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Our Founding Fathers, Faith and the Democrats


(guest blog by Taylor Marsh)

"… But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. … Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation." – Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia – Query XVII

I’ll start it off with what FDL reader "hackworth" said in the comments: "… Blitzer asks Falwell if there is any chance that the democrats will pick off some family values voters. Falwell says, slim chance – as long as the dems are pro choice, pro gay marriage and do not support the war. …"

FDL reader "GSD" completes the vision: "’Blow them all away in the name of the Lord’ – Jerry Falwell. That is the caliber of cleric that holds sway in this nation."

Faithful fighting for war? Leading the way and electing a man who postures to be born again, but who chose preemptive war?

Evangelicals used to behave quite differently, especially when it came to government, church and state.

Even though Jefferson was labeled anti-religion by some, he had become a hero to evangelicals—not in spite of his views on separation of church and state, but because of them. By this point, Jefferson had written his draft of the Virginia statute of religious freedom, and he and James Madison were known as the strictest proponents of keeping government and religion far apart. Because Baptists and other evangelicals had been persecuted and harassed by the majority faiths—the Anglicans in the South and the Puritan-influenced Congregationalists in the North—these religious minorities had concluded that their freedom would only be guaranteed when majority faiths could not use the power of the state to promote their theology and institutions.


With the evangelicals providing the political ground troops, the legislature then went even further, approving Thomas Jefferson’s statute on religious freedom. The statute prohibited not only formal establishments, but also the use of government funds to aid any particular religion on the grounds that no man’s taxes should be used to support religious beliefs with which he does not agree. “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.”

A similar dynamic developed during the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The evangelicals provided the political muscle for the efforts of Madison and Jefferson, not merely because they wanted to block official churches but because they wanted to keep the spiritual and secular worlds apart. “Religious freedom resulted from an alliance of unlikely partners,” writes the eminent historian Frank Lambert in his excellent book The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. “New Light evangelicals such as Isaac Backus and John Leland joined forces with Deists and skeptics such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to fight for a complete separation of church and state.”

The Framers and the Faithful, by Steven Waldman
How modern evangelicals are ignoring their own history.

As Jim Wallis, author of "God’s Politics" has said over and over again, what the religious right is offering America when it comes to faith, war and policies is not the direction most liberal evangelicals want to go. Going further, some religious leaders are separating themselves from Falwell and the "left behind" rapture crowd. It’s giving Karl Rove "heartburn," according to Amy Sullivan.

Like an abusive boyfriend, Republicans keep moderate evangelicals in the coalition by alternating between painting their options as bleak and wooing them with sweet talk. You can’t leave me—where are you going to go? To them? They think you’re stupid, they hate religion. Besides, you know I love you—I’m a compassionate conservative. The tactic works as long as evangelicals don’t call the GOP’s bluff and as long as Democrats are viewed as hostile to religion.

Randy Brinson is proof that some evangelicals are willing to take their chances and cross over to see what Democrats have to offer. There is a growing recognition among mainstream Democrats and the once-quiescent Religious Left that they can reframe issues they care about in terms that appeal to religious voters.

When Would Jesus Bolt?, by Amy Sullivan
Meet Randy Brinson, the advance guard of evangelicals leaving the GOP.

Who is Randy Brinson? He is the founder of Redeem the Vote, a "religious version of Rock the Vote." But what he understands is profound. He knows, as do many of you, that the religious right has no vested interest in solving problems and healing the divisions we have regarding faith and values. What they want to do is keep the culture war brewing, because it’s big bucks and brings in lots of power, their main interest in it all.

Democrats need to quit helping them do it.

One of the reasons I brought up the environmental issue this morning is that there is a growing movement of environmental religious groups who are furious at George W. Bush and the administration, along with the Republican Party, because the current crop of politicians are terrible stewards of our planet. This is becoming a powerful movement around the country, one that could wrench the religious away from Republicans. Even Randy Brinson has taken a step away from Republicans in order to listen to what Democrats are talking about.

It’s not about converting the conservatives, which will never happen. But there are many moderates and non church going spiritual people out there who don’t like what the religious right is offering, but don’t consider themselves secular in the least. Where do they go or do they stay home?

You don’t have to believe in God, Buddha or Allah to respect the power, not to mention the practicalities, of reaching out to people of all types of faith.

The Democratic Party has the answers to solve many social, national security and global challenges we face today. But many moderates, especially in the south and in rural areas, are tuning us out and it’s costing us elections. Of course, we need to reach out to people beyond the faith based, but if we loosened the Republicans "lock on faith," as Sullivan calls it, the possibilities for Democrats would expand exponentially.

Compromise between secularists and people of faith can be found through engaging our tolerance and open mindedness, as well as practicalities that are important, like wanting to win elections. Opening the door to everyone, including moderate and the liberally religious and spiritual, is a good thing. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the power this group could bring to the polls in numbers, if Democrats flung the the door wide open.

If that doesn’t sell you, how about the fact that it would give Karl Rove heartburn? That’s got to be worth something.

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Taylor Marsh

Taylor Marsh

Taylor is a political commentator and radio personality who has been interviewed by C-SPAN's Washington Journal and all across TV and right-wing radio. She's been on the web for 10 years, going to blogging in late 2005. Taylor is affiliated with The Patriot Project, writes for Huffington Post, as well as Alternet. Her radio show debuted in 2002, which she now brings to her blog Mon-Thur, 6:00 p.m. Eastern or 3:00 p.m. Pacific. One of her passions is painting and creating political art. The graphic at the top of her blog is taken from the expressionist flag art that hangs in her home. She was born in Missouri, and has lived in New York City, Los Angeles and Las Vegas and some points in between.