An Evangelical Trojan Horse in the Democratic Party?
by Brian McLaren 11-12-2009
A recent Daily Kos post asks this question: Does the Evangelical movement belong in the Democratic Party?
Of course, many Evangelicals — probably most — can answer that question without a moment’s thought: absolutely not. The Republican Party is still the only party for them: abortion, gay marriage, and freedom of corporations from governmental accountability (which is what “small government” often means in practice) are their three litmus test issues, trumping all other issues to the level of annoying distractions — whether we’re talking about preserving the planet for future generations, working for justice for the poor, or pursuing peace through means other than military and economic domination.
But the Daily Kos question is being asked of Democrats, not Evangelicals: “Is a growing Christian base of leaders and voters good for the party?” As a registered Democrat from an Evangelical background, I think there’s an erroneous assumption in play in the Daily Kos post:
There is a growing movement since 2004 of evangelical leaders embracing the Democratic Party. Many feel that Bush used this base to get him elected, then turned on them.
The assumption seems to be that Bush wasn’t conservative enough for these Evangelicals, so like jilted lovers, they decided to date the nemesis of their old flame, bringing their three familiar preoccupations –- anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, and anti-corporate accountability — with them unchanged. That faulty diagnosis seems to be shared in recent speculation that the Stupak amendment — which went beyond the abortion neutrality called for by all the Christian progressives I’m aware of — was added to the House health-care bill as part of a long-standing plan by progressive religious forces. Those speculations are undermined by the fact that the amendment was added to bring some hesitant conservative Democrats on board, but it took Christian progressives by surprise as much as anyone.
However, Evangelicals like me who have migrated away from the Republican Party have done so not as part of a Trojan horse conspiracy, but because we embraced a broader range of moral issues than just the three anti-s imposed upon us by conservative Evangelical and Republican leaders. True, very few if any of us could be considered pro-abortion even if we are pro-choice. True, we differ on whether we think civil unions or marriage equality would be the better response to sexuality issues, but we want one or the other. And true, we don’t have a plan (yet) to strengthen accountability for both big government and big corporations, especially when the former is in the pocket of the latter, but we want accountability for both. In these ways we are typical of big-tent Democratic diversity — with a shared set of general values but differences on details; and as such, we can bring a great deal of vitality to the Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, some Democrats may be tempted to define their identity in exactly the way their Republican counterparts would like them to: as the anti-religion, pro-abortion rights, pro-tax party. They interpret the abortion limitations of the House’s recently (and narrowly) passed health-care bill as a danger sign: The religious camel’s nose is in the tent, so soon the whole tent will come crashing down. Far better, they may believe, to keep the camel outside, even if that means the tent must become more narrow, meaning more secular and faith-averse. I hope this won’t be the case. We already have one party that seems to be stuck on the same old polarities; we don’t need two.
Brian McLarenBrian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.