Lesbian New York
City council speaker Christine Quinn introduced Howard
Dean to the Democratic National Committee's Gay and
Lesbian Leadership Council fund-raiser in the Big
Apple with a bit of humor in June. Conjuring the mood
of the room from the previous year, Quinn explained
that at the same dinner then, Dean in no uncertain terms had
laid out a strategy for how Democrats were going to
win back control of the U.S. House and Senate.
"I think a lot of us were excited," Quinn
said. "But we were also like,
'He's a little crazy,' "
she added in an aside that started the room of donors
rolling with laughter.
crazy isn't necessarily bad," she continued.
"When crazy works, crazy is good--and
crazy worked in this case."
Taking a page
from his own book, DNC chairman Dean was back at the event
this year, presenting another scheme that may seem a little
crazy given his audience: how Democrats can win over
"values voters" in 2008.
"Republicans have known for 15 years that people do
not vote on issues," Dean told the audience.
"The reason you are choosing the candidates you
choose is because of your values. People vote based on their
emotions and their values, and we need to speak about
explained, go right to the issues that Democratic
pollsters tell their candidates to ignore. "A
woman's right to choose, same-sex marriage,
immigration--our guys say stay away from those
issues," said Dean. "The truth is,
that's how people measure their values. The
reason these issues are controversial is because most people
have values on both sides of them. That's why
they upset people--because it disturbs people
when they are tugged two separate ways."
Dean was making
some sense, even to a room full of gay people who are as
painfully aware as any group of the damage that so-called
values voters have levied. The religious right war
machine's years-long march to preserve the
"sanctity of marriage" has left the community
with the scraps of only two states besides
Massachusetts that don't explicitly prohibit
same-sex marriage through a statute, constitutional
amendment, or court decision: New Mexico and Rhode
But even as
blending religion and politics may seem anathema to many
LGBT people, Dean, all the major Democratic
candidates, and many state Democratic parties are
looking for common ground between faith voters and
Democrats. And they're finding it--among
Catholics, mainline Protestants, and even
concerns were thought for a long time to simply be focused
on two issues--namely, abortion and, of course,
gay rights," says Tony Campolo, an evangelical
and former faith adviser to President Bill Clinton.
"And there is a growing awareness that a significant
proportion of the evangelical community, specifically,
have broadened their attention. While they are still
talking about those issues, they're looking
more and more to the total scope of the party's
Campolo is part
of a progressive wing of the evangelical movement who
refer to themselves as "red-letter
Christians," because the words of Jesus are
printed in red letters in many 20th-century Bibles. Though
he has no hard numbers, he estimates this group, more
generally referred to as progressive evangelicals, to
represent about 20% to 30% of evangelicals.
evangelicals comprised nearly a quarter of all voters
nationwide in both 2004 and 2006, making them one of
the most coveted voting blocs in the nation. And until
recently, they have been the uncontested property of
the GOP, voting 78% to 21% for Bush over Kerry in
'04, and 70% to 28% for the GOP candidates in
evangelicals still overwhelmingly voted for Republicans in
2006, the 7-8 point slip from 2004 is in part
where Dean and other Democrats see an opening.
senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,
says Pew research polls indicate a similar
"loosening" of support for Republicans.
The average number of evangelicals who identified as
Republicans in 2004 versus this year has dropped from 50% to
42%, according to Green.
been an [eight-percentage-point] drop over a several-year
period," says Green, adding that almost none of those
voters have become Democrats. "A larger number
of evangelicals now identify themselves as
independents; and if you're looking at this from the
point of view of a Democratic candidate, independents
are much easier to persuade [to vote for you] than
expects a wholesale defection of evangelical voters from the
Republican Party, peeling off a few percentage points here
and there can still make a huge difference.
no way of predicting how all of this is going to shake out
in the 2008 election," says Campolo, who wrote
Letters to a Young Evangelical and is working on a
book called A Voting Guide for Red-Letter Christians.
"But here is what I can say: There will be enough
leakage from the solid bloc of the evangelicals that
voted without question for Republicans that the
Republican Party has to be concerned. If even 5% or 6%
of that huge bloc of 55 million voters shift over to the
Democratic side, it could be enough to swing the
election in various states."
