows me is keenly aware that I’m a Democrat and an Episcopalian (I mention such things in at least three of the books I’ve written and both have been posted on my FB page at different times). I never hide and no one need be suspicious of some unspoken agenda in any of my work. I’m always upfront about these aspects of my identity. And I mean what I say, in the exact ways I write. Very straightforward–I don’t appreciate when people put motivations in my work that aren’t present or words in my mouth that don’t belong there.
    And, for what it is worth, I like both Sarah and Dan–but both of them have criticized my work in productive and interesting ways at different points in time–and we aren’t some sort of left-wing DINO conspiracy. We just are three writers, progressive in spirit who care about American faith and religion, and are doing our best to understand and share our insights into the world in which we live.

  • Mark Silk

    OK, Diana. I apologize. I like all you guys.

  • Apology accepted, Mark, in a kumbaya left-wing, hand-holding way. 😉

  • Mark Silk

    Wow. My fave.

  • Eric Sapp

    Interesting post and discussion…since most everyone else mentioned in this piece has chimed in, I figured I might as well too 🙂 I’ve conveyed many of these points to Sarah and Dan and offered several times to have an on-line back and forth on this topic b/c I think part of the disagreement stems from a lack of understanding. But since we haven’t been able to set up a longer exchange, I would like to respond to two fundamental critiques that often come up when folks are criticizing Democratic faith outreach.
    The first is that our candidates aren’t real Democrats and basically that we’d be better off not having won those seats. There is no I in team, and while we’ve been able to show how faith outreach makes a difference on election day, we would never claim credit for getting a candidate elected. But since we do tend to receive the blame , the same logic that blames us for positions or votes our candidates have taken that people don’t like for various reasons needs to credit us for their votes that make progressive priorities possible. Democrats would not have passed healthcare reform (not even close) without our former clients in the House and Senate. And the House could not have passed climate change without our candidates. Mark basically made this point already, but I wanted to provide some concrete examples. The alternative to the candidates we’ve worked with is not a Nancy Pelosi—it’s a Rick Santorum, Virgil Goode, Jay Love and other such Republicans. To think or argue otherwise is not being realistic.
    Second, Democratic faith outreach is not only (or even primarily) focused on evangelicals. True, Dems had a major deficit in that area and there was a lot of low hanging fruit of evangelicals who agreed with Democrats on many points but were being lost b/c we ignored or specifically pushed them away. But as someone who has been intimately involved in much of the Democratic faith outreach over the last 5 years, I can assure you that the Christian components have included a significant outreach to mainlines and Catholics.
    I know Diana well and know her focus is on gradients of doing more, but often times those arguments that we need more get changed (especially in blog exchanges) into assumptions that little to no work is being done. I agree that Democrats need to do more outreach to mainlines. We need to do more to Catholics and evangelicals too…and engage black pastors as pastors instead of GOTV operatives. But the fact that we need to do more as a Party does not mean it is not being done or that mainlines are ignored in this work. The press (and definitely the blogosphere) tend to focus on the evangelical part, and it is definitely important. But it would be a mistake to assume that just b/c the media and blogs often focus on evangelicals that such a focus reflects the reality of Democratic faith outreach. Our core volunteers often come from mainline churches, and I have not been a part of a campaign that has ignored outreach to mainlines. We can always quibble over whether enough is being done, but I am confident in saying that the Democrats doing faith outreach are the ones doing the most to engage mainlines.
    At the end of the day, this work is basically about communicating our values better and ensuring that we don’t overlook a key segment of voters who can be mobilized to support us and/or persuaded to vote for us. It works, gets more Democrats elected, allows us to enact our policy priorities, and makes our party more inclusive and reflective of the American voter. I understand why Republicans don’t like what we’re doing, but I find it a little harder to understand the critique from Democratic circles.

  • Sophia Donnatelli

    Regarding the interface between faith, morality, economics and politics, I have just read an excellent essay by Eamonn Keane titled Globalization and Integral Human Development which can be accessed here:
    Keane discusses questions such as Dignity of Workers and Decent Work, Economics and Ethics, Markets are Not Impersonal Forces, Globalization and the Poor, Globalization and the Environment, Human Ecology etc. It is obvious from reading the essay that Keane draws much of his inspiration from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus and from Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate. Readers may remember how George Weigel was very critical of Caritas in Veritate when it was issued. Though not referring to Weigel, I think Keane’s essay could serve as a rejoinder to Weigel’s criticism of Pope Benedict’s wonderful encyclical on social and economic issues.
    Sophia Donnatelli