Obama’s Faltering Religious Outreach Revs Up

This week the Obama campaign attempts to restart its religious outreach with a month-long tour of its religious surrogates, titled “Barack Obama: Faith, Family, and Values.” The stars of the tour will be Catholic law professor Doug Kmiec, ex-Congressman Tim Roemer (also a Catholic), Methodist theologian Shaun Casey, and Evangelical author Donald Miller.
Obama’s religious outreach program has been on the rocks, not yet producing its expected results. Support for Obama among both Evangelical and Catholic voters has dwindled: 57.2 percent favor McCain, versus 19.9 percent for Obama. These numbers indicate that religious voters are supporting the GOP nominee at the same level as in 2004.
That’s bad news for the Obama campaign.
Restoring a relationship between the Democratic Party and the religiously active voters has been a priority for Obama and his party. TIME magazine’s Amy Sullivan told a group of religion reporters on Thursday that the campaign had decided to cut the funding level of religious outreach. This is a subject of particular concern to Sullivan, who recently published The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap, which we reviewed favorably here.
Sullivan’s remark brought a quick denial from the head of Obama’s religious outreach director, Joshua DuBois. “That is just absolutely not true. It is actually 180 degrees the other way,” he said.
Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Sullivan going on record to express what must have been a great disappointment to her is significant. Remember, she believed that Obama’s effort to close the “God Gap” was the key to the Democrats’ taking back the White House in November.
Now the Obama campaign has lowered its sights to attracting “moderates” among religious voting groups, such as the 500,000 Methodists in Ohio. But don’t the Obama strategists realize that very few moderates vote for religious reasons? The active religious voters come from the Right or the Left (and there aren’t really that many on the Left).
The McCain campaign flirted with a similar strategy but abandoned it. They got successfully back on track beginning with a July 29 visit to the Rev. Billy Graham at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.
Lynchburg, Virginia — the hometown of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell — got a taste of the Obama faith tour last Tuesday. Campaign surrogate Shaun Casey held a meeting for Evangelical voters at the Starlite Café on 5th Street. “His administration will model the kind of pluralism that we long for today,” Casey told the 15 people who showed up.
Unfortunately for Casey — and his boss — pluralism is hardly a message that ignites the passions of religious voters. Rather, it’s often used as a code word for being against what religious conservatives are for: protecting the unborn and marriage between a man and a woman.
And that’s the problem with the entire effort: Obama’s faith tour will not be able to get out from under the shadow of what it stands against. From the very beginning, the Obama campaign’s religious outreach struggled to define another kind of agenda that would appeal to religious voters. By all appearances, it failed.
There are many reasons for the downward trend of Obama’s appeal to religious voters, but Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, cuts to the heart of the problem:
People of faith will judge the candidates on the basis of their voting record — not on some grandstanding tour. The problem for Obama is his support for selective infanticide and pledges to make abortion-on-demand a right so secure that no state could ever rule against it. No “Faith Tour” can override that reality.

Deal W. Hudson

By

Deal W. Hudson is president of Catholic Advocate, an organization which engages and encourages faithful Catholics to actively participate in the political process to support elected officials and policies that remain consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Formerly publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine for ten years, his articles and comments have been published widely in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He has also appeared on TV and radio news shows such as the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, NBC News, and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. Hudson worked with Karl Rove in coordinating then-Gov. George W. Bush's outreach to Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, President Bush appointed him a member of the official delegation from the United States to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of John Paul II's papacy. Hudson, a former professor of philosophy for 15 years, is the editor and author of eight books. He tells the story of his conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in An American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003), and his latest, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, was published in March 2008. He is married to Theresa Carver Hudson, also a Baptist convert, and they have two children, Hannah, 21, and Cyprian, 13, who was adopted from Romania in 2001.

  • Jerry

    for this whole campaign – on both sides – is that God has become a commodity, to be used for whatever nefarious purpose each candidate decides. Why doesn’t EVERYONE stop using GOD as a campaign slogan, etc. and start showing some respect?

