Michael Wear

Buttigieg and faith: WPost edges closer to covering pew gaps inside today's Democratic Party

Buttigieg and faith: WPost edges closer to covering pew gaps inside today's Democratic Party

A decade or more ago — I forget which White House race — the pollster and scholar John C. Green of the University of Akron made a witty comment about American politics and the role that faith often plays at ground level on election day.

This election, he told me (and I paraphrase), was going to be another one of those cases in which the presidency would be decided by Catholic voters in Ohio. But Green didn’t just point at generic Catholic voters. He said that the crucial factor would be whether “Catholics who go to Mass every Sunday” showed up at the polls in greater numbers than “Catholics who go to Mass once a month.”

In other words, he was saying that there is no one Catholic vote (click here for GetReligion posts on this topic) involved in the so-called “pew gap.” Catholics who go to Mass every week (or even daily) have different beliefs than those who show up every now and then.

So when a presidential candidate hires a “faith outreach director,” it’s crucial to ask (a) which group of believers the candidate hopes to rally, (b) how many of them are out there and (c) are we talking about people whose faith pushes them into action?

You can see these factors — often hidden between the lines — in a recent Washington Post story that ran with this headline: “Pete Buttigieg hires the first faith outreach director of the 2020 campaign.” There are one or two places in this piece where the Post team comes really, really close to examining the crucial faith-based cracks inside today’s Democratic Party.

The key: Is Buttigieg trying to rally religious liberals (and secularists) who already on his side or is he, like Barack Obama, attempting to reach out to centrists and liberal evangelicals? So far, the other key player in this pre-primary faith contest is Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who urgently needs support from voters in the African-American church.

So Buttigieg has hired the Rev. Shawna Foster as his faith-outreach director. What does this tell us about the Democratic Party at this stage of the contest?

Foster … has a broad imperative to talk to all religious groups. She said she thinks mainline Protestants (those who are not evangelical and tend to be more liberal, both religiously and politically) have been overlooked by political campaigns and are probably sympathetic to the religious views of Buttigieg, an Episcopalian.

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Looking at past and into future: Will Democrats consider compromises on religious issues?

Looking at past and into future: Will Democrats consider compromises on religious issues?

Let's take a trip into my GetReligion folder of think-piece guilt, shall we?

In this case, I would like to point readers toward a piece at The Atlantic by Michael Wear that ran about a month ago. The headline: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters."

We could, after the narrow Doug Jones victory in the Alabama Senate race, change that headline to something that would look like this: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters, when Running Against Candidates Other Than Roy Moore."

As I have said several times: Imagine if the Democrats had, in Alabama, selected an African-American pro-life woman as their candidate. The cultural conservatives who either boycotted Moore or wrote in a third-party candidate would have had a valid choice on the other side the ballot. Moore would have been the walking (or horseback) dead against a culturally conservative Democrat.

There are so many journalism stories -- local, regional and national -- linked to this issue, in religion and in politics.

In a way, this is similar to this question: Would Joe Biden have defeated Donald Trump, especially if he had shown a willingness to seek compromises on religious-liberty issues and abortion? I think I know the answer to that one, too. Hillary Clinton was just about the only candidate on earth Trump could defeat, in large part because of her loyalty to the cultural, political and, yes, secular/religious left (key Pew Forum data here).

So here is Wear's overture:

Democrats ignored broad swaths of religious America in the 2016 election campaign and the nation has suffered because of it. Yet calls for a recommitment to faith outreach -- particularly to white and other conservative or moderate religious voters -- have been met in some corners of liberal punditry with a response as common as it is unwarranted. Some quarters of the Democratic party would rather maintain rhetorical and ideological purity than win with a more inclusive coalition. For the sake of the country, the party must turn back to people of faith.

But here is the crunch paragraphs in this analysis piece:

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Were many journalists right when they blamed 'white Christians' for Charlottesville riots?

Were many journalists right when they blamed 'white Christians' for Charlottesville riots?

On the face of it, the riots in Charlottesville didn’t have a religious component. Yes, there were pastors marching in protest against the white nationalists, but so were lots of other people.

Then, everything went very wrong very fast. What I saw next, mainly on Twitter, were people demanding that white clergy nationwide condemn the white nationalist protest in their Sunday sermons. I was fascinated by how some media – who wouldn’t be caught dead implicating certain other groups when one of them does an act of violence – decided that all white Christian clergy have to answer for the violence in Charlottesville.

Do you think I’m painting with too broad a brush? Read this NBC News opinion piece blaming all of Christianity for the Ku Klux Klan and – by extension – the events in Charlottesville. 

I saw a lot of lecturing at evangelical Protestants – who are reminded nonstop that 81 percent of them polled as voting for Trump last year – that they are responsible for what happened this past weekend. Much of this came in the form of opinion pieces ranging from an essay on Fox News’ site by a white Southern Baptist seminary professor to an essay in the Washington Post’s Acts of Faith section – written by a black clergyman – telling white pastors to speak up.

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Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

It's for a deep, deep dive into my GetReligion folder of guilt, that cyber stash of items that I really planned to write about pronto, but then things (oh, like the post-election mainstream news media meltdown) got in the way.

I remembered this particular item because of my recent posts about NBC News and Politico coverage of challenges facing the Democratic Party, which has gone off a cliff in terms of its fortunes at the level of state legislatures (and governors' mansions) in the American heartland (and other places, too). Of course, Democrats are in trouble in Washington, D.C., as well -- but after some truly agonizing close losses.

To sum up those posts: Both NBC News and The Politico totally ignored the role of religious, moral and cultural issues in the current predicament facing the modern Democrats. That "pew gap"? Never heard of it.

But there are people who are thinking about that issue, such as Emma Green at The Atlantic. Scores of faithful readers let us know about the recent piece there that ran with this headline: "Democrats Have a Religion Problem." It's an interview with conservative evangelical Michael Wear, who served as former director of Barack Obama’s 2012 faith-outreach efforts.

For example: What does Wear think of the modern party's attempts to deal with pro-life Democrats, such as himself? Green states the question this way: "How would you characterize Democrats’ willingness to engage with the moral question of abortion, and why is it that way?"

Wear: There were a lot of things that were surprising about Hillary’s answer [to a question about abortion] in the third debate. She didn’t advance moral reservations she had in the past about abortion. She also made the exact kind of positive moral argument for abortion that women’s groups -- who have been calling on people to tell their abortion stories -- had been demanding.
The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party. We are now so far from that, it’s insane.

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