Republicans don't have a monopoly on religion — Democrats must lean into faith

Republicans don't have a monopoly on religion — Democrats must lean into faith
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Conor Lamb, the Democrat who recently won an upset victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, is a devout Catholic, who public endorses Catholic social teaching. Four months ago, Doug Jones, a progressive Methodist, won an Alabama Senate seat running against Judge Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRoy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race Of inmates and asylums: Today's House Republicans make the John Birchers look quaint MORE, a stalwart of the Christian right, who was embroiled in an alleged child abuse scandal during the race.

As a Christian and a Democrat, I hope to see more Democratic candidates leaning into their faith. The Bible overwhelmingly supports progressive ideas. Too often, Democrats are stymied by narratives that pit progressive ideas about marriage equality and family planning at odds with their faith. Both Lamb and Jones serve as reminders for why Democrats should cite the Bible more frequently. Nearly 80 percent of Americans subscribe to religious beliefs. Faith can inspire real conversion and social change.   

Over 2,000 verses of Christian scripture demand that we protect immigrants, strive for economic equality and liberate those oppressed by unjust laws. Democrats should cite scripture as they defend the Affordable Care Act, call out corporate greed manifest in Trump’s tax bill and defend the social safety net.

Decades ago, Democrats and the progressive movement made a strategic mistake: they ceded the powerful language of faith to Republicans. As the Christian right gained traction in the eighties, the progressive movement countered with a weak argument. Rather than challenge the Moral Majority on religious terms, they argued that religious leaders had no right to impose their viewpoints on others. In doing so, we not only failed to take advantage of religious argument, we came across as anti-religious.

The conservative movement and political operatives who created and funded the Christian Right could not have been more pleased with this outcome. For decades, Democrats made it easy for Republicans and party activists to advance the ridiculous assertion that Democrats were “Godless.” Many Christians were torn between their beliefs and their political positions with no-one to show them connection between the two.

If we had we recognized the Christian right as a political movement before it captured the hearts and minds of white evangelicals, we might have prevented the political and religious polarization we see today.

Today, we rail against the hypocrisy of white evangelicals who voted for Trump. I share that rage. But we should recognize that we progressives are complicit when we fail to make a strong religious case for why Christians should vote for Democrats and their policies.

Our failure to speak to people’s faith brings about moral impoverishment in a country increasingly burdened under greed, racism, corruption and inequality. The belief that all people are created in God’s image is the one thing standing between us and the nihilism of white nationalist, Randian, and Koch brothers wings of the Republican Party that would strip millions of Americans of health care, rip families apart through deportation, deny entry to refugees and the needy, gut the safety net while giving a tax break to billionaires, and reinstate voting restrictions.  

Faith has inspired radical movements for justice like the Civil Rights movement. If we continue to allow conservative operatives to hijack religion or co-opt it to do violence to others we are complicit. Those of us comfortable speaking to our religious convictions, as Lamb and Jones did, should do so.

Dr. King wrote: “It is my sincere conviction that no religion has a monopoly on truth.” So too no party should have a monopoly on religion. King’s vision, expressed in Judeo-Christian language, enabled America to take one more step toward addressing our original sin of racism. We still have a long ways to go. We’ll get there faster if we reclaim Christianity from those who hijacked it for political gain.

Jennifer Butler is the CEO of Faith in Public Life and former chair of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships. Follow her on Twitter @JenButlerFPL.