  • Mary

    While I will agree with Jerry that ‘religion’ or “God” for that matter can and has been used by politicians as a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder…apparently dependent on demographics…I do believe there is definitely a place in politics to discuss one’s religious beliefs. I do not believe that the majority of politicians have “nefarious” motives in invoking God or their faith positions, while I agree that some do see it as a pliable opportunity to be bent and shaped into what they believe people “want” to hear, not necessarily what they personally “believe”. I also believe that one’s life experiences also dictate the effect that their religious beliefs have on their political beliefs. John McCain, as a soldier and POW and Sarah Palin as the mother of a Down’s Syndrome, for example, have developed a “personal relationship” with the issue of the sanctity of life. This is truly what appeals to most “religious voters” across party lines. For believers, trying to connect the dots of their lives, to see how the events of their lives are somehow connected to a greater plan, candidates such as these are more appealing and their everyman/everywoman status more believable.

  • BenK

    A poster has said that God shouldn’t be a mere campaign slogan. So true.

    But using His name in a campaign isn’t necessarily a mere slogan. A person can say that he knows God’s will, that He will obey it, and that He asks God to bless his campaign and the country he presides over. This is not mere slogans. It reminds us all of why God is in politics – that God cares about politics and that we need to remember that God blesses and smites families, cities, countries. Not just individuals.

    My very life is at stake when a neighbor angers God, especially if that person goes unpunished, or rewarded, by the society and government I’m part of and support. I care what is done in private, there is no victimless crime.

  • Sam

    for this whole campaign – on both sides – is that God has become a commodity, to be used for whatever nefarious purpose each candidate decides. Why doesn’t EVERYONE stop using GOD as a campaign slogan, etc. and start showing some respect?

    Jerry, I agree that sometimes in public life God is used like a commodity, stripped down to a shallow platitude or an image of a deified self. Oprah has made millions doing just that, one of a long line of hucksters who peddle a false god instead of the real one. That said, I believe that invoking religious-based, natural-law based moral principles as the basis for political stands in a campaign is not only good but necessary for a morally discerning voter to figure out who to cast his vote for. Take the life issues — our faith and the natural law both indicate that an unborn child is a fully human child of God with an incumbent duty on us to protect it at its most vulnerable stage in life. Thus, both our faith, the natural law written on men’s hearts, and the science of fetology uphold a pro-life stance and preclude a pro-abortion stance. Religious voters express this using the language of divine revelation while bioethicists use the language of natural law and fetal science. All are arriving at the same conclusion but from different angles. God has a right to respectfully be included in the conversation.

  • Palpatine

    When will the Church come out and speak the truth as stated in the Holy Catechism?

    Supporting or voting for that baby-killer Obama is cause for excommunication. Moreso it would be a mortal sin that would damn their immortal souls to Hell.

    Its high time good Catholics stop voting for the party of abortion, licentiousness, and gay marriage.

    Wake up, my fellow Catholics!

  • Andy

    When will the Church come out and speak the truth as stated in the Holy Catechism?

    Supporting or voting for that baby-killer Obama is cause for excommunication. Moreso it would be a mortal sin that would damn their immortal souls to Hell.

    Its high time good Catholics stop voting for the party of abortion, licentiousness, and gay marriage.

    Wake up, my fellow Catholics!

    Careful with your rhetoric, there, Palpatine. While voting for Obama might be formal cooperation with evil (and arguably, so could voting for McCain), there is not necessarily such “automatic excommunication” as you say.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never vote for Obama (and not likely for McCain either), but let’s not get carried away with the New Inquisition.

  • Todd

    Sorry to rain on this parade, but Senator Obama continues to inch farther ahead in the polls. Economics has suddenly muscled past other considerations for many Americans. If anti-abortion Catholics continue to put their faith in the political solution, especially in the Republican version of it, not only will their trust in princes be in vain, but they risk being utterly marginalized to boot.

    Senator Obama hasn’t lived up to Deal’s expectations on the faith front? It seems to be counterbalanced by McCain enjoying half of W’s lead in rural America.

    “Supporting or voting for that baby-killer Obama is cause for excommunication. Moreso it would be a mortal sin that would damn their immortal souls to Hell.”

    How does it feel to know this statement has convinced nobody? Moreso, millions of Catholics will vote for Senator Obama in November and there’s no earthly penalty that can be extracted from any of them.

  • Adriana

    The certainty of a financial meltdown in the morning concentraes the mind most wonderfully.

    Suddenly people start worrying if they are going to have a job, or retirement, or insurance, or a roof over their head.

