I’ve got good news and bad news for people of faith.
The good news is that the political Left finally wants to discuss faith and politics and is reaching out for your support.
The bad news is that for all their God talk, liberals still aren’t willing to do the one thing necessary to have a shot at securing your support: moderate their extreme positions on the issues you value most.
That’s the mixed message I was left with after the recent Presidential Forum on "Faith, Values and Poverty," in which the three top Democratic candidates for president spoke about how their faith informs their political decisions. Sponsored by the liberal evangelical group Sojourners, the wide-ranging discussion also gave each candidate the chance to explain how faith has affected his or her personal life. John Edwards spoke candidly about how faith helped him and his wife get through the tragic death of their son and her recent cancer diagnosis, while Hillary Clinton revealed, however awkwardly, that she doesn’t know if she would have been able to get through her husband’s infidelities without her faith. Barack Obama didn’t get as personal but punctuated each of his talking points about faith and poverty with a hearty "Amen."
While the media portrayed the event as something of a watershed, the clearest sign yet that the Left will no longer cede the religious vote to conservatives, the forum highlighted two far more basic truths about the Left’s foray into the realm of religion.
First, it exposed an enormous double standard in the media’s coverage of faith and politics. For decades, whenever conservatives discussed how their faith motivates them to, say, oppose abortion or support traditional marriage, the com ments were typically berated in the media as an inappropriate encroachment of religion into public life, a
violation of the separation of church and state. A few years ago, when President Bush revealed that he prayed about his decisions in the Oval Office, otherwise sagacious political commentators derisively called him a "theocon" and much of media presented it as proof that the president believes God told him to bomb Iraq.
Today, however, as liberals try and bridge one of the greatest political divides in American society-the gap between those who attend church regularly and those who do not-the media portray public references to God in a much different way: as a sign of progress.
Putting aside the media’s double standard on faith and politics, I have a prediction about the Left’s newfound faith-based initiative: It won’t work.
Because though the religious Left recognizes tha t evangelicals desire a political agenda that includes a wide variety of issues, such as the environment and genocide (issues, incidentally, that many Christian organizations already address), their movement balances this keen insight with complete ignorance about what animates evangelicals’ political involvement.
Specifically, while the Left has been trying its best to convince religious voters that it represents Christian values, it has thus far shown an unwillingness to reach out to Christians on the issues that matter most to them. Instead, the Left has simply been cloaking the same tired big government, anti-family policy positions in religious rhetoric.
For most Christians, however, the traditional cultural issues are pivotal, providing the moral basis from which all other issues can be considered. Take the right to life, for instance. Christians believe all human life has intrinsic value-giv en by God-which no man or manmade institution can take away. To Christians, this is an all-encompassing view of human life that informs how they think about and prioritize every political issue that arises. Accordingly, those policies and laws that pose the gravest threat to human life are placed at the top of the agenda.
The Christian recognition that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God explains why while Christians believe they are called to work for world peace, they also believe that, as Mother Theresa said, "…the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion."
And so it is with all of the values and institutions upon which Christians focus. While Christians are called to combat poverty, many believe the most effective way to do so is to promote stable marriages and families, the crucial social institutions most tightly linked with
While protecting the environment is certainly central to God’s command to be good stewards of the earth, Christians ask: Are we not also called to be good stewards of the moral laws established by God?
While it is critical that we fight AIDS and other STDs, what better way to do so than by promoting a culture of personal sexual responsibility.
Back at the Sojourners forum, the disconnect between the candidates and most Christians on the issues that matter most to people of faith must have been palpable. When Barack Obama waxed pious, repeatedly invoking the biblical phrase, "I am my brother’s keeper," as he discussed his concern for poverty, Christians informed about Obama’s voting record
probably wondered how the senator squares that injunction with, say, his staunch opposition to legislation protecting newborn babies who survive abortions from being left to die.
At the conclusion of the Presidential Forum, Sojourners foun der Jim Wallis seemed satisfied with what had been accomplished. "Finally, a better conversation about faith and values," he insisted.
Come Election Day, however, for all their newfound fondness for faith, if liberal policymakers fail to moderate their stances on the issues that matter most to religious voters, they won’t have a prayer of winning over most Christians.