The Democratic Party and Religion

Have you heard the good news? The Democratic Party won’t concede “values voters” to the Republicans. The kind of church you attend, if you attend at all, and your frequency of attendance is perhaps the greatest (though certainly not the only) predictor of whether you are a Democrat or Republican.
Hunting for votes in your opponent’s base is nothing new. What is unique about this strategy is its heavy emphasis on talk, unaccompanied by any major changes in policy. Saying “look at how religious we are” isn’t going to work, and it’s not even necessary.
At the end of their most recent debate, moderator Tim Russert asked the Democratic presidential candidates to name their favorite Bible verse. Should this be a difficult task for a Christian?

Barack Obama, whose Christian faith plays “every role,” in his life, was unable to do so. He named “The Sermon on the Mount.” The Sermon, found in Matthew Chapters 5-7, contains over 100 verses. Additionally, I’m not sure he believes it. Senator Obama, do you believe that people should divorce only in the case of adultery (Matthew 5:32)? Do you believe that the path to life is narrow, and that only a few will ever find it (Matthew 7:13-14)? To sum it up, your favorite Bible verse is actually 100 verses, and you don’t agree with some of them? Incidentally, why do you prefer the Sermon on the Mount to the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49), which is so similar that many consider them the same event?

Hillary Clinton answered, “The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s not a direct quotation (Matthew 7:12), but she did get the gist right. This is also a highly popular secular expression, and an analog can be found in nearly every world religion. If this is your favorite, why be religious or even Christian? At least it’s actually a verse.

Dennis Kucinich cited a prayer from a Catholic Saint. Over 30,000 verses in the Bible, and you couldn’t even think of one?

John Edwards offered, “What you do unto the least of those, you do unto me.” That’s very close to a verse (Matthew 25:40), but the actual quote is the “least of my brothers” (NIV) or “least of my bretheren” (KJV). It sounds like nitpicking, but the meaning of the word “brothers” here is the subject of a serious theological debate. If the concerns of the least of your brothers, whoever you believe those people to be, are your concerns, where does a 28,000 square foot $6,000,000 home fit into those? Where does a $400 haircut fit into those? Voluntarily living with less than that could change the lives of a number of needy people, and cheerfully giving some of that away would certainly be more Biblical than some government scheme of redistribution.

Bill Richardson also cited the Sermon on the Mount, though presumably it had nothing to do with Jesus’ strongly worded command against adultery (Matthew 5:27-30).

Chris Dodd cited the story of the Good Samaritan, which is actually 12 verses.

Joe Biden cited warnings against Pharisees as his favorite verse. Pharisees were religious leaders and antagonists of Jesus, though the term has been hijacked and applied in the modern era to include anyone who takes their religion seriously. These numerous passages, scattered throughout the New Testament are what appeals most to you about Christianity, Senator Biden? Are we crazy to expect more from a party whose Chairman listed “Job” as his favorite New Testament book (at least it’s really a book)?
The internet has made searching the Bible for verses and subjects easier than ever, and decreased the need to memorize where to find something (Rabbis at the time of Christ, before widespread literacy and the printing press, could recite the entire Old Testament by memory; crowds who listened to them would correct them if they altered a single syllable). I became a Christian later in life, and only in the internet age, so I understand this. If the Democrats are as religious as they would like the world to believe, what is their excuse for not knowing one chapter and verse that they treasure above all others?

What also struck me was the popularity of the scripture cited. A group of Beatles fans might list “Yesterday” or “Hey Jude” as their favorite songs, but you’d probably also hear more obscure choices, like “In My Life,” or “For No One.” People who hate the Beatles can still name two or three of their greatest hits.

What would be more honest, if not as popular, would be to say something like this:

“I don’t know any Bible verses. Today, like yesterday and tomorrow, I will spend more time checking my email than reading the Bible. It’s just not that important to me. You should still vote for me because I agree with you on the following issues,” and then name them.

