Friday, January 6, 2017

Tired Old "Discussion" of Democrats As Anti-Religious after 2016 Elections: Valuable Recent Commentary

Following a presidential election in which 4 in 5 white evangelicals and 3 in 5 white Catholics and Mormons placed Donald Trump in the White House, claiming "pro-life" intent as they did so, there is a predictable "conversation" now in the mainstream media about the purported tone-deafness of the Democratic party and liberals to religion. This "conversation" takes place repeatedly in the mainstream media following Republican political victories. It reinforces the assumptions that 1) Republicans own religion, 2) religion is to be equated with its right-wing iterations, 3) the religious views and practices of people who do not equate religion with its right-wing iterations should be ignored as the media discuss religion in American politics, and 4) non-right-wing iterations of religion are to be kept in check by the mainstream media.

As this tired, going-nowhere "conversation" takes place again, Pew data show us that the new Republican Congress is more male, whiter, more Republican, and more Christian than the nation at large — with 91 percent of Congress members identifying as Christian, as opposed to 71 percent of the American public. Here's Amanda Marcotte on this finding:

Most people know that Congress, unfortunately, doesn't look like the country. It's more male, it's whiter, it's more Republican. But a new Pew Research Center report highlights another way that Congress doesn't accurately reflect the people they are sent to represent: Congressmembers are far more Christian than the nation at large. 
Only 71 percent of Americans now identify as Christian, but a whopping 91 percent of elected members of Congress members, according to the Pew report, consider themselves Christian. The gap between Christian and non-Christian isn't due to underrepresentation of faiths like Islam, Hinduism or Judaism, however. The gap appears to stem entirely from underrepresentation of the religiously nonaffiliated. . . . 
The hyper-religiosity of our government simply doesn't reflect the public at large, and that disparity helps explain, in a lot of ways, why Congress tends to be more conservative than the public at large. More non-believers in elected office would go a long way to secularizing our government, and making sure that government represents the people as they are, instead of as some overly religious distorted throwback.

Here's Daniel Schultz on the going-nowhere nature of the predictable post-election conversation about how the Democrats lack sensitivity to religion and religious people (since religion belongs by default definition, we should understand, to white Christians who vote Republican): 

But every election cycle, sure as the rains, comes the revival of the same argument. If only Democrats were more friendly to People of Faith! White conservative Christians would totally engage Dems’ economic ideas! Progressivism would be an unstoppable political force! Social liberals wouldn’t even have to give up on abortion rights or marriage equality! Just welcome people who disagree on those issues! Just let them be part of the party! Just don't be so arrogant or dismissive of Real American values! Just don't be such coastal elites! 
After eleven years, I've literally lost count of how many variations on the same basic theme I’ve heard from how many people. You can tell I have little patience left for it. Indeed, I long ago decided it was nonsense. I haven't changed my mind.
Yet here we are again.

Here's Charles Pierce on what being "Christian" and "religious" are really all about, when the mainstream media accuse the Democrats of slighting "Christians" and "religious" people: 

"Christian" has become such a baggy term in our politics that it's come to mean almost anything. In its most effective political form—and, therefore, in its most common citations—it means a certain splinter of American Protestant fundamentalism. It's a political signifier as much as it is a statement of belief. That may change because, as the Pew study shows, there are now more members of Congress from other faiths than there ever have been before. But, for the moment, I suspect "Christian" in politics will continue to be defined more in terms of the Billy Graham Crusade than anything else. 
Meanwhile, the drift away from the various formal monotheisms in the general population, as is described in the Pew survey among others, has yet to develop a political salience of its own. It is very unlikely to do so any time soon, either. There is a deep suspicion, easily inflamed by ambitious mountebanks, of any politician who publicly claims to be unchurched. Why open that can of sanctified annalids when you don't have to, and when you can just genuflect in the general direction of a largely amorphous Savior? And, of course, an overwhelming majority of people who identify their politics with their fundamentalist Protestant religious principles just voted in a president who, by any reasonable definition, is as close to a heathen as anyone we've ever elected.

Here's Sarah Pulliam Bailey citing data that reinforce Charles Pierce's analysis:

A yearning for an earlier time, especially prevalent in rural American towns and cities like Mount Airy, helped spur white evangelical Christians to vote overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. For these voters, the desire for change also could be viewed as a desire to change back, to what they perceive as a more wholesome and prosperous time, when high-paying manufacturing jobs were plentiful, white Protestants were indisputably in charge and same-sex marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement were unthinkable. 
Seventy-four percent of white evangelicals believe American culture has mostly changed for the worse since the 1950s — more than any other group of Americans — compared with 56 percent of all whites, according to a 2015 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. In sharp contrast, 62 percent of African Americans and 57 percent of Hispanic Americans think the culture has changed for the better, the survey said. 
With his promise to "Make America Great Again," Trump appealed directly to this sense of dispossession, and 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for him, according to exit polls.

