Was the Democratic Party's 'Religion Problem' Born of Bad Intentions?

Pastordan can't stand Democratic faith consultants parroting the Republican line.

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Over at Street Prophets, Pastordan admits that the Democrats may have had a religion problem that the 2004 election results woke them up to. But he can't stand the Democratic faith consultants who parrot the Republican line that Democratic leaders are somehow antireligious: 

While there may be some validity to the charges that Democrats needed to "get" religion in the 2000s, the people who push that line of thinking tend to be political moderates with an interest in selling the party advice on religious outreach. They tend to do that in ways that impute bad intentions to Democratic party leaders,* and in ways that reinforce Republican narratives about the party. To my mind, that's bad for progressive ideas, and it's bad faith argument, if you'll excuse the expression. I'd like to hear Dan address that point in his next post. 

First off, it appears that on the part of some Democratic leaders, there were some bad intentions. When then presidential candidate Howard Dean's faith outreach director, Mara Vanderslice, introduced herself to Dean's top advisers in the 2004 race, one adviser looked at her point blank and said, "How the hell did you get hired?"

But enough about Vanderslice—Pastordan think she's gotten too much ink already.

Another Democratic strategist who has testified to his struggles as a religious person in the party is Eric Sapp, an evangelical who is now a partner at the Eleison Group, the main Democratic faith consulting shop. Here's what Sapp told me when I first met him in 2005:

"It kind of sounds silly when talking about Democrats, but our party has some serious prejudices and misconceptions about evangelical Christians." As a Senate aide, Sapp said, his Democratic colleagues viewed him with suspicion and that he was taken off an assignment on genetic counseling legislation because his superiors thought his religious beliefs presented a conflict.

Now, Sapp's grievances don't necessarily "impute bad intentions" to Democratic Party leaders. But they do impute some insensitivity toward some believers.

Another person who has testified to the party's insensitivity on that score is John Kerry. I sat down with him after the 2004 election, and, while he insisted his campaign included a robust and effective religious outreach effort, he also said he'd since developed a deeper appreciation for the antiabortion rights position of religious conservatives.

"I think the word 'choice' is a bad word, personally," Kerry said. "I'm firmly where I have been with respect for the notion that the government doesn't make that decision; it's between a woman and God and her doctor. It's an individual's job to acknowledge the morality, though, and for a long time, I'm not sure we [pro-choice Democrats] did a good enough job with that. I consider myself more thoughtful and understanding of that now."

Does that admission on Kerry's part reinforce a Republican Party narrative about Democrats being insensitive to the views of (mostly religious) pro-lifers? Sure does. But you can't object to every example of Democratic insensitivity toward religious concerns—it's important to note that you hear a lot fewer of those complaints after the Dems launched their faith offensive after '04—just because it supports a GOP narrative.