Is God at the Yearly Kos?

medium jesus cares for the poor sioux falls smTwo of the biggest political stories of the year, so far, have been the rise of the Godtalkers — old and new — in the Democratic Party and the ever-larger online power base that most liberal leaders call the Netroots.

So I was curious the other day to see if these two trends would overlap in mainstream news coverage of the Yearly Kos, that media-friendly gathering of the folks whose political lives revolve around the Daily Kos weblog and the groups that spin out of it.

So far, it does not appear that the Netroots are getting Middle American religion — at least there is no sign of it in the Los Angeles Times report on the event. I am trying to scan the other mainstream coverage, but I am getting no hits with searches involving “God,” “Christian” and other obvious terms. Anyone seen anything? I did see one Washington Times reference on Google to an interfaith prayer breakfast. Here is a link to that weblog item.

But back to the Los Angeles Times story, by reporter James Rainey. It does include the following interesting reference to the goals of the Netroots movement:

Simon Rosenberg, president of the liberal think tank New Democratic Network, told a panel Friday that Democrats had a “historic opportunity” to create a lasting Democratic majority, much as Franklin Roosevelt did in 1932.

“We have the opportunity to put the Republicans away for a generation,” Rosenberg said. “But it’s not just going to happen — you have to make it happen.”

Liberals heralded the first Kos convention last summer in Las Vegas as a watershed moment in online activism. Berkeley-based Markos Moulitsas lent his Daily Kos blog handle but said he left the planning to others, mostly volunteers. They boasted this year that the gathering had grown in many ways — from 1,000 to 1,500 participants, from 150 to 250 media outlets, with a tripling of sponsorships from unions and other liberal-leaning organizations to $250,000.

Now, as a guy who has a framed portrait of FDR over his desk at home, this fascinated me.

But, wait a minute, list in your minds the major building blocks of the powerful FDR-era Democratic Party coalition. Didn’t that coalition include large numbers of Bible Belt moral populists and evangelicals? And didn’t urban Catholics in the Midwest and Northeast — you know, the daily Mass Catholics who played such a large role in labor history — figure into that coalition, too?

As a pro-life Democrat, that’s the sort of thing you would expect me to ask about. Has anyone seen any mainstream — or blog nation — coverage of traditional faith at the Yearly Kos? How are the evangelical Democrats and the anti-evangelical Democrats getting along?

The Daily Kos posted some photos from the interfaith service, and here they are.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Undergroundpewster

    Interesting billboard. I too easily read the use of a capital “W” to mean the royal form of “We.”

  • pastordan

    The Washington Times requires you to login before you can see their blogs.

    Without being overly critical, I find your reporting here a bit odd. If you’d followed the link in the Daily Kos diary, you’d have seen the text of the Sunday morning service (there was no breakfast) and discovered that it was pretty mainstream, albeit diverse. You’d also have seen that I put the service together, and since you’re familiar with Street Prophets, I’m assuming that you also know that I am a pastor in the United Church of Christ. That’s perhaps a little more liberal than you’re comfortable with, but we’re hardly out of the mainstream.

    In any case, to answer your questions, there were several panels and workshops on religion at Yearly Kos. I led one on forging coalitions between secular and religious folks, there was another on religion and the working class, and Fred Clarkson and Chip Berlet had a couple on the Religious Right. I know for a fact that we had Catholics and evangelicals at the conference, and everyone seemed to get along just fine. But so far, no, there hasn’t been any national media coverage of the religion angle. I think the press was more focused on Yearly Kos’ ability to draw presidential contenders.

    Cheers, PD

  • tmatt


    The standing of the Democratic Party with mainline/oldline/Seven Sisters churches has never been in doubt, has it? I was looking for overlap with the more traditional elements of the old FDR coalition.

    I was inquiring about MAINSTREAM news coverage of this event. I know that the Kos media had it covered.

  • pastordan

    Now I’m even more confused. Do you mean to suggest that mainline churches aren’t traditional? If so, I’d invite you to come out to my little country church and see for yourself just how radical we are. If you’re asking if there were working-class Catholics present, the answer is yes. The place was crawling with union folks, and there’s really no more traditional parts of the New Deal coalition than that.