As with most “values voters,” I don’t need to share your religious practices to vote for you. Nobody would confuse Evangelical theology with that of the Latter Day Saints, or with traditional Catholics, but ultimately, these divergent beliefs lead their adherents to similar positions on abortion, marriage, school choice, and religious liberty. As long as this continues, candidates will receive support from members of these communities, these so called “values voters.”

Nothing in this post should be taken as my approval of the Republican field on religion. Chances are, the candidate who most reflects my religious beliefs will not be getting my vote (Mike Huckabee). Ol’ Fred Thompson doesn’t go to church while in Virginia (you know, the state he lives in), and brags about his earlier life as a ladies man. Rudy Giuliani’s favorite Bible verse is “judge not lest ye be judged,” (the most often quoted and misunderstood verse in the Bible). Any guesses why he loves this one? None of the leading Republican candidates were willing to challenge the theory that macro evolution creates new species.

So it’s not all about a candidate’s heart. Whether abortion is a Constitutional right or school vouchers a Constitutional wrong will be decided by one vote on the Supreme Court. To some degree, the Republican party is a party that is pro life, in favor of religious freedom, and supportive of traditional marriage, and one that believes that the Supreme Court should not decide these questions. Until that changes, expect voters motivated by their religious beliefs to keep voting the same.


  1. Kiva Oraibi says

    So, wait, your main criticism seems to be that rather than citing a single verse, many of the candidates opted instead to list extended passages as their favorites?

    That’s the bulk of your beef here?


    Why bother?

  2. Publius,

    What? Not everyone when asked to cite the Bible has your literal concern for “verse.” Last I checked, the Sermon on the Mount was in Bible.

    Further, I’d like to hear Bush or Cheney quote the Bible, as well as many other Republicans who talk the talk for your vote. For a time I read and inquired into the book. I am appalled at the number of believers who still think Moses wrote the Torah having never heard of J, D, E, and P.

    Ignorance of the New Testament is even worse. Most seem to not even know Christ had brothers or that James, 1, 2 Peter, and 1, 2, 3 John as well as Jude were written by Paul (well, his scribes) or that his work preceded the gospels.

    You have cause for frustration. Matters will get worse. Giuliani will get the nod. We both know you won’t vote for HER. Run a third candidate?

    The GOP is the party of religious freedom where one is free to practice Christianity at the church of one’s choice.

    Finally, regarding abortion, you will and will not get what you want. The number of abortions performed is falling and will continue to decline. Both demand and supply drop each year. The omnivores (Internet, cell phone savvy Facebook connected Ipod enabled) have entered college. Their increased sexual activity is more than offset by the most effective use of contraceptives of any age cohort. Reinforcing the drop in unwanted pregnancies is their culture’s acceptance of oral sex and its widespread practice should protection be unavailable.

    Finally, for this group, which in ten years is THE group having children, abortion is a pill, not a surgical procedure.

    Any meaningful denial of choice (highly questionable itself in practice) will drop a match onto a pile of gunpowder. The echo-boomers will put down their iPods and remove the pro-life voice from public debate.

    I’d like to see it happen. The omnivores needs a kick in the butt. Their participation in politics is abysmal. The overturn of Roe and abolition of abortion would do them some good.

  3. re Edwards, he has given a lot of his money away for college scholarships and the like; try to be a bit more balanced on the facts, please.

    The $400 haircut example is silly, petty, and ignores the reality of travel on the campaign trail. This repetitive molehill of an example is very relevant to Jesus’ admonition about focus on the speck in another’s eye.

    The real kicker is the implication that one has to be impoverished to speak on behalf of the poor; that view is neither Biblical nor practical. To summarize Edward’s position on poverty as government redistribution is simply dishonest, since he includes service by individuals as one of many efforts to end poverty.

    Is Jesus’ statement, “the poor are always with you” a reason to belittle efforts to help the poor?

    No politician is perfect and neither are we as voters, certainly not when “conservative” and “liberal” labels are used as the modern-day icthus.

  4. What an excellent blog, I’ve added your feed to my RSS reader. 🙂

Leave a Reply