Reclaiming the religious left

Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans represent the party of God, but some politicians are spreading the word that Christians can be Democrats, too
Sunday, October 22, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:11 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Since the 2004 election, when exit polls showed that 64 percent of people who attend services more than once a week reported voting for Bush, the conventional wisdom has been that Republicans represent the party of God.

State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, who has a master’s degree in divinity and is married to a Baptist minister, said she’s sometimes mistaken for a Republican, a stereotype that she considers “bogus.”

“I think it’s a complete mischaracterization of a very large group of people who are very religious and really quite devoted to their faith and to the Bible,” Baker said. “I think the religious left is feeling left out.”

Baker, who is running unopposed to reelection this year, has agreed to contribute essays and commentary to a new political Web site aimed at spreading the word that Christians can be Democrats, too. Launched on Sept. 5, features articles, blogs and discussions compiled by legislators, theologians, ministers and others. The Web site, which is not affiliated with the Democratic Party, was conceived by Jesse Lava, an assistant to former Democratic National Committee Chairman David Wilhelm, who also helped in its debut.

Tennessee Sen. Roy Herron, a Democrat and co-chair of, said the site is an attempt to create an “online conversation” between people who share similar religious and political views.

“My top priority is to help the church avoid the heresy that Christians have to be a member of a particular political party, (and) the heretic that God is spelled ‘GOP,’” Herron said.

The author of several books, including “How Can a Christian be in Politics?,” Herron said voters should not feel obligated to leave their “deepest values and strongest commitments” behind when they step into the voting booth.

“To say that Christians have to be Republican,” he said, “is simply not scriptural and not right.”

Phyllis Fuget, chair of the Boone County Democratic Committee, is an active member of her Protestant church. She said that while religious people have always been part of the Democratic Party, religion has not always been a factor in the party’s political agenda. Fuget doesn’t think that moral values will play a significant role in November’s mid-term elections, as they were thought to in the past presidential election.

“I haven’t heard people talking about religion this year when I have been to campaign conventions,” Fuget said.

Laura Hutton, a 26-year-old graduate student at MU, said she has liberal views that have not conflicted with her life-long belief in God. “I consider myself a religious person,” she said. “I appreciate the open nature of church. That’s what I think religion should provide: a home. We need to be sure people have access to basic rights.”

Although Hutton does not consider herself a Democrat, she doesn’t agree with political pundits like Ann Coulter, whose latest book, “Godless,” argues that Democrats are without religious faith. Indeed, Hutton believes religion should be absent from the political arena.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting people know that just because we are Democrats doesn’t mean we aren’t spiritual,” Hutton said.

Julie VanMater, a 22-year-old student at MU, is a member of Campus Ministries Reformed University Fellowship, an evangelical group that hosts weekly services and social events for Christian students. A product of a liberal home, VanMater still considers herself “left-leaning,” and said her religious beliefs influence every aspect of her life.

“I don’t claim to be either party, but I’m definitely not a Republican,” VanMater said. “I have found that most Christians think that all Christians should be Republican. I tend to side with the more Democratic ideas.”

The reason for this, VanMater said, is that she thinks the Democratic Party does more to help people. She said the Republican Party, on the other hand, could cause people to shy away from the conservative religious ideals.

“I think that as religious people, (Republicans) should be open to ideas that don’t particularly fall into their Republican point-of-view,” she said. “I think a lot of Christian Republicans are really conservative, and I don’t really agree with the point-of-view.”

VanMater is the kind of person that Herron hopes will gravitate toward, which in the past month has received media attention from CNN, Fox News, and USA Today. Although the Web site offers Democrats the opportunity to unite under similar religious views, Herron said he doesn’t intend for it to further divide voters.

Baker agrees, and said she relies on her faith when making political decisions but refrains from using them to attack others’ moral principles.

“Jesus says render to Caesar what is Caesar and render to God what is God,” Baker said, “and I believe we should keep the political process and our faith separate, because really my faith supersedes any political mechanics. I don’t want my faith to end up equated with anything that is considered politics, although I want my faith to influence my vote.”

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