    And they have to choose between someone who helped created this current mess by de-regulating like a drunken sailor, and somebody who promises to do something different from the bunch of current incompetents who got us into this mess.

    Not too hard, really.

    If God wants us to vote for pro-life candidates, He should give us competent ones.

  • Carla

    Lynchburg, VA. I lived there for 11 long months in 1972-73. Fifty thousand citizens and 50 Baptist churches. Of course, old Jerry had the corner on the Sunday morning religion market. The local paper wouldn’t publish any stories about the Watergate break-in. I had to get a subscription to the Washington Post to read any truth about Nixon and his fellow clowns. In the local school system, the Civil War was taught as Current Events. The n-word routinely popped out of the mouths of the highly educated and the illiterate (products of the local school system). Where I worked, every other married person was having an affair. Just outside the city limits, there was a drive-in movie that showed hardcore porn on the big screen. I heard the place was packed every night.

    I’m surprised there were 15 people who showed up in a town like Lynchburg. Good thing Shaun Casey didn’t hold that faith meeting after dusk.

  • Anon

    “How does it feel to know this statement has convinced nobody? Moreso, millions of Catholics will vote for Senator Obama in November and there’s no earthly penalty that can be extracted from any of them.”

    What a mean-spirited individual. To know this is how you act with people sponsoring and enabling your dissent is frightening for those of us who have experienced the likes of you in our parishes and missions.

  • L.B.

    If God wants us to vote for pro-life candidates, He should give us competent ones.

    You would do a better job?

  • R.C.

    There are two kinds of Christians (Catholic or otherwise).

    There are Christians “with an upper-case C” whose lives are influenced by it and whose experience of the risen Christ is a supernatural one.

    There are Christians “with a lower-case c” whose attachment to Christianity (of whichever flavor) is purely cultural and habitual. These folks maintain strongholds in their lives against the authority of God: Areas in which they refuse to allow themselves to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. As a result, the voice of the Spirit is ever quieter and more distant in their hearts.

    And of course there are folks in-between these two extremes, transitioning in one direction or another, but the two categories are common enough that I’m sure most of you recognize them as described.

    Now, Obama doesn’t have much chance at all of winning over the folks in the first category; he never had.

    They’re not going to be swayed by a purely social-gospel agenda because, after all, (a.) The sinfulness of abortion matters, and has been preached against by Christian teachers from the first century onward; (b.) The sinfulness of fornication (homosexual or otherwise) matters, and has been preached against from the Old Testament onward; (c.) The question of whether the social-gospel aspects of Christian teaching are better implemented by leftist or free-market policies is not only of lesser importance to (a.) and (b.), but is also a matter of economic debate, in which both sides argue their policies will better assist the poor. I myself will not vote for candidates who support leftist economics because I am confident that doing so would do injury to the poor.

    Obama does, however, have a chance with the “little-c christians.” They’re not so well catechized, and won’t discern the priority-difference between resisting abortion and sexual immorality, and the social-gospel question. Moreover, many of them resist the Holy Spirit on these topics anyway: Refusing to make a distinction between the sin and the sinner, they wish to love the sinner (laudable) by celebrating or condoning the sin (sin of scandal and a rebellion against God).

    Also, like Donald Miller, they may nurse a great deal of personal hate or resentment for their fellow Christians because of the hurt feelings those fellow Christians have caused among homosexuals and beatniks. They correctly perceive these folks to be the outcasts of society, and correctly insist on expressing love to them…and incorrectly do so by expressing contempt for other Christians or even Christian teaching.

    Finally, if resistance to God and dislike for Christians are not enough, some of them believe (rightly or wrongly) that leftist economics will assist, rather than harm, the poor. Having stifled the actual voice of God in their hearts, they retain the moral obligation toward the poor as a blind idol, and serve it faithfully as best they know, by voting for leftists. (Almost solely by their vote, however: More than one study shows left-leaning voters give less to charity and church than right-leaning voters, at all income levels.)

    It is this last group which Obama can, and mostly has, drawn into his group of supporters. And due to human rebelliousness and poor catechesis by Christian clergy, they’re a very large group.

    So I expect Obama will win. We will get “the government we deserve.” (The government we need is sadly not on the ballot this year.)

