Where is the Rhetoric Headed? Shaping Public Opinion
By Stephanie Block
I won’t skate conspiracy theories so long as there are simpler explanations, but please examine the following articles, trolled from between December 2007 and February 2008. There were dozens and dozens of additional articles one might have chosen to demonstrate the same thing, but one grows weary and the point remains the same, namely that there are a large number of people who are saying roughly the same thing from rather influential positions.
For example, the Tennessean, carried an article called “Democrats believe evangelicals could deliver presidency” (Bob Smietana, 2-20-08) that said, “According to a post-election poll sponsored by Faith in Public Life and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, 32 percent of Tennessee Democratic primary voters were evangelicals.” It then goes on to say Democrats are targeting the evangelicals. According to one analyst, “as long as the Republican Party remains opposed to abortion…a vast majority of evangelicals will support them. If you take the life issue off the table - and that’s a pretty big issue - you give Democrats a license to go hunting for evangelical voters.” There followed a story about an evangelical who switched his priorities from abstract moral principles to an issue that hit closer to home, namely healthcare, and the observation from a local professor that “evangelicals are expanding their moral agenda to include issues such as poverty and AIDS, along with abortion. That’s especially true about younger evangelicals.”
A Washington Post, Op-Ed by Michael Gerson, “Faith without a Home” (2-27-08) starts with the gleeful, “I have seen the future of evangelical Christianity, and it is pierced. And sometimes tattooed. And often has one of those annoying, wispy chin beards….Many observers have detected a shift - a broadening or maturation - of evangelical social concerns beyond the traditional agenda of the religious right. But does this have political implications?”
Bill Berkowitz, writing “The Times They Are A-Changin’ for the Religious Right” (3-27-08) writes, “The old guard is wondering if ‘the younger generation will heed the call’ while the young Turks have other things on their minds besides abortion and same-sex marriage. During a recent appearance at the National Religious Broadcasters conference, Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, expressed deep concern about the future of the conservative Christian movement he helped build. ‘The question is,’ Dobson said, ‘will the younger generation heed the call? Who will defend the unborn child in the years to come? Who will plead for the Terri Schiavos of the world? Who’s going to fight for the institution of marriage, which is on the ropes today?” Berkowitz, one may point out, isn’t sorry to see the old guard go.
Let’s turn now to the other conservative demographic – the Catholics. Joe Feuerherd, who often writes for the National Catholic Reporter, published an opinion piece in the Washington Post, “I Voted for Obama. Will I Go Straight to…?” (2-24-08). He writes, “Like most Maryland Democrats, I voted for Sen. Barack Obama in the recent Potomac Primary. By doing so, according to the leaders of my church, I put my soul at risk. That’s right, says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops - tap the touch screen for a pro-abortion-rights candidate, and you’re probably punching your ticket to Hell….To Catholics like me who oppose liberal abortion laws but also think that other issues—war or peace, health care, just wages, immigration, affordable housing, torture - actually matter, the idea that abortion trumps everything, all the time, no matter what, is both bad religion and bad civics. It’s not, for God’s sake, as though we’re in Nazi Germany and supporting Hitler.”
Feuerherd continues, “Why should non-Catholic Americans care about the bishops’ right-wing lurch? Because the bishops can influence a good number of the faithful, many of whom happen to be concentrated in large, electoral-vote-rich states. In the key swing state of Ohio in 2004, for example, bishops vigorously supported an anti-same-sex marriage amendment to the state constitution, which helped drive Republican voters to the polls. Bush won 55 percent of the Catholic vote in the Buckeye State, up from 50 percent in 2000 and enough to provide his margin of victory.”
The real point he wants to make is this: “So what’s a pro-life, pro-family, antiwar, pro-immigrant, pro-economic-justice Catholic like me supposed to do in November? That’s an easy one. True to my faith, I’ll vote for the candidate who offers the best hope of ending an unjust war, who promotes human dignity through universal health care and immigration reform, and whose policies strengthen families and provide alternatives to those in desperate situations. Sounds like I’ll be voting for the Democrat - and the bishops be damned.”
In February 2007, Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners magazine and the author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, wrote in a Time magazine essay, that “We have now entered the post-Religious Right era. Though religion has had a negative image in the last few decades, the years ahead may be shaped by a dynamic and more progressive faith that will make needed social change more possible.”
That same month, the Boston Globe published an interview with Wallis, “Q and A with Jim Wallis.” (Interview by Michael Paulson, 2-17-08) in which we are told “an increasingly influential religious leader [Wallis] explains why evangelicals should worry less about abortion and gay marriage, and more about the poor…evangelicalism appears to be changing. In the primary season now underway, evangelicals failed to coalesce around a single candidate, and the red meat issues of previous election cycles - gay marriage, abortion - were eclipsed by the economy and the Iraq war. And a recent report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life declared that younger white evangelicals are drifting away from the Republican Party. Among the most prominent champions of a new evangelical agenda is Jim Wallis…”
Of course, it’s possible that Wallis is correct, that the world is changing and the assumptions one could once make about Catholics and evangelicals no longer hold. With a growing population of zealous, young pro-lifers, however, that seems…suspicious. So let’s try another explanation. Here it is: there’s a concerted push on the part of liberal religionists to convince Catholics and evangelicals that they can and should be voting along liberal lines.
These articles – and dozens more, many with a similar message – come from the Faith in Public Life Daily News service, “today’s top news on faith and politics, policy, and public life,” delivered to the subscriber’s email box. Day after day – in mainstream media and in “special demographic” media – the message is hammered: this upcoming election isn’t about abortion or homosexuality. It’s about Democrat party issues.
Did you get that yet? 1
Reprinted from the June 2008 Pequeños Pepper.