Magazine article The Christian Century

Partisan Religion

Magazine article The Christian Century

Partisan Religion

Article excerpt

FROM THE TIME that George W. Bush declared Jesus his favorite political philosopher to the day Joseph Lieberman joined the Democratic ticket quoting the Book of Chronicles, religion was in the limelight during the 2000 presidential campaign. And when it was all over, Bush entered office amidst a flurry of worship services, clerical blessings and religious consultations.

Bush's triumph in the primaries was a tribute both to his unprecedented fund raising among Republican business elites and the surprising loyalty of religious conservatives. The dramatic failure of John McCain's attack on Christian Right leaders--calculated to split off traditionalist Catholics and more moderate religious voters--and the collapse of Pat Buchanan's third-party appeal to evangelicals underscored Christian conservatives' commitment to the GOP establishment.

On the Democratic side, religious factors also permeated the nominating process. From the start, A1 Gore stressed his own religious credentials, recalling his sometimes-neglected Southern Baptist roots, his flirtation with seminary education, and his internal guidepost, "What would Jesus do?" Coupled with his frequent visits to African-American churches, Gore's combination of traditional and progressive language was designed to solidify key elements in the Democratic religious coalition.

Although both Bush and Gore sought to expand their religious coalitions, especially after the primaries, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions confirmed the sharp differences in the parties' religious profiles. Although Christian conservatives were less visible at the GOP meeting than in 1992 or 1996, they were dearly entrenched in the party machinery. In fact, John S. Jackson III's quadrennial survey found that 29 percent of all GOP delegates came from white evangelical denominations--almost identical to the 1996 figure. Mainline Protestants clung to a diminishing plurality with 33 percent, a pale reflection of their historic dominance. Catholics made up another 20 percent of those present, all other religious groups combined for just 12 percent, and secular delegates accounted for only 5 percent.

The Democrats came from very different religious locations. Only 7 percent belonged to evangelical churches, 19 percent were mainline Protestants, and 23 percent were white Catholics. About half represented religious minorities: Jews (8 percent), black Protestants (15 percent) Hispanic Catholics (8 percent), and other religions (7 percent). Secular activists counted for 14 percent. In almost every religious tradition, Democrats were distinctly less observant than their GOP counterparts. While 55 percent of the Republicans reported attending religious services once a week or more, over half the Democrats claimed to attend only "several times a year," "seldom" or "never."

Not surprisingly, Republicans and Democrats held dramatically different views of the religious right and left. Among Republicans the total of self-described Christian Right "supporters" and "sympathizers" dropped slightly, from 65 percent in 1996 to 56 percent. Few Democrats sympathized with conservative religious groups; indeed, 39 percent were "skeptical" of such groups and almost half were "opposed." On the other hand, a majority of Democrats (56 percent) said they supported or sympathized with liberal religious groups, toward which most Republicans were skeptical (40 percent) or opposed (35 percent).

The fall campaign witnessed extensive religious mobilization, albeit in a different configuration than in past years. The Christian Coalition was dearly under stress, as the national organization and state chapters struggled to mobilize; its claim to have distributed 75 million voter guides should be taken with more than the usual grain of salt. Other Christian Right and pro-life groups probably took up the slack, however. The Campaign for Working Families, Concerned Women for America, Jerry Falwell's "People of Faith 2000," the Traditional Values Coalition, Priests for Life and similar organizations produced voter guides, sent mounds of direct mail, and ran phone banks. …

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