  • Adriana

    L.B.

    Moe Howard would do a better job than the idiot we elected.

  • Bruce Roeder

    On July 4, 2008, Sen. McCain visited and received a blessing at the Basillica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Nothing against Billy Graham or the Lynchburg folks, but if Sen. Obama wants to court religious voters, why doesn’t he go to the shrine of the Patroness of the Americas? Because she is also the patroness of the unborn?

  • Carla

    A new poll released Sept. 11 finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.

    The poll, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57 percent of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.

    Southern evangelicals are therefore the mainstay of the torture regime in this country. The only point at which they even balk at torturing people who haven’t been subject to minimal due process is when they are reminded that this could come back to hurt Americans. The idea that torture is immoral in itself seems alien to a majority of the millions who lined up to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ. Since the South was built on torture-slavery, this is not that historically surprising. Many ancestors of today’s “Christianists” tortured African-Americans routinely. But the extent of Southern evangelicals support for violating one of the core moral absolutes of Christianity is striking.

    Old times there are not forgotten.

  • R.C.

    Carla:

    Torture is wrong and should be opposed by Christians. And, yes, 150 years ago slaves were tortured in the American Southeast.

    Having said that, I think your post states or implies an argument which is deeply unrealistic and false.

    (And, of course, it’s way off-topic; I’m not sure why you posted it here to begin with!)

    But setting aside the question of topic, let’s look at the argument.

    You’re saying or implying that:
    - Persons in the Southeast inherit their moral assumptions from those who lived in the Southeast 150 years ago;
    - Because those moral assumptions involved torture of slaves, they now involve torture of captured terrorists.
    - They are not merely “Christians” but “Christianists,” with the intent of forcibly making America into a “Republic of Gilead”-like dystopia (see: The Handmaid’s Tale).

    Now the last point is the usual atheist paranoia about Christians (Catholic and otherwise) which has become so common ever since it became possible for many people to be raised atheist and go through life never meeting anyone who was both a convinced Christian and not a hypocrite. Hollywood, which has taken up the role in our culture that religion and oral traditions occupied in earlier human cultures, amplifies this myth…to call it what it is.

    Your other points are no less false, but not so obviously. After all, they did torture slaves in the South back then. Perhaps “old times there” truly aren’t forgotten?

    But the argument doesn’t survive the weight of scrutiny.

    First: It’d doubtful that even a majority of citizens in the modern Southeast have ancestries that date back to the Confederacy. In Atlanta, a solid majority of the population moved from the Northeast or the Midwest in the last quarter-century; the same trend is less pronounced but certainly present in Charlotte, Dallas-Ft.Worth, and other large population-centers, owing to their robust economies.

    Second: Your argument disregards the actual reasoning given for their opinions by the persons holding those opinions, to wit:

    (a.) The pertinent torture is “waterboarding”;
    (b.) “Waterboarding” is torture…but is also practiced in the training of our own armed forces;
    (c.) Khalid Sheik Mohammed gave no valuable information after his capture until he was waterboarded; after that, he immediately gave a lot of information which was used to save lives and capture other terrorists;
    (d.) Most questions asking about the morality of torture posit a “ticking bomb” scenario; e.g., there’s a nuke about to go off in Manhattan, millions will die, this terrorist knows where it is, he refuses to cooperate, under torture he might reveal its location, will you refuse to consider waterboarding him, even as a last resort?

    However flawed it may be, most of your Southern White Men are familiar with THAT line of thinking. And they aren’t familiar with any counterarguments against it.

    It is not, then, unreasonable to assume they’ll say, “Last resort? Sure, I guess, as a last resort. After the way they sawed off the head of that journalist they caught a few years back? It’s not pretty, but yeah, if it’ll save a million folks who’ll otherwise die, then I’d give it a try.”

    But your post implies that this train-of-thought is so crazy and so outrageous that it can’t be the real reason. No, you posit instead that the only explanation for such a wild-eyed conclusion is that the ones making it are actually closet Klansmen, longing for the days when they could “flog disobedient negroes.”

    Which is nonsense, on stilts.

    And remains so, even when it’s posted under an unrelated topic.

  • Guillermo Bustamante

    Hi Deal:

    I

  • Guillermo Bustamante

    Is Jessen, not Jenner or Jensen.

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