Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Using Religion to Bash Social Conservatives

Centerville Citizen cites the book Jesus Is Not a Republican, and makes the argument that open minded Utahns will not vote a straight party line this November. The implied thought is that those that vote a straight party ticket are uninformed and/or closed minded. Presumably this stupidity assessment only applies to those that vote Republican and not to those enlightened folks that select the straight line option under the kicking mule.

The book CC cites is a collection of essays that together make the argument that “a true follower of Jesus is far more likely to vote for a liberal Democrat than for a conservative Republican.” Essay writers argue that “the social conservatives allied with the Republican Party, exploit the name of Jesus to support policies that lead to injustice, war and cruelty.” Centerville Citizen extends this argument to Utah Mormons that vote Republican.

While denouncing Christian social conservatives for using the name of Jesus to sell their own brand of politics, the book hypocritically (and absurdly) engages in exactly the same tactic. This book is clearly not intended to convert social conservatives to the liberal cause, as it is merely a browbeating harangue that paints Republicans as insidiously evil spawn of Satan, while putting a lovely whitewash patina on a pastoral image of liberal Democrats. In other words, it is merely preaching to the choir. It may be intended to pull unaffiliated and uncommitted voters toward liberalism, but the harangue tactic certainly isn’t calculated to win over religious conservatives.

None of this is to say that the book fails to make any valid points. But the good points it does make are placed in such a skewed context as to diminish their validity. An objective observer might readily agree with the book’s title that Jesus is not a Republican. But such a person would also have to quickly conclude that he is not a Democrat either. And religious social conservatives are not going to agree with scriptural interpretations that suggest that Jesus teaches that big government programs are the solution to humanity’s problems.

CC cites an unreferenced article by President James E. Faust, 2nd Counselor in the LDS Church First Presidency (the church’s top ruling body) that explains why he is a Democrat. It must be recognized, however, that today’s Democratic Party is vastly different than the one President Faust represented in the Utah State Legislature from 1949 to 1951. At that time, Utah Mormons voted more Democratic than Republican.

But Utah Mormons fled the Democratic Party in droves during the 70s and 80s. It was not so much that Mormon thought changed as that the chief principles of the party changed. Utah Mormons left because they discovered that they no longer belonged. President Faust himself has frequently preached against principles that seem highly cherished by the Democratic Party mainstream.

Still, many Utah Mormons respect people like Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson of Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. He often votes counter to his own party, much to the chagrin of the party faithful (see here). But it increasingly seems that his maverick stance within his party is an anomaly, and that his work is doing little to move the party in a direction social conservatives think is good.

I do not believe that bashing socially conservative Mormons over the head with the arguments presented in Jesus Is Not a Republican is going to convert them to the cause of liberalism or to the Democratic Party. Utah Democrats might have more success if they were to invite Mormons to come and help fix what they see wrong with the party. Mormons have a good track history in being willing to take on service projects.

But nobody out there is extending such an invitation. Instead, they are saying, “You are clearly wrong, so join us and become like us.” Sorry, but that approach has never worked well in any realm, and it’s clearly not going to win many converts now.

Besides, religious social conservatives are not totally blind to GOP's problems. Indeed, they are often openly quite critical of the party. But they think they at least have a chance of achieving some of their goals via an alliance with the GOP that could not be realized with the Democrats.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you that it is foolish for the left to argue to social conservatives that Jesus would vote for liberal Democrats not conservative Republicans.

I am a little touchy on this subject because of Bob Bennett's recent statements to the effect that the Utah Democratic Party is "anti-Mormon".

The Utah Democratic Party is likely the most moderate/conservative Democratic Party organization in the country. There is a great opportunity for it to provide some balance in this state of ours where so many are convinced that voting Republican is part of being a good member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (people like Bob Bennett).

Many moderate Utahns are abandoning their chance to have a say in Utah's policy decisions because the impression that you can't be a good Mormon and be a Democrat at the same time is so wide spread in Utah. Centerville Citizen's blog post makes some good points. We could all benefit from having a competitive political system in Utah.

You're criticism of Centerville Citizen's post for extolling that book is fair. You're failure to recognize in your post that you're side is very publicly doing the same thing you accuse the authors of this book of doing seems pretty lame.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Jeremy, I completely agree that the GOP also uses religious demogoguery to further its political agenda. Bennett's haughty remarks were certainly inappropriate. But many people I know heard them and nodded in agreement. However, the fact that some agree with what is said does not excuse the demogoguery, regardless of which side spews it.

I did not intend to paint the GOP as pure and clean on this matter. To many Christian conservatives, politics is a nasty business in which they engage only because they must in order to maintain viability in society. Given that scenario, many religious social conservatives hold their noses and vote with the party they find least odious. This course of action should not be considered a ringing endorsement of that party. Sometimes the opinions are fierce only because the stakes are so low.

Anonymous said...

Would jeremy at least concede that there is a significant anti-mormon element in the Utah Democrat party?

I distinctly heard Rocky Anderson engage in a little coded bigotry during his little Bush-bashing party, and I distinctly heard raucous cheering after the comment. Most people outside of Utah didn't get the reference, but for the rest of us--it was unmistakeable.

Frankly I'm tired of giving Democrats a pass on patriotism and bigotry. If Democrats don't want the party to be known as anti-Mormon and anti-American, then they better clean house. May I suggest the Republican example on racism--Trent Lott lost his job for merely appearing to make a racist statement. That's what Democrat have to do to make it believable.

What you have instead is Rocky Anderson calling on SLC Democrats to vote Green this coming November because he thinks Matheson isn't "democrat" enough.

Bennett was right--unfortunately so, but correct nonetheless--the Democrat party is a culture of haters, and while there may be some sane ones in there somewhere, one doesn't embrace a corrupt enterprise for the same reason one doesn't put new wine into old bottles.

George said...

Sorry, I did not see your post until yesterday. The dominance of any one party is unhealthy and especially here in Utah. Like sheep so many of you have lined up with the mistaken statements of President Benson and the rhetoric of Orrin Hatch in chosing your political party. By doing so you have promoted this climate of corruption not only in Washington DC but here in our Utah backwater.

My representative to the Utah Legislature had only one private donor in this last election. The rest came from PACs and lobbies. He like so many of his peers represent the finest legislators that money can buy.

President Faust remains a compassionate Democrat and as Elder Jensen of the Seventy has said there are many aspects of the Democratic Party that are in harmony with the gospel.

"Zion prospereth and all is well in Zion..."