Eve Conant of Newsweek has written a curious article: In trying to describe Democrats learning to speak the patois of evangelicals, she writes in a style that is nearly tone deaf to evangelical culture. So, for instance, she identifies Richard Land, an evangelical (D.Phil, Oxford) activist and writer, as a "Tennessee evangelist." More specifically, that would be Nashville, where Land has been president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission since 1988. Evangelicals support evangelism, naturally, but Land's work is not exactly on the sawdust trail.
She then shifts into the boilerplate of stories about evangelicals involved in politics, with references to Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority, George W. Bush -- and "values voters" (including obligatory scare quotes), as if this is how evangelicals would choose to identify themselves. Then come references to younger evangelicals, who "are worried about issues beyond the traditional struggles over abortion, school prayer and gay marriage." Conant cites the examples of "the environment, AIDS, poverty and genocide," failing to note that evangelicals have cared about poverty and genocide for quite some time now. (Granted, evangelicals are not exactly famous as green activists or blazing new trails in AIDS relief.)
Conant asserts flatly that most evangelicals reject John McCain, "in part because of his push for campaign-finance reform." Come again? Are evangelicals now known as really caring that much, one or another, about campaign-finance reform?
She piles on still more stereotypes, quoting Joshua DuBois of Barack Obama's campaign, who found it so amazing that evangelicals would give a standing ovation to Obama's endorsement of contraception as a means of preventing AIDS. Perhaps DuBois thought that the evangelicals gathered at Rick Warren's Saddleback Community Church were more of the Sam Brownback/Richard John Neuhaus school of Roman Catholic evangelicalism?
Throughout the article, Conant writes as if the Democrats are, like Lothario, trying to seduce a naive virgin. Democrat activists "court" (in the headline), "flirt" and "play footsie." But suddenly all this foreplay turns sinister:
"We're still kind of frozen in the twilight zone with many of the Republican candidates," says Tony Perkins, who heads the conservative Family Research Council. "If the Democrats follow through with substantive policy initiatives that reflect their newfound faith, they could make headway. But it's got to be more than just talk." Darkly, he warns there is always the option of "a third-party candidate for president." That's a signal to both parties: show us some love ... or else.
Oh my! Shades of James Dobson's periodic threats to go third party! I think we all know how effective that has been.