Here's Jamelle Bouie pointing to what the mainstream media ignore as they claim that the Democrats have a "religion problem" — namely, that the media support the Republican party in identifying "religion" and "Christianity" with its right-wing white expressions: 

First, the facts. Among the most religious groups in the country are black and Latino Americans. According to Pew's Religious Landscape survey, 53 percent of black Americans and 39 percent of Latinos say they participate in Scripture study or religious education groups at least once a month, compared with 30 percent of white Americans. Seventy-three percent of blacks and 58 percent of Latinos say they pray "at least daily," compared with 52 percent of whites. Forty-seven percent of blacks and 39 percent of Latinos say they attend religious services at least once a week, compared with 34 percent of whites. And a whopping 75 percent of blacks and 59 percent of Latinos say religion is "very important" to their lives, compared with 49 percent of whites. 
These voters back Democrats, overwhelmingly. In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton won 67 percent of self-identified Hispanic Catholics and the vast majority of black churchgoers. She also won 71 percent of Jewish voters and 62 percent of voters who belong to other religious faiths and traditions. She suffered a crushing defeat among white evangelicals—losing them 16 percent to Trump’s 81 percent—and she lost white Catholics by an almost 2–1 margin, 37 percent to 60 percent. . . . 
The Democratic Party doesn't have a religion problem as much as it has a white voter problem. That white voter problem emerged in the aftermath of the civil rights movement as a resentful backlash to perceived disorder and unfairness and has gotten worse with almost every subsequent presidential election.

Here's Heather Digby Parton in the same vein as Jamelle Bouie: 

The Democratic Party is full of religious people, not the least of whom are African-Americans and Latinos who are religious at higher levels than whites. Any urban politician navigates religion all the time. In fact they are far more religiously "literate" than their rural brethren, since they have to be able to speak to members of many different religious denominations: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics and every possible variety of mainline or evangelical Protestant. 
In fact, it's truly insulting that people keep insisting that Democrats are irreligious, particularly since it seems to be the churches attended by liberals where racists and fanatics choose to "express their beliefs" about abortion, God, guns and gays with a hail of bullets.

Here's religion professor Alan Levinovitz on what various studies show us about who's really religiously literate in the U.S. (non-believers and liberals), and who is religiously illiterate (the white conservative Christians that the media want to hold up to Democrats as the gold standard of religious literacy): 

True religious literacy requires engagement with the enormous variety of beliefs, practices, and motivations found in different religious traditions, and, for that matter, within a single tradition, or even a single church. Religious literacy requires awareness that religions have changed radically over time, and will continue to do so, often for nontheological reasons. And when it comes to politics, religious literacy requires thinking through the difficulties inherent to disputes over matters of faith in a religiously diverse community, and recognizing how our political system has developed in response to such difficulties. 
Once you factor in these other categories of knowledge about religion — and how could you not? — the evidence shows that agnostics and atheists (followed closely by Jews and Mormons), as well as those who self-identify as liberal, are more religiously literate than their Christian and conservative counterparts. 

Here's Rev. William Barber articulating the moral center of a religious movement that mainstream media and GOP equation of religion with right-wing white Christianity wishes to keep on the margins of American culture:

Barber says a moral agenda "must be anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, transformative and deeply rooted and built within a fusion coalition." A moral agenda demands policies that are "constitutionally consistent, morally defensible and economically sane." 
On New Year's Eve morning, Barber and other clergy gathered for a press conference before the day's teach-in, which was attended by about 100 local activists. In the sanctuary of National City Christian Church, still decorated for Christmas, Barber criticized conservative white evangelicals who insist that the moral issues of the day are standing against LGBT people and women's access to reproductive health care, saying that their priorities are "so far from biblical faith and the politics of God that it is heretical." At the same time, he rejected a characterization of the Repairers of the Breach as the "religious left," insisting that it represents the same kind of "moral center" that powered previous social justice movements. 

Here's Francis Wilkinson on how the election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress dominated by right-wing white Christians represents real opportunity for the resurgence of progressive religion in the U.S.: 

[I]f ever there were a moment for the left to seize the mantle of religion from conservatives, surely it arrives Jan. 20 at noon. Donald Trump received the votes of four in five white evangelical or born-again Christians. Hypocrisy is as old as humanity, but even hypocrisy has a gross weight limit. 
Christian conservatives are now inextricably tied to an incoming president with a long, public history of exploiting the weak, and no documented history of charity, faith or Christian communion or witness. They have endorsed a First Lady whose modeling career included a pornographic photo shoot described by the Trump-friendly New York Post as "girl on girl." Even among the plaster saints of the religious right, Trump is a heavy burden to bear.

As I said following the 2016 elections, how right Robert P. Jones turns out to be in his book The End of White Christian America: as white Christians decline in the population, becoming a minority, their need to assert their control over the rest of the nation — as a minority — increases. The Republican party has long deliberately assisted white Christians in claiming and asserting this minority control over the nation — "It's our nation and we intend to take it back!" — since white Christians constitute the bulk of the base of the Republican party. 

What we can expect after Donald Trump's election is the attempt to lock in minority control over the entire nation by white Christians and the Republican party (which are, to repeat, one and the same thing). The only way they can continue to assure their dominance and control as they become a minority is by rigging the system — gerrymandering districts, finagling Supreme Court appointments that reflect their views but not those of the majority of Americans, suppressing minority votes, flouting laws and suppressing ethics watchdog agencies. And all the while talking about God, God, God, bible, bible, bible, and how their form of Christianity is the only conceivable and correct form of Christianity, even when it elects the likes of Donald Trump to office and has prosperity-gospel charlatans blessing him at  his inauguration.

As the media and many leaders of religious groups in the U.S. (including the lay leaders of the U.S. Catholic academy and journalistic sphere) now gladly normalize Donald Trump — even Donald Trump! — as a president representing "pro-life" values, we can expect increasing attempts of these same groups to equate right-wing white Christianity with Christianity, tout court. If we really believe in the Christian message and care about the Christian brand, we need to resist that equation, which is based on the cruel, deeply anti-democratic and unChristian message that the views and practices of believers who represent other understandings of the Christian gospels or of religion simply do not count.

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