Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times has highlighted some of the lingering awkwardness as the Kerry campaign begins challenging Republicans' strength among regular churchgoers. That initiative has led Kerry to talk more about his faith, even while saying he does not wear his faith on his sleeve -- unlike, say, a certain Texan who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Gold's story includes the standard-issue assertion that the Republican Party is not, as Kevin Eckstrom wrote recently for Religion News Service, "God's Official Party":
"It's very simply important for Democrats to get out there and say, 'We are people of faith, we are guided by spiritual values, and the Republicans don't have an exclusive franchise when it comes to God,'" said Mike McCurry, Clinton's onetime press secretary.
I need to ask this: Can anyone find a quote from even a state-level Republican leader claiming that believers would or should vote only for Republicans? (Granted, some preachers will suggest this, but usually not for reasons of blind party loyalty. Jerry Falwell recently challenged Jim Wallis on NPR's Tavis Smiley Show. Falwell says prolife convictions should prompt a believer to vote for prolife presidential candidates; Wallis counters that Christians should base their votes on more than a candidate's stance on abortion or gay marriage.)
But back to Gold's article. Wallis cites a concern discussed earlier in several GetReligion posts: "Sometimes it seems as if Democrats have said, 'I have faith, but don't worry -- it won't affect anything.'"
The least predictable remarks come from a leader of a People of Faith for Kerry chapter in western Michigan. While starting with a shot at "fundamentalists," this leader also is willing to identify the elephant in the Democrats' front parlor:
Last month, the group -- clad in light-blue Kerry T-shirts that read, "He Shares Our Values" -- cleaned up the warehouse of a Grand Rapids charity organization. They're planning similar community service projects.
"We have decided to try to make the point that people of faith have values besides the values of fundamentalists," said Peter Vander Meulen, one of the group's leaders.
But Vander Meulen frets that his group will not be able to persuade many of the area's churchgoing voters to support Kerry. He said most of the people at his church backed Bush because of his antiabortion stance.
"If the Democrats want to make serious inroads into communities of faith, frankly, they're going to have to do more than just put T-shirts on some of us," he said. "They are going to have to make room in the party for those us of who are deeply uncomfortable with the party's hard-core position on abortion."
A different message comes from former Clinton spokesman McCurry:
McCurry said that after he gave a presentation to members of Congress about the need for Democrats to talk about faith more openly, several expressed wariness.
"They're nervous about something that sounds overly evangelical," he said. "You have to break that association."
There are deep-seated differences out there, and both parties have committed themselves to certain worldview-based assumptions. It should be obvious to fans of politics that sincere Christians vote as Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians or any number of other parties. It's a matter of where believers place their priorities, and there is considerable disagreement within churches about what those priorities should be.
No one should expect Kerry to out-evangelical Bush, or to develop sudden doubts about abortion rights or his opposition to school vouchers. But nor should anyone assume that when conservative evangelicals vote for a Republican, they insist that all right-thinking Americans (Christian or otherwise) vote likewise.