What drives this
new brand of Christian voters? Poverty, the environment,
prevention of HIV and AIDS, universal health care, and
promoting peace are key issues that compel
them--issues that have coalesced Democrats for
more, the things that are dividing the two parties are
economic issues," says Campolo, pointing out
that over 2,000 verses of Scripture call people to
respond to the needs of the poor.
made this a major emphasis of discipleship. But Jesus never
mentioned the gay issue," says Campolo. "So
there is a sense in which the progressive evangelicals
are saying, Shouldn't we be focused on the thing
that really concerned Jesus?"
doesn't support same-sex marriage, he and other
red-letter Christians have been contemplating a
proposal that many gay Americans might well endorse:
separating the civil institution of marriage from the
religious blessing. Whether you're straight or gay,
you're granted the same legal rights; then you
find a church to bless your relationship.
I say this, people say immediately, 'But won't
this end up with people who are against gay marriage
going to churches that only marry heterosexuals, and
gay couples will find churches that are open to
homosexual marriages?' " says Campolo.
"The answer is yes. That's exactly it.
Nobody has to compromise their convictions, and gay couples
will have the same opportunity of getting married as
Campolo sees a
generational divide developing among evangelicals that
parallels the difference in emphasis between old-guard
leaders like James Dobson and Gary Bauer and a new
brand of leaders like Jim Wallis of the
Sojourners/Call to Renewal and Rick Warren, who wrote The
Whereas the older
disciples of Dobson have been consumed with sexual
morality and preserving marriage as a heterosexuals-only
institution, these issues do not uniquely motivate
many younger evangelicals.
the shift all across the country at college campuses
where he speaks. "It's not that the younger
people are necessarily pro-gay
marriage," he says. "It's that they
shrug their shoulders and say,
'Y'know, to make this the defining issue for
Christianity is giving it an importance that it
doesn't deserve.' " In other
words, while marriage may have been the sole driver of
their parents' votes, it won't
necessarily be the determining factor for them.
Ben Cressy, who
will be a junior this fall at Eastern University in St.
David's, Pa., where Campolo teaches, grew up in a
traditionally evangelical household but now describes
himself as "evangelical with a small e."
Cressy doesn't agree with the divisive nature of the
movement's political agenda.
the evangelical movement has been aligned with the right
wing and Republican politics, it takes our Christian
convictions and kind of tries to manipulate people in
our country who don't necessarily have the same
convictions," he says.
"deeply concerned" about inequality and urban
poverty. He belongs to a student group called the
YACHT Club (Youth Against Complacency and Homelessness
Today) that volunteers in inner-city Philadelphia and
advocates for better housing and job opportunities for
doesn't affiliate with either political party, the
two candidates who have his eye right now are John
Edwards, because of his work on poverty, and Sen.
Barack Obama. "He is intriguing because his
message is one that speaks to everyone--that Americans
need to find places of convergence and work from
there, which I completely agree with," Cressy
says of Obama. "I can't point to a time in my
life when I've heard a politician talking about
anything like that."
As for gay
issues, they're a top priority in the voting booth
for both him and his parents--but for completely
different reasons. "They think that if the
right to marriage or civil unions is granted across all 50
states that the doors are going to open wide to all sorts of
things," Cressy says, adding that his parents
would never vote for a Democrat. "But in a
democratic society we have to give everybody equal rights.
You can't take them away from people just
because they are in love with someone of the same
rift has been growing steadily over time, and as always,
actions speak louder than words. In March, Dobson and Bauer
were part of a group that sent a letter to the
National Association of Evangelicals asking the group
to muzzle its policy director, the Reverend Richard
Cizik, from speaking about global warming. Dobson and Bauer
held that environmental concerns only distract from
"the great moral issues of our time."
Meanwhile, more than 100 prominent evangelical leaders
signed an "Evangelical Climate
Initiative" last year as a call to action on the
As their emphasis
changes, progressive Christians are beginning to
actively engage Democrats. Warren, the author, invited two
presidential candidates to speak at his
California-based church's Global Summit on AIDS
and the Church last December: conservative stalwart Sen. Sam
Brownback and Democratic contender Obama. After the two
addressed the audience, they sat down with Warren and
all three got an HIV test.
