Desperate to get back in power after their banishment from leadership in the garden of Washington, Democrats appear ready to play the religion card. At a recent private meeting of 15 Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, author and evangelical activist Jim Wallis told them their problem stems from the perception that the Democrat Party is comprised of "secular fundamentalists."
Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian magazine Sojourners and author of such books as "Who Speaks for God?" and "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It," is not a bomb-thrower, but a serious Christian whose faith tells him government can play a bigger role in resolving social issues, such as poverty.
Wallis thinks Democrats should do more to align themselves with biblical passages about the poor, the environment and other issues to which the party regularly speaks, but mostly from a secular perspective.
There is danger here, for the Democrats and for the church. Democrats run the risk of appearing insincere and simply using religion to dupe enough voters concerned about moral and social decline to vote for them. Once back in power, Democrats will have as much effect on moral and social conditions as Republicans have, which is not much at all.
On public policy matters, Democrats and Republicans are divided in ways that religion will not bridge. Democrats mostly believe government should be a primary caregiver. That trillions in social spending has not alleviated poverty has not dulled their "faith" that it can.
Republicans think people should begin with themselves, making decisions and choices that are objectively right and beneficial to the one who makes them and to the wider culture. They think government should be a last resort, not a first resource.
Politics deals with the outside, but the Bible that Republicans have successfully used and Democrats now want to quote, deals with the inside. Government cannot go there with enough power to change lives. It is when Republicans and Democrats pretend that it can in order to win votes for their "kingdom of this world" agendas that both go wrong and dilute, even oppose, the message they claim to uphold.
Could Democrats better reflect a "higher calling" and deeper purpose in their politics? Yes. Are Republicans more favored of God because many happen to reflect positions that seem more biblically defensible than Democrats on such matters as abortion and same-sex marriage? No, especially when some of their own marriages are breaking up, or when they succumb to other temptations, such as power, greed and lust.
As the prophet Isaiah quoted God, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (Isaiah 55:8). It is worth noting that this verse is preceded by an admonition: "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts." I don't hear any Democrat or Republican using the language of personal repentance.
In our 1999 book, "Blinded by Might," Dr. Ed Dobson and I write of previous sloppy attempts by Republicans and Democrats to use religious language to persuade voters that Bible-quoting politicians were somehow more in tune with God's wishes than the other party.
We wrote then and would affirm now, "Both parties now shamelessly invoke God to bless public policies with which they agree -- and frequently invoke him wrongly -- but ignore his instructions when he speaks clearly about matters with which they don't agree. In other words, they use only enough of the Bible or their Christian convictions (to) accomplish their political objectives. ... Politicians want God on their side whenever possible because they see him giving legitimacy to their ideas and a personal feeling of moral satisfaction."
If Democrats use religion merely to gain votes, it won't work and will further compromise what remains of the religious left's integrity. They have only to look to how Republicans have, in too many cases, compromised Christian conservatives in their pursuit of earthly power to obtain a seat at the political table to see what lies down this dead-end road.
Tribune Media Services