June 3, 2012

THERE'S A RELIGIOUS PARTY AND THERE'S A SECULAR ONE:

Losing faith in Democrats' religious outreach (RACHEL ZOLL, 6/02/12, Associated Press)

In 2008, Barack Obama took aim at the "pew gap," the overwhelming Republican edge among voters who regularly attend church.
The Democratic presidential nominee came nowhere near closing it, but he didn't have to. He just needed an extra percentage point or two among traditional GOP constituents, and he got it.

The Democratic National Committee is promising a repeat performance in 2012. But some religious leaders and scholars who backed Obama in 2008 are skeptical. They say the Democrats have, through neglect and lack of focus, squandered the substantial gains they made with religious moderates and worry it will hurt Obama in a tight race against Republican Mitt Romney. [...]

In 2008, the Obama campaign sought ways to cooperate with religious moderates and conservatives and make them feel more welcome among Democrats. Many political veterans dismissed the idea as quixotic. For the past decade or so, exit polls have found that the more often a voter attends church, the more likely he was to back a conservative candidate, earning the GOP the nickname "God's Own Party."

The Obama campaign built grassroots support among religious voters by organizing "faith house parties," sending Roman Catholic and evangelical surrogates on the campaign trail, and holding faith caucus meetings at the party's national convention. Cooper remembers a conference call the campaign organized with Democrats who opposed abortion rights and a position paper the campaign circulated from a Catholic theologian about reducing the need for abortion.

According to exit polls, the effort paid off. Obama made gains over the 2004 nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, with voters who attend religious services more than once a week, 43 percent to 35 percent. Obama also won 26 percent of the evangelical vote, compared with 21 percent for Kerry.

"It wasn't huge, but it was statistically significant," said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Bliss Institute for Applied Politics. Religious Democrats began to talk of a new era for the party.

MORE:
Has Support for Gays Cost Obama the Black Vote? Marc Hujer, 6/02/12, Spiegel)

Obama's declaration of support for same-sex marriage has African-American communities up in arms. Many African-Americans live in a culture that values strong masculine figures and looks down on homosexuality. "We've been taught that the institution of slavery 'stripped us' of our manhood, and we have to maintain what's left," African-American writer Charles Stephens wrote for the Huffington Post in March following incidents of anti-gay violence within the African-American community.

And few things have greater influence on African-American sensibilities than churches, which serve as centers of community life for many African-Americans. Twenty-two percent of black Americans attend church services more than once a week -- twice as often as white Americans. Many put their faith in what their pastors say and what is written in the Bible, including the statement that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Obama did everything possible to minimize the damage he knew his decision would cause. Immediately after his declaration, the president made calls to eight African-American pastors, including Otis Moss Jr., father of Otis Moss III and a colleague of Martin Luther King Jr.

Still, Obama met with fierce criticism, even from those who had previously supported him. Pastor Dwight McKissic from Arlington, Texas, declared, "Obama has betrayed the Bible." Pastor William Owens from Memphis, Tennessee, decried what he described as "the homosexual community hijacking the civil rights movement," adding, "I did not choose to be black, and you did not choose to be white -- and homosexuals make a choice to be homosexual. So why compare what we went through with your situation? It's not the same thing; there's no comparison."

Owens is now threatening to sabotage Obama's re-election, and he and many other ministers are using their Sunday sermons to oppose Obama's support for same-sex marriage. Owens has founded an interest group of 13 African-American pastors in Tennessee to take action against Obama. They're determined to deny Obama their votes if he doesn't recant.

Posted by at June 3, 2012 8:21 AM
  

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