Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...


Surely it says something about the current state of American politics and religion when the organization Democrats For Life sends out a press release celebrating the election of one — count ‘em, one — new pro-life member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Just a reminder: I have stated many times that I was a pro-life and registered Democrat my whole adult life — until the 2016 White House race. I am now a registered member of a tiny (in America) third party that’s progressive on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues (other than being old-school liberal on the First Amendment).

But back to that release from Democrats For Life, celebrating a win in the rather unique political environment of Utah:


A bright spot this election cycle is the election of Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. Twice elected the mayor of Salt Lake County, McAdams may be the kind of Democrat we need. He has a history of bringing people together to provide solutions.

On his campaign website, he stressed his bipartisan cooperation.

”Ben worked with both sides of the aisle in the Utah Legislature and as Salt Lake County mayor to balance the budget and act on important initiatives. He will continue to work with colleagues in both parties to overcome Washington’s broken politics and put Utah families first. He has proven bringing people together helps to solve tough problems like homelessness and criminal justice reform....”

Meanwhile, a member of an even more endangered political species — a pro-life Democrat incumbent in the U.S. Senate — lost his seat. If you followed the race carefully, it was obvious that Sen. Joe Donnelly had trouble separating himself from those “other” Democrats” during the firestorm surrounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee, and now justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

This brings me to the main theme in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, which focused on the rare glimpses of religion during the mainstream news coverage of the 2018 Midterm elections. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes to subscribe.

Here is the big idea in this week’s discussion. There was little Godtalk this year in election-night coverage, unless you did some political mathematics that went like this:

* For many voters, the U.S. Senate races were, in the end, all about the ability — in the wake of the Kavanaugh warfare — to confirm judges.

* This was especially true when people considered the potential for open chairs on the U.S. Supreme Court.

* As always, arguments about SCOTUS almost always come down to a powerful set of religious, moral and cultural issues — led by abortion and First Amendment fights (often triggered by LGBTQ issues) about the free exercise of religion.

Thus, all of those politicos talking about U.S. Senate races were actually talking about America’s growing cultural divide between urban zones, especially those along the left and right coasts, and people in “flyover country,” as in the Heartland and the Bible Belt, etc. You don’t need a doctorate in demographics to recognize that religion plays a major role in this growing schism.

Sure enough, the pros at the Pew Research Center had a quick analysis of voting patterns in the House races.

Some numbers were very predictable. White evangelical Protestants voted Republican again, almost to the same degree as in 2016 (in parts of the Midwest and South, lots of old-school folks would still be voting for relatively conservative House Democrats) and the religiously unaffiliated “nones” went way, way Democrat.

In other “news,” I was rather surprised that mainline Protestants and Catholics were still pretty balanced between GOP and Democratic voters. That’s rather shocking, in a boring kind of way. And here is another old reality that hardly anyone talks about these days:

Voters who say they attend religious services at least once a week backed Republican candidates over Democrats in their congressional districts by an 18-point margin. Those who attend services less often tilted in favor of the Democratic Party, including two-thirds (68%) of those who say they never attend worship services.

If the Catholic angle interests you, check out this Crux analysis from the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr.: “Post-midterms, do we have two Catholic churches in America?

As far as I am concerned, the answer is: #DUH.

But here is a key piece of that Allen essay:

… What the voting data paints is a picture of two Catholic Americas, one largely white, affluent, and Republican, the other largely Latino (with important pockets of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and recent immigrants from places such as Africa and the Middle East), often poor, and Democratic.

In other words, it’s the contrast between a white-collar and a blue-collar Catholicism. The oscillation between those two poles has sort of been the story of the “Catholic vote” in America, and right now the pendulum seems to be swinging again in the blue-collar direction.

We seem to be becoming two churches in America — one country-club and conservative or rust belt and mad, the other working class, minority, and generally progressive.

Under any circumstances, such a cleft at the heart of the Church would be something to consider, but in an increasingly toxic and acrimonious political environment, it’s probably something the bishops will want to ponder — or at least, you’d think so.

What is missing from that analysis? How is this political divide affected by Mass attendance statistics — active Catholics vs. cultural Catholics — and support for hot-button Catholic doctrines on issues such as, well, abortion and marriage. Yes, and immigration is crucial.

I’ll say it again: If I could add one question to exit polls for Catholic voters, a question that many would consider bizarre, it would be this: Have you been to confession during this calendar year?

Enjoy the podcast.

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