    As for your slam at “Kos media,” whatever. I provided links so you could read about the panels. But since the Daily Kos has more daily readers than all but the largest of national newspapers and an ever-increasing number of Americans gets their news online, that little fiction about DFH bloggers being outside the mainstream just keeps getting harder to defend, doesn’t it?

  • Stephen A.

    “pretty mainstream, albeit diverse”

    What does “diverse” mean, to you? Diverse theologically, as in actually embracing traditional Christian meanings of words like “sin” and “God the Father” and “repentence”?

    Or “diverse” as in “we had gay liberals, straight liberals, tall liberals, short liberals, black liberals, Asian liberals, Native American liberals, womenpriest liberals, and transgendered liberals in attendance at our gender inclusive, non-threatening, non-judgemental service”? Just curious.

    It’s a question I rarely see explored by the MSM, and “We had a church service” seems overly broad, and “diverse” is the most misused word by the mass media.

  • pastordan

    Diverse as in we had Christians, Unitarians, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists and Jews in attendance. As for their being liberal, well, yeah. It is a progressive conference. We pull people from the community who are willing to help. I suppose we’d include a conservative Christian if they wanted to participate, but they’d have to be a part of the progressive netroots, and I just can’t see anyone volunteering.

  • Charley

    The new deal was before the religious denominations aligned themselves with political parties based solely on their pro-choice/pro-life stance.

    Most “traditionalist” Christians (those that base their faith on the historical understandings of scripture) are pro-life, so they will either vote republican or not at all (this is true even if they cringe when doing so). Also, traditionalists are more “in-your-face” about religion in general, and thus, require more religious emphasis from their party.

    That leaves the non-traditionalist United Church of Christ types voting Democrat. Non-traditionalists are typically more laid back and less visible. Their particular faith is important to them, but not superior over others. For them it’s less about objective provable truth, and more about subjective feelings about right and wrong. In sum, they require less overt religious emphasis.

    Sure, there were members of “traditionalist” denominations who attended. However, these individuals’ voting records are probably out of line with their denominations’ position on abortion. Certainly the Catholic voters are. Thus, they don’t attend these events as voting blocks representing particular “traditionalist” denominations.

    Basically, the abortion issue has prevented any FDR style “traditionalist” religious movement from backing democratic candidates. That leaves only those that don’t tend towards organized, outward displays of religious expression, in attendance.

  • Jeff

    Terry isn’t slammin’ ya, Dan; the question is did the mainstream *media* note any religious content, which was clearly there. This is a blinders issue that liberal Xns can/should take up with the media folk who aren’t even giving them credit for the religious perspectives that are present (while more conservative outlets will focus on the theology that isn’t on the table).

    Apparently, by his search in Google news and my own, there wasn’t any notice taken, other than in blogs like your own. That’s one way to get your word (Word!) out, but the broader picture needs more detail colored in. IMHO.

  • Jerry

    There’s an assumption here on the part of some that the one true media is the traditional media, specifically print media. I agree with pastordan, that definition does not fit. Radio, TV and increasingly online is the new media.

  • Stephen A.

    “Diverse as in we had Christians, Unitarians, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists and Jews in attendance.”

    That’s even more diverse than I dared to imagine possible, even at the YearlyKos Conference. Thatnks for the clarification.

    Just a rhetorical observation: It was kind of telling to see Christians and Unitarians listed as separate groups here. More telling that athiests were “worshipping” (my quotes, because, well they don’t) at this service with the others.

    I’d love to see the transcript of this service, if one was prepared and posted online.

  • Stephen A.

    Never mind. Found it on Street Prophets

    Not very inclusive, since it mentions “God” a lot. The athiests and UUers in attendence must have been really pi–ed. Then again, it sounded like it was an angry crowd to begin with.

  • pastordan

    Jeff: yeah, I know what Terry was asking about. He was just making a little dig at the blogosphere along the way, which is fine.

    Stephen: I should really say Unitarian-Universalists, since they always chide me for forgetting the second U. They’re not the same as Christians, though some may be. Here’s a rough transcript, and a link to the sermon.

    And with that, I should probably say “thanks” to tmatt and all the other GetReligion folks for the free publicity!

  • steve wintermute

    The answer to the headline is yes.