In June the
progressive evangelical group Sojourners/Call to Renewal
hosted a televised forum on faith, values, and poverty where
all three Democratic majors--Clinton, Edwards,
and Obama--fielded questions on their personal
religious beliefs. Each has also hired faith outreach
year, Tony Campolo arranged for Dean to speak at
predominantly evangelical Eastern University. "He
decided that he wanted to make a statement about the
position of the Democratic Party toward religious
groups and how it was going to be sensitive to religious
values, not necessarily fundamentalist values, but religious
values," says Campolo. "I have not heard
one iota of negativism towards his
Damien LaVera, a
DNC spokesman who moderated the Q&A following
Dean's speech, says the 250 students who
attended were overwhelmingly interested in asking
about things like economic justice, Darfur, poverty, and
government corruption: "Not a single question had
anything to do with the traditional hot-button
speech was a long time in the making. The DNC started its
Faith in Action program shortly after Dean was elected
to chair the organization in 2005. He and other
Democrats began having face-to-face conversations with
influential religious folks across the nation in order to
start a dialogue.
But there were
missteps as far as LGBT people were concerned: Dean
famously appeared on Christian Broadcasting Network's
The 700 Club in May 2006 and misstated the party
platform as holding that "marriage is between a
man and a woman"--a 2004 platform that had
since been revised to support marriage equality. Gay
activists were outraged, and the National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force returned a $5,000 donation from the DNC.
for what happened, but he still believes you can court
faith voters without alienating gay voters. "There
are people who are not going to agree with us on every
issue," he tells The Advocate. "The two
most prominent issues are marriage equality and other rights
for the LGBT community and abortion rights. The point
here is to build bridges where we can build
the infrastructure set up through Dean's
controversial 50-state strategy--which funneled
DNC money and resources to all 50 states rather than
focusing on blue states and hotly contested swing
states--the DNC ran faith pilot programs in six
states: Arizona, Alabama, Maryland, Missouri, Oregon,
Neel Pender, who
was executive director of the Oregon Democratic Party
during the '06 elections, calls the approach to
religious issues in his state a "night and
day" difference from years past. Candidates were
trained on how to talk to religious voters and showed up in
venues they had never braved before. Three Democratic
candidates aired ads talking about their faith and
placed them on Christian radio stations (one such ad,
for state representative David Edwards, ran on both Air
America and a Christian station). "We got a lot
of calls and some donations from people," says
Pender, adding that the ad campaign drew enough online
funders to pay for itself.
Democratic Party ran its own faith outreach program with
special emphasis on Catholic voters. The state's
Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, who was in a
tight reelection campaign, distributed faith
brochures, gave a speech about her values at a Protestant
seminary in western Michigan, and publicized an
innovative program she developed to reduce unwanted
pregnancies. That reframed the issue for many pro-life
Christians, says Mark Brewer, chair of the state party.
"A lot of
people I met with had never heard of her abortion-reduction
program, and when they did, it cast her in a completely
different light," Brewer says of Granholm, who
is pro-choice. "All of a sudden she wasn't
the 'pro-abortion governor'--they saw
her as trying to reduce unwanted pregnancies."
In 2004, Kerry
carried Michigan's Catholics by a slim margin of 51%
to 49%, but in 2006, Granholm captured the Catholic
vote by a decisive 13 points. "This project was
not the sole reason for that," says Brewer,
"but it certainly contributed to it. We talked to
more Catholic voters more effectively than we had ever
coordinator of the DNC's Faith in Action program,
says initiatives such as those in Oregon and Michigan
have set the stage for '08: building
relationships, infrastructure, and showing faith voters the
party is genuinely interested in working with them.
dialogue has shifted," says Brown, who has been
working with the intersection of faith and policy for
more than five years. "The nature of the
conversation now is, Who's going to
deliver?--not, Does one party have a monopoly on
faith or on values? That in and of itself is
significant because now we can start talking about
Gretchen Cook contributed to this report.