The Good Evangelical?

When Barack Obama chose pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration it sent ripples of disapproval through liberal ranks. Salon’s Joan Walsh, for example, attacked Warren as "a poster boy for kinder, gentler 21st century bigotry".

An evangelical Christian and pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest California, Warren is a firm opponent of same sex marriage. Last year he angered many socially liberal Americans by comparing it to incest and polygamy. But Warren also argues that Christians need to do more about issues like poverty and social justice. So if Obama wants to focus on issues like these, should he reach out to evangelicals like Warren?

Conservative columnist David Brooks would say yes. In a 2005 column for the New York Times he wrote:

… we can have a culture war in this country, or we can have a war on poverty, but we can’t have both. That is to say, liberals and conservatives can go on bashing each other for being godless hedonists and primitive theocrats, or they can set those differences off to one side and work together to help the needy.

The natural alliance for antipoverty measures at home and abroad is between liberals and evangelical Christians. These are the only two groups that are really hyped up about these problems and willing to devote time and money to ameliorating them. If liberals and evangelicals don’t get together on antipoverty measures, then there will be no majority for them and they won’t get done.

Obama seems to agree. In a 2006 speech he said "we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible and discuss the religious call to environmental stewardship all we want, but it won’t have an impact if we don’t tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America." He went on to say:

… when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome – others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don’t reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons will continue to hold sway.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical – if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Imagine Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord," or King’s I Have a Dream speech without reference to "all of God’s children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical. Our fear of getting preachy may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.

Obama wants to call a truce in the culture war. He wants to defuse social and cultural issues which have drawn many less affluent Americans away from liberal candidates. And if he succeeds it raises an interesting question — will conservatives try to lure these voters back by abandoning small government rhetoric and promising to use government programs for conservative ends?

***

More on Obama, faith and politics in this 2006 Troppo post: ‘The Return of the Prodigal Voter‘.

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[…] Don Arthur at Club Troppo observes, reminding me that the marathon is due to start over in two years, and beyond that six years for the post Obama crown: Obama wants to call a truce in the culture war. He wants to defuse social and cultural issues which have drawn many less affluent Americans away from liberal candidates. And if he succeeds it raises an interesting question will conservatives try to lure these voters back by abandoning small government rhetoric and promising to use government programs for conservative ends? […]

Rafe Champion
12 years ago

We have been over some of this before, with the idea to join forces on issues where there is common ground – like the desire to eliminate poverty and not start off shouting at each other on issues where we have differencs that cannot be reconciled in the short term.

The local issue that we discussed a couple of years ago was the problem of moving off welfare into work, and getting hit with a huge marginal tax rate due to the loss of benefits. The aim would be to adjust (taper) the loss of benefits to make the move into work more worthwhile. Has anything happened on this front?

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
12 years ago

Rafe – One way to have a useful discussion about things like taper rates would be to create an online simulator that lay people could play with.

People could plug in the taper rate or the benefit increase they’re proposing and then the simulator would tell them how much it would cost and what effect it would have on labour force participation etc.

Where the model relies on contested assumptions (eg work incentive effects) the simulator could allow you to adjust these.

What usually happens in debates over taper rates, EMTRs and other changes to payments and taxes is that people make proposals without having any idea of the costs and consequences.

Without numbers and models, debates over EMTRs are pointless. It’s true that an easy to use simulator would grossly oversimplify things, but it would give people a better sense of the trade offs.

Here’s an example of a simulator which helps people think about the US budget: http://marketplace.publicradio.org/features/budget_hero/

saint
12 years ago

Obama wants to call a truce in the culture war.

Sure sure. First up, kill the kids and set the child killers free. Wonder why they are screaming “Bailout“! Maybe someone should have told this fullsome idiot that if he killed an American he wouldn’t just get English lessons but also a green card.

Not to worry, Obama will tell you how much money you can earn but hey, don’t ask about pay rises you don’t deserve.

Don’t worry you can still all go green like him. Oh yes you can.

Seriously Obama should either be Benny Hinn or an Episcopalian. And anyone who believes his schtick is about as blind, arrogant and self-centred as they are.

AdrienSword
AdrienSword
12 years ago

Well Saint I guess you’re gonna remain at (Culture) War like ’em Jap’nese fellas kept fightin’ right inta the hippie days. That’s the spirit!

AdrienSword
AdrienSword
12 years ago

I think Obama’s attempting a paradigm change. He’s willing to acknowledge that conservatives have strengths in certain areas and let them work there. Gay marriage is currently too controversial to obtain approval. It’s a fight that can’t be won and it’s a minor issue (altho’ imho a significant one).
.
Obama’s not interested in any PC shitfight. He wants drop the partisan squiabbling over matters that boil down to personal views that cannot be changed and concentrate on the very difficult tasks he’s set himself. In the process he will, if successful, disarm the hysterically religious Right like this dingbat pour example. He’ll also marginalize the ridiculously PC left.
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I think that’s smart. And I think in a generation gay marriage will be relatively uncontroversial.

melaleuca
melaleuca
12 years ago

Saint says:

“Seriously Obama should either be Benny Hinn or an Episcopalian. And anyone who believes his schtick is about as blind, arrogant and self-centred as they are.”

I’m not suggesting Saint has a deranged obsession with the new American president but only a week ago he was having fantasies about Obama with boobs:

“Warning: Barack has man boob problem … Error: Barak has no man boobs.” http://dogfightatbankstown.typepad.com/blog/2009/01/vista.html

But seriously, poverty is a serious issue in the United States and Obama should do whatever it takes to ameliorate it, even if that means teaming up with oddball Jesus freaks.

legalsoapbox
legalsoapbox
12 years ago

My co-blogger has a theory about this in her post here – she thinks Obama is practising reasonable disagreement.

melaleuca
melaleuca
12 years ago

I would prefer Obama to take a decisive and ethical position with regards to crazed god-botherers, as per German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently denounced Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to reinstate a neonazi Bishop to the Catholic Church:

“Dr Merkel has broken with political tradition and demanded that the German pontiff make “a very clear statement” to reject the observations of Bishop Richard Williamson, who told a Swedish TV program he did not believe gas chambers existed in World War II or that six million Jews were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.

In an unprecedented attack on the leader of the Catholic Church, she rejected the pontiff’s statement last week apologising for Bishop Williamson’s comments, saying she did not believe that the clarification was sufficient.

Her comments reflect a growing revolt within the Catholic Church and more particularly within the German hierarchy as religious leaders increasingly express their horror at the Pope’s decision to rescind the excommunication of four ultra-conservative bishops to mend a 20-year schism between religious factions.”

http://www.theage.com.au/world/merkel-attacks-popes-support-of-outcast-bishop-20090204-7xvx.html?page=1

If a conservative like Merkel can display such moral courage then we should expect nothing less from a “liberal” like Obama.

AdrienSword
AdrienSword
12 years ago

If a conservative like Merkel can display such moral courage then we should expect nothing less from a liberal like Obama.

It’s precisely because he’s a ‘liberal’ that he can’t do that. Remember Germany and the US are different places. Very different culturally. Germany’s not stuffed to the brim with religious nutbags. And it’s the Right’s call to deal with ’em.