December 26, 2006

TALK IS CHEAP:

Consultant Helps Democrats Embrace Faith, and Some in Party Are Not Pleased (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 12/26/06, NY Times)

Party strategists and nonpartisan pollsters credit the operative, Mara Vanderslice, and her 2-year-old consulting firm, Common Good Strategies, with helping a handful of Democratic candidates make deep inroads among white evangelical and churchgoing Roman Catholic voters in Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. [...]

The midterm elections were a “proof point” for arguments that Ms. Vanderslice had made two years before, said Mike McCurry, a Democratic consultant and former spokesman for President Bill Clinton who worked with Ms. Vanderslice on the Kerry campaign. For the Democrats, Mr. McCurry said, Ms. Vanderslice and her company “were the only ones taking systematic, methodical steps to build a religious component in the practical campaign work.”

Democratic officials in several states said Ms. Vanderslice and her business partner, Eric Sapp, pushed sometimes reluctant Democrats to speak publicly, early and in detail about the religious underpinnings of their policy views. They persuaded candidates to speak at conservative religious schools and to buy early commercials on Christian radio. They organized meetings and conference calls for candidates to speak privately with moderate and conservative members of the clergy.

In Michigan, they helped the state’s Democratic Party follow up on these meetings by incorporating recognizably biblical language into its platform. In Michigan and Ohio, they enlisted nuns in phone banks to urge voters who were Catholic or opposed abortion rights to support Democratic candidates, with some of the nuns saying they were making the case in religious terms.

But Ms. Vanderslice’s efforts to integrate faith into Democratic campaigns troubles some liberals, who accuse her of mimicking the Christian right.

Dr. Welton Gaddy, president of the liberal Interfaith Alliance, said her encouragement of such overt religiosity raised “red flags” about the traditional separation of church and state.

“I don’t want any politician prostituting the sanctity of religion,” Mr. Gaddy said, adding that nonbelievers also “have a right to feel they are represented at the highest levels of government.”

To Ms. Vanderslice, that attitude is her party’s problem. In an interview, she said she told candidates not to use the phrase “separation of church and state,” which does not appear in the Constitution’s clauses forbidding the establishment or protecting the exercise of religion.

“That language says to people that you don’t want there to be a role for religion in our public life,” Ms. Vanderslice said. “But 80 percent of the public is religious, and I think most people are eager for that kind of debate.”

More than 80 percent, in fact, say they are Christian, according to polls, but Ms. Vanderslice grew up in the other 20 percent, in Boulder, Colo. She joined an evangelical Bible study group at Earlham College, a Quaker campus in Richmond, Ind., and says she was born again one day while singing the hymn “Here I Am Lord.”

“God’s love was so much stronger than any of my doubts,” she said, acknowledging that like some other young evangelicals she still struggles with common evangelical ideas about abortion, homosexuality and the literal reading of Scripture.

She was baptized by full immersion in Rock Creek in Washington, D.C., while working with Sojourners, an evangelical antipoverty group. She entered politics by working with a group advocating debt relief for the developing world, once participating in a rally organized by a coalition that included the AIDS activist group Act Up.

During the 2004 campaign, that tenuous relationship provided the grist for William Donohue, an outspoken conservative Catholic, to denounce her as “an ultra-leftist who consorts with anti-Catholic bigots,” calling Act Up “anti-Catholic.”

Ms. Vanderslice wanted to fight back. She argued that the Kerry campaign should rebut the charges as part of a broader articulation of the Democrats’ religious convictions. But she was overruled by other advisers, who argued that doing so would inflame conservatives while entrapping Mr. Kerry in debates about homosexuality and abortion, said the Rev. Robert F. Drinan, 86, a liberal priest and former congressman who was an adviser to Mr. Kerry. “She was a little bit overzealous,” Father Drinan said.

She and Mr. Sapp, 30, a Presbyterian minister’s son and a fellow evangelical with a divinity degree from Duke, set out to test the rejected ideas. They organized workshops in which Democratic candidates practiced delivering short statements about their faith or their moral values. They urged Democrats to meet with even the most staunchly conservative evangelical pastors in their districts.

They persuaded candidates not to avoid controversial subjects like abortion, advising those who supported abortion rights to speak about reducing demand for the procedure. And they cautioned against the approach of many liberal Christians, which is to argue that Jesus was interested only in social justice and not in sexual morality.

“The Gospel has both in it,” Mr. Sapp said. “You can’t act like caring about abortion and family issues makes you a judgmental fool.”

Most of all, they told Democratic candidates not to try to fake it, advising those of non-Christian faiths or no faith at all to talk about the origins of their sense of ethics.

“People want to know are you on your knees?” Ms. Vanderslice said. “Are you responsible to something that is bigger than yourself?”


Now they have to cast votes in Congress and we find out if the someone they're responsible to is God or Nancy Pelosi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 26, 2006 9:11 AM
Comments

It seems that some non-religious persons are fearful about religiously minded people having a voice in the public square. Many non-democratic leasders have had the same concern. However, as a religiouly minded citizen, I am concern that my beliefs be misussed in the public square. I hope that Speaker Pelosi dose not misuse my Christian beliefs. (see my letter to her-PhilTeach.com)
Pax

Posted by: Posada at December 27, 2006 3:50 AM

It seems that some non-religious persons are fearful about religiously minded people having a voice in the public square. Many non-democratic leasders have had the same concern. However, as a religiouly minded citizen, I am concern that my beliefs be misussed in the public square. I hope that Speaker Pelosi dose not misuse my Christian beliefs. (see my letter to her-PhilTeach.com)
Pax

Posted by: Posada at December 27, 2006 3:52 AM

It seems that some non-religious persons are fearful about religiously minded people having a voice in the public square. Many non-democratic leasders have had the same concern. However, as a religiouly minded citizen, I am concern that my beliefs be misussed in the public square. I hope that Speaker Pelosi dose not misuse my Christian beliefs. (see my letter to her-PhilTeach.com)
Pax

Posted by: Posada at December 27, 2006 3:52 AM
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