Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Swain says Dems will have to convince voters that God is pro-choice and pro-gay

Vanderbilt Professor Carol Swain's work is often ground-breaking on issues of race and politics and always provocative. But her thoughts on the uphill task Democrats may have in addressing "Bible-believing Christians" are off the mark:

Democrats must convince evangelical Christians that God is pro-choice on abortion and gay marriage. This will be a harder sell for Bible-believing Christians who have rejected the liberal theocratic [sic, perhaps she means theological] notion that God's word changes to meet the needs of a more enlightened society. The Republicans will portray Obama and the Democrats as lightweights on biblical knowledge and practice.

Saints preserve us! First of all, even if that were true from a descriptive or even strategic point of view, it is not commendable. Unless they happen to be someone like former Senator John Danforth, most politicians aren't experts in biblical interpretation. For a party or a presidential candidate to be channeling the voice of God is, from a certain religious point of view, presumptuous and probably idolatrous. In a softer sort of way, candidates shouldn't have any qualms about drawing on large biblical themes because they are part of the culture. But to assume the pulpit or the teaching office of the Church or another religious body is an improper encroachment upon the role of religious leaders. Faith may, indeed, inform the moral angle of policy on both sides of the aisle, but there must nevertheless be a public rationale based on a sense of the common good.

But I also think Swain is wrong from a descriptive and strategic point of view. She oversimplifies what is going on in Evangelicalism today. While it is true that John McCain is likely to get the majority of this voting bloc, Evangelicals are beginning to reexamine their engagement with politics with some moving away from being one or two-issue voters (if they ever were!). Furthermore, in the case of marriage, the differences between McCain and Obama are not so vast that they loom large in the average voter's mind. Both seem to believe marriage is between one man and one woman and that it's a question for the states.

The issue that Swain doesn't address strategically is what effect a more pronounced biblicism in the Obama campaign would have among Democratic voters. The more secular voters and those whose faith is not Christian may balk. I think the same may be true of Catholic voters whose faith is grounded in a more complex interplay between Bible and Sacred Tradition. At a time when the Obama campaign is being pressed for policy specifics, devoting more time to playing catch up on the Bible might send the message that he is out of touch and that he is pandering.

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