Democrat leaders merge church and party

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

Top Democratic legislators are promising to harness religion to help them win 2012 voters, and are also declaring that the Democratic Party’s actions are the expression of their religious obligations.

“The Democrats’ values and core agenda, and President Obama’s accomplishments, are reflective of the tenets and teachings and lessons of my faith as a Jewish woman… [and] no, there aren’t things that are informed by my faith than are different from the values and ideals of the Democratic Party,” said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats, including Rep. James Clyburn, spoke at a Nov. 30 press event in the DNC’s headquarters intended to promote the party’s 2012 religious outreach.

When asked by The Daily Caller if the party’s blending of religion and politics is blurring distinctions between church and state, Clyburn said, “We are in recognition of the fundamental aspect of all of the great religions … love, the golden rule, of doing unto others as you would have be done unto you.”

A Washington Post reporter asked how the Democrats planned to work with black churches. “The African American community, the church vote is very important… [but] the support for the president may not be as strong as it was,” the Post’s reporter added.

“As we organize going forward to next year,” Clyburn responded, “there will be be significant efforts on our part to reconnect the fundamentals of our policies to the [religious] teachings that we all learned, be it in the Old Testament or the New Testament.”

In the past, “we were so strong in our doctrine that there ought to be a separation of church and state, that we often took it to an extreme, and I thinks that’s how we got disconnected” from voters, said Clyburn, who heads the House Democrats’ Religious Outreach Committee, established after the party lost the 2004 presidential race.

“I speak with faith leaders every day, and a number of African American faith leaders,” said Rev. Derrick Harkins, the director of faith outreach at the DNC. “I find the issue is not a lack of enthusiasm, but the question is often raised ‘How can we be effective in this election cycle?'”

This use of religion for political purposes “will work with the less discerning” religious voters, said Richard Land, director of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. But, he warned, “whenever you employ religion to justify your own positions, which may or may not be biblical, it cheapens and desacrilizes religion.”

The Democrats’ recruitment of religion supports the tactics of the party’s progressive leaders, including Obama.

In 2006, Obama declared at a campaign rally that he started going to church after hearing a sermon from Jeremiah Wright, a controversial, politically connected, black reverend in Chicago. The sermon, according to Obama, said, “‘The world as it is is not the world as it has to be,’ … [and] I loved that idea in my own life because I thought that’s a philosophy I believe.” (RELATED: Obama in 2006: ‘I stole’ book title ‘Audacity of Hope’ from Rev. Wright, ‘my pastor’)

That primacy of politics over religion was displayed in Obama’s 2011 Thanksgiving Day message, which avoided any reference to God.

In that address, Obama implied that Americans' rights to freely speak, vote, assemble and own property depend on the approval of other Americans, saying, "No matter how tough things are right now, we still give thanks for that most American of blessings --- the chance to determine our own destiny."
This subordination of religion stands in sharp contrast to George W. Bush’s 2008 address, which reaffirmed the traditional assumption that citizens’ constitutional liberties and rights are granted by God, implying they cannot be legitimately denied by legislators, judges or voters.

Obama, however, did use biblical language to bolster the progressives agenda: “This sense of mutual responsibility — the idea that I am my brother’s keeper; that I am my sister’s keeper — has always been a part of what makes our country special,” Obama said. “If we keep that spirit alive, if we support each other, and look out for each other, and remember that we’re all in this together, then I know that we too will overcome the challenges of our time.”

“I would look at what Barack Obama’s policies and practices are, rather than what he may have or may not have mentioned,” Clyburn told TheDC. “I believe the president’s speech was very appropriate,” he continued, because, “The first Thanksgiving was all about celebrating a freedom to worship in one’s own fashion. … They gathered to give thanks not to any one God, but to give thanks in celebration of some omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent being.”

The meal was shared between Indians and the Pilgrims, who were members of a specific sect of English Protestants who worshiped the Christian God described in the Bible.

Speakers also caricatured Republicans’ beliefs as heartless and un-Christian.

A new generation of “values voters,” said Young Democrats of America President Rod Snyder, “will reject the GOP’s fend-for-yourself theology that would roll back health care benefits for younger Americans and deny quality education, all while preserving tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent.”

“If your philosophy is to take away from the needy in order to give to the greedy,” said Clyburn, “that’s anathema to my Christian faith.”

Land predicted the Democrats’ emphasis on religious will rise as the 2012 election gets closer. Obama’s speech “had all kinds of religious allusions when he ran for president, but since then they’ve disappeared,” he said. “He’s now playing golf instead of going to Church.”

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