Theology Over Politics

Daniel Schultz has a very good piece in Religion Dispatches on the main weakness of the so-called religious left. As Schultz puts it:

[Rev. Dr. William] Barber wants Christians to decide which side they’re on: that of the rich and powerful, or the poor, in whose corner God stands. This sort of appeal to the authority of scripture is well-used by both the religious left and right. It’s what Christians think they should do when sorting through options: Come, let us reason together by interpreting the word of God.

But as he further argues, this strategy doesn't work for two reasons. First, it requires "a shared understanding of the Christian responsibility to the poor." Second, because it also requires "a shared identity as Christians."

This understanding of Christianity is problematic, particularly for someone in the religious left. Contrary to the religious right, that is essentially a Christian movement with some conservative Jews in the mix, the religious left is a multi-faith coalition. Sure, the vast majority of those are Christian, but minority religions are better represented than in their right-wing counterpart. If the concern for the poor is primarily a Christian thing, then where does that leave their fellow travelers in the movement who don't happen to be Christian.

Their diversity makes for a shaky coalition, something that Mark Silk has argued before, because they are unwilling to use the tools of partisanship to achieve political victories. Luciano Gonzalez and I expand on why this phobia of partisanship is the major weakness of the religious left in episode 12 of The Benito Juárez Experience. In his Religion Dispatches piece Schultz further argues that

When liberals appeal to a shared religious identity to guide policy decisions, then, the argument becomes about the faith, not the policy. Jim Wallis has been talking about all the scripture passages concerning the poor for like 40 years, and it hasn’t changed much of anything, because conservatives don’t understand the priorities the same way.

He is right, right-wing religious leaders baptize policies as Christian after the fact, not the other way around. If you debate how a Christian policy would look like you could keep arguing forever with nothing to show as an outcome. Bragging about holding the high moral ground may be nice but doesn't change the desperate situation many Americans live in. Holding power and the ability to change that reality is much better, but to many on the left -particularly religious figures- power is something to fear rather than embrace.

Bernie, the Donald, and the Nones

A couple of weeks ago Mark Silk wrote about a Pew poll that found that majorities of nones supported Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in their respective party contests. According to the poll, 61 percent of Democratic or Democratic-leaning nones favor Sanders over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Thirty-five percent prefer Clinton. On the Republican side, 57 percent of nones support Trump while Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich lag well behind with 17 percent each.

The survey confirms a hunch I’ve had for a while. In my social media feeds there are apparently more Sanders than Clinton supporters. Of course, my maybe 1,000 social media contacts (some of them repeated across platforms and not all of them secular) are not likely to be representative of the nones, but those suspicions now are confirmed.

Sen. Sanders’s support is strongest among young Americans of the Millennial generation. This happens to be the most secular generation as well. On paper, it is also a generation that is to the left of the general population on social/economic issues (in favor of more spending on government services and the social safety net). In this regard secular Millennials are the core of Sanders’s coalition.

Sen. Sanders’s support is strongest among young Americans of the Millennial generation. This happens to be the most secular generation as well

What I wasn’t sure, though I also had a hunch, was the preferred candidate among Republican nones. My social media contacts were no good for this since I barley have any Republicans, let alone any Republican nones (these are very rare). My hunch was that the GOP-leaning nones’ preferences were maybe leaning toward Trump, and that Kasich would be ahead of Cruz. And I was way off-target in that regard.

Two-thirds of Republican nones are men according to Pew’s Religion Landscape Survey.

My reading of the Republican nones assumes that this is a conservative group on economic matters but more liberal on cultural matters. That assumption is likely correct and will be the subject of a forthcoming post. Trump, depending on the day, is the least religious candidate in the Republican field, a positive for those who only care about Church-State issues. What I probably underestimated is the extent of the racism, sexism, and hatred to “pc dialogue” among many in the secular community.

 It’s fair to say that, for the first time in American history, the Nones making their influence felt on the presidential nominating process.

-Mark Silk, Spiritual Politics, “The Year of the Nones

I am aware that some communities such as men’s rights activists and even groups of white supremacists can be a draw for secular men. And  I think that is what drives Trump’s high numbers among the Republican nones, who are primarily young men. Two-thirds of Republican nones are men according to Pew’s Religion Landscape Survey.

Mark Silk interprets the Pew poll findings as part of a “year of the nones”making their influence felt on the presidential nominating process.” I partly agree with that interpretation. It is true that the nones are becoming larger portions of the parties’ coalitions. But the secular movement keeps waiting for the parties to knock on their doors instead of trying a hostile takeover of party structures. What I mean is that nones are not being organized as political blocs but rather as individual voters who happen to coincide in their preferences for particular candidates. That is no way to gain any sort of clout.

While I think the none vote will be decisive, it is less clear if politicians will care until there is a coordinated effort in the secular leadership to exploit their strength in numbers. In that sense I would modify Silk’s “year of the nones” to the “year of the none” because it is the coincidence of individual nones what may become decisive in this primary season, rather than the collective undertaking of the nones to affect the ouctome of the elections.

Image Source: ABC News

 

This Year Race Trumps Religion

My good friend and old colleague Dr. Mark Silk calls the end of religious identity politics a couple of weeks after declaring the Religious Right dead. Personally, I think race is trumping (no pun intended) religion this year, but as the natural progression (regression?) of an ideology rooted in white Christian supremacy. He writes:

In a crazy political year, perhaps we have one thing to applaud: the evident end of religious identity politics. Evangelicals have been decidedly lukewarm toward preacher’s kid Ted Cruz and fellow-traveler Rubio, and they showed no interest whatsoever in Mike Huckabee this time around. Jews, so far as we can tell, are not particularly feeling the Bern. And Catholics barely gave Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum the time of day.

I’m not so sure this end is a reason to applaud. The Republican Party is a Christian Party -or a party for certain types of Christians. All the candidates openly praised god, the Christian version of it. While it is true that some candidates were more a part of the Christian/Religious Right than others, at this point in history every potential GOP candidate knows what religious buttons to push.

Since all of them love Jesus, they have to differentiate each other by expressing who they hate the most. The foreign policy proposals of all the GOP candidates are about blowing up anything that is outside of our borders. Only Trump stands out by viciously (and explicitly) attacking and threatening violence against their domestic others: religious minorities, black, brown, red, and yellow, independent women. That’s why Trump is so appealing. And that’s no reason to applaud.

Photo credit: Donald Trump at 2015 CPAC. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Evangelicals supported Reagan. Why not Trump? – Spiritual Politics

In 1980, white evangelicals switched their allegiance from Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist who taught Sunday school, to Ronald Reagan, a divorced, non-churchgoing media celebrity who had opposed restrictions on gay rights and signed one of the nation’s most liberal abortion laws. So why should anyone be surprised that many evangelicals are now supporting a divorced, non-churchgoing media celebrity whose record on the social issues is well to the left of his Republican rivals? –

Mark Silk, Spiritual Politics