Mid-term elections are now behind us, so the race toward the 2020 election is officially beginning.
Democrats did manage to gain control of the House of Representatives and there was, to some degree, a blue wave. However, in order to keep the blue wave going through 2020, Democrats need something more, something that has been missing for some time from Democrat and Progressive platforms: that something is religion, and it will be critical in 2020.
Over the last 25 years the Republican Party has become very good at a few things. One of those things is that the GOP has branded itself as the only political party in the U.S. that is sufficiently “Christian.” And the Democratic Party has handed this distinction to the GOP on a platter. This is because, consciously and subconsciously, the Democrats have accepted something called “secularization theory” and this is a mistake.
“Secularization theory” came out of European and American academia in the 20th century. It argues that, as progress marches on, people will inevitably become less and less interested in religion and religion will have less and less impact on society and politics. Especially during the last quarter of the 20th century, the world did not cooperate with this thesis. Not at all. The only place this seems to be playing out according to plan is Europe. Russia and China became less religious by brute force — they are special cases.
By many standards of comparison, the U.S. is probably the most religious country in the developed world and arguably even more religious that it was in 1776. (Vermont is the exception to the rule.) According to recent analysis done by the Pew Research Center — a reliable and unbiased source — almost 80 percent of Americans have a religious affiliation and some 70 percent attend church weekly. Over 90 percent believe in God. Yes, these numbers are lower than earlier in the 20th century, but these are still high numbers. With religious voters holding these percentages, any political party that doesn’t cultivate an active interaction with religion is committing suicide. The Democratic Party has been walking away from any connection to religion, shooting itself in the foot . . . and the forehead.
It is true that there is such a thing as “separation of church and state” under U.S. law. But that means, legally and specifically, that the state can have nothing to do with establishing a particular religion or requiring participation in religious activities — although there is still the glaring exception of the “under God” wording (added in 1954) in the Pledge of Allegiance. Separation of church and state has never meant that individual politicians cannot and should not engage with religion, have a specific faith and seek the support of those who are of specific faiths. It has never meant that . . . until the Democratic Party has, by default, allowed it to become the de facto reality of their campaigns.
Bad choice. It won’t work in the majority of these United States. The Dems cannot allow the GOP to be the only player in the game that’s playing the religion card. That is the best way to lose.
Pardon me for quoting T. S. Eliot again, but he did give us this bit of wisdom: “You can never fight a religion except with another religion.” In our case right now, this means that you can’t win back Republican swing voters by offering them merely secularism — the idea that “religion should have nothing to do with it.” That won’t fly. By taking that route, this will guarantee that in 2020 the GOP candidates will again receive over 80 percent of the White Evangelical Protestant vote, just like they did in 2016.
For heaven’s sake, there are other forms of Christianity that are embraced fervently by a very large percentage of the American people. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study has found that 71 percent of Americans consider themselves Christian, with only 25 percent being White Evangelical Protestant, while the remaining 46 percent are non-Evangelical Protestant and Catholic Christians. The fact is that non-Evangelical Christians out number Evangelicals by almost two to one. It is utterly irresponsible for the Democratic Party not to take advantage of this large numeric advantage in 2020.
And the most glaring thing about this oversight by the Democratic National Committee (and individual politicians) is that most, if not all, of the other Christian denominations have very strong commitments to philosophies and programs of Social Justice — different from and wider in scope than Evangelical Protestant Christianity’s programs. Forget, for the moment, about the doctrinal divine nature of Jesus and just focus on his earthly social message. There can be little doubt that the teachings of Jesus demand non-violence, care and love of others, honesty, humility, charity, acceptance of the “other” (the Good Samaritan) and a constant concern for the poor, weak and downtrodden (the Sermon on the Mount). Well, that’s the official platform of the Democratic Party, just go read it for yourself.
Democrats have the best campaign consultant the world has to offer: Jesus of Nazareth. It’s time to take him up on his offer. The Democratic Party can no longer allow one particular representation (or misrepresentation) of “Christian teaching” to be corralled into a major asset for only one political party. Wake up. This is what’s happening and it must not be allowed to continue.
It’s said, with good reason, that silence is complicity. For the next two years, the correct response to the GOP’s loud approbation of the White Christian Right is most definitely not silence. It is the opposite. Democrats have to call out the GOP on this and do it loudly. But it can’t be done by the safe route of politely taking “the high road” and claiming that religion has no place in politics. That claim is patently false. Politics is bound up with religion whether we like it or not. So we have to face the music and dance to the tune.
To listen to political campaign rhetoric having anything to do with religion in America, one would think that there’s only one form of Christianity in our country: conservative evangelicalism. But this blurred vision is happening only because the other denominations and the Democrats have sat by and let this misapprehension seem to be reality. It is not. This misunderstanding has to be fixed. Now.
So: Hey Dems, if you want to get Trump and the GOP out, you’ve got to get some religion. You’ve got two years to do it.
John Nassivera is a former professor who retains affiliation with Columbia University’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities. He lives in Vermont and part-time in Mexico.