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The religious ring inside the political circus

The religious ring inside the political circus

Updated  How religion played a big part in the spectacle of the political  conventions just ended.

Conor Friedersdorf, writing  in The Atlantic, observes how the groups that attract the most attention are the most fringe, which does not represent well the hearts of the majority of the faithful present at both conventions.

This gulf between what’s visible and what’s true is hardly unique to Christians. Muslim Americans are constantly frustrated by the fact that the vast majority of news about their coreligionists focuses on the infinitesimal percentage who perpetrate acts of terrorism. Police officers are frustrated by the fact that the average citizen sees news or YouTube clips of the most egregious abuses by cops, and almost never sees the encounters where volatile situations are handled professionally. In Cleveland and Philadelphia alike, the vast majority of leftist protesters were peaceful and friendly, but you’d never know it from the New York Post’s coverage.

What’s perhaps distinctive about Christianity is that the gulf between the typical believer and the street-corner fundamentalist is less evident to the average American today than it was in years past. There are now more enclaves and subcultures where people are never exposed to typical believers in childhood, and are therefore less able to recognize outliers when they see them.

I wonder if members of the Christian mainstream will decide, in future years, to be more present in the public square, or if forces like the Westboro Baptist Church will cause typical Christians to shy away from overt displays of faith even more for fear that, without context, they will be regarded as hateful or divisive. It isn’t ultimately up to me to chart the course that the Christian faithful will take. But I hope that if I return to the RNC and DNC in 2020 or 2024 or 2028, the religious presence there better represents the more loving strain of Christianity I’ve long witnessed.

RNS talks about the divided soul of the Democratic Party. Faith was on display but apparently was less represented in the caucuses and platform committees than in past years.

…Both faith and diversity were often on display at the Wells Fargo Center, where the convention was called to order every afternoon — and closed every evening — by prayer, and at various events taking place each day around the city.

A case in point: The latest “Nuns on the Bus” tour for social justice ended its three-week, 13-state campaign to combat the nation’s divisions by parking outside the arena. In addition, at special sessions devoted to faith outreach, Muslims, mainline Protestants and others delivered impassioned sermons about marrying faith to public action….

…Numerous delegates and activists who take their cues from their faith complained that party leaders have effectively dropped faith-based participants from the process of drafting the party platform or helping to shape the campaign message for nominee Hillary Clinton.

Privately, many expressed anger at this development, which they say is a departure from the party’s earlier efforts to heed the concerns of religious believers — concerns they say could attract undecided voters and those disillusioned with what they see as the dark and divisive language from Republican nominee Donald Trump.

The Nuns on the Bus went to both conventions. CBSPhilly.com reports:

After nearly three weeks on the road, visits to 13 states and countless conversations with Americans, the Nuns on the Bus, led by Sister Simone Campbell landed in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention.

The sisters were helping to bring people together as they handed out free cups of lemonade with the mission of creating a dialogue with the public on how to mend gaps in our society.

They timed their road trip with both political conventions in mind.

“We were at the Republican National Convention last week in Cleveland and there, people were very much more serious, reserved, not a sense of joy at all… here in Philly there’s much more joy, much more enthusiasm and a much more diverse group of people gathered.”

NCR’s Thomas Reese looks at how religion has been reported up to the convention, how most journalists completely missed the rise of Trump, focused mainly on a narrow slice of one slice of Christianity, and the shift in voting patterns among previously predictable religious blocs.

The breakdown of the 2016 primary vote by religion is difficult to measure because the exit polls were only concerned about evangelicals, not Catholics. Four years ago, Catholic Republicans played a decisive role in the primaries by sticking with Romney in most of the elections, while the evangelicals bounced around among the other candidates, many of whom were Catholics. Eight years ago, Catholic Republicans helped nominate John McCain, and in the Democratic primaries, Catholics were the swing vote that could determine whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton won.

This year the media focus in the Republican primary was on evangelicals. Only a few evangelical leaders endorsed Trump before the primaries began. They were turned off by his multiple divorces, his loose life style, his casino investments, and his early support for abortion and Planned Parenthood. Their hearts and heads were with Ted Cruz and the more predictable conservative candidates.

In the early primaries, however, evangelicals ignored their leaders and voted for Trump, although people who frequently attend church were less enthusiastic. By the end of the primaries, even churchgoers were on board, and most evangelical leaders ran to catch up with their troops.

All the commentators and experts were wrong in their early predictions about Trump. Nobody thought he had a chance, and after every victory they predicted a future stumble.

Christianity Today notes that this election may see the end of the so-called “God-gap,” the idea that election patterns are linked to church attendance.

Trump only leads Clinton by four percentage points among regular churchgoers (49% vs. 45%), a “notable shift” according to the Pew Research Center. By comparison, Mitt Romney’s 15-point margin over Barack Obama in 2012 (55% vs. 40%) was much more indicative of the usual spread between Republican and Democrat candidates among weekly worshipers.

Similarly, George Washington University found that the difference between the percentage of weekly churchgoers voting Republican vs. Democrat spanned 40 points in 2012; during the 2016 primaries, there was less than 15 percentage points between the two, according to Religion News Service blogger Mark Silk’s analysis of the survey data.

This year’s demographic shifts are drastic enough that, for the first time in years, gender outweighs faith in determining how someone might vote, wrote Silk. (In June, Pew found that women who worship weekly are 15 percentage points more likely to favor Clinton (51%) than men who worship weekly (36%).)

The main factor: churchgoing Catholics. They slightly favored the GOP during the last presidential election, but with Trump as the Republican nominee, their Democratic support has risen 22 percentage points, reports FiveThirtyEight (based on Pew’s data).

Still, the display could be quite revealing and often stirring. Here is the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and a founder of the Moral Monday movement in that state. He brought the crowd at the Democratic convention to tears and then to their feet calling for a “shock” to “revive the heart of our democracy.”

 

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