  • Pingback: Volunteer Voters » Moral Leadership And Electoral Gamesmanship

  • brillig

    As the Unitarian Universalist (thanks for the second U, PD :-) ) mentioned, I wasn’t upset by the service in the slightest and wouldn’t have participated if I had. None of the atheists, agnostics or others in attendance that I spoke to had issues with the service as presented.

  • mik

    Stephen A.: I’m not sure why you think Atheists and UUs would be upset by the use of the word “God” – as someone who was there in person, I can assure you that the non-theists who I saw and spoke with absolutely loved it – even the ones who were not liturgists.

    Re: “Inclusive” means accepting (even celebrating) diversity, not dumbing-down to say-nothing blandness, and not throwing together the core worship elements of all participants’ theologies.

    Re: “angry crowd”?!? Simply not the case – anyone who sums up the tone of the conference as “angry” (let alone the Service) either wasn’t there, wasn’t paying attention, or is trying to sell you snake-oil.

    Re: Unitarian-Universalism: UUs share a Denomination but not a Theology. The denomination is based on a common set moral/ethical principles (albeit, defined in secular terms!) and a common set of religious practices. However, although UUs do not share a common Theology, it is incorrect to assume that they do not each have a personal one – indeed, many UUs are deeply religious, and some Congregations have a distinct Theological bias (most often Christian and there, most often classical Universalist). BTW, the separate terms “Unitarian” and “Universalist” each denote specific (different, but compatible) Theologies – whereas “Unitarian-Universalist” denotes a denominational affiliation – confusing, I know, but that’s why PD gets grief from UUs when he only uses one ‘U’. :-)

  • tmatt

    There are interesting divisions within the UUs, with the younger crowd being more open to theism, deism and even forms of neopaganism. It’s a fascinating story, where the skeptics are the OLD GUARD.

    Here’s a story from a decade ago:

    A Unitarian Generation Gap

    Terry Mattingly’s religion column for 04/23/1997

    No collection of religious humor would be complete without some Unitarian jokes featuring punch lines about this elite flock’s love of esoteric seminars, stodgy foreign sedans, left-wing causes and wine-and-cheese parties.

    Above all, Unitarians cherish their reputation as open-minded, tolerant souls. Still, the Rev. Forrest Church knows that sometimes even a Unitarian minister can go too far.

    The senior minister of New York City’s historic Church of All Souls ends his services with a benediction that begins with: “And now, in our going, may God bless and keep us. May the light of God shine upon us, and out from within us, and be gracious unto us, and bring us peace.” While his church has grown accustomed to hearing the word “God,” he has heard negative feedback in other Unitarian settings.

    “I used to get booed when I would visit other churches,” said Church. “That doesn’t happen much, these days. The idea of using the word ‘God’ in a benediction isn’t as radical as it used to be. … I get away with God language with impunity, now.”

    Yes, spirituality is so hot in America today that even the Unitarians are talking about God and some even advocate talking to God. This has created interesting tensions in a denomination that has, for generations, served as the official left border of mainline religion in America.

    The Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association was born in 1961 when the Unitarians, who reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, merged with the Universalists, who believe God saves all people, no matter what they believe or do. The association currently has 210,000 members and more than 1000 churches. While much has been written about the decline of liberal Protestantism, Unitarian Universalists have enjoyed 15 years of modest growth. There have been growing pains.

    “The Unitarians of the ’50s and ’60s were people who turned to us as a way of escaping other churches,” said Church. “It was like they were deep-sea divers trying to swim up out of the depths of traditional religion. The Unitarian Church was like a decompression chamber where they could stop — half way to the surface — to keep from getting the bends.”

    Asked to describe their beliefs, these Unitarians defiantly testify about the doctrines they no longer believe. Thus, this entrenched older generation tends to shun rites, symbols and most religious language. In a strange twist of fate, these older Unitarians have become — relatively speaking — the conservatives who fidget with sweaty palms as a new generation of seekers enters the pews and pulpits, eager to explore new spiritual frontiers.

    “What we are seeing today is an influx of people who are escaping from secularism,” said Church. “These are people who are coming to us because they want to be more religious than they were before — not less religious. … That’s a switch.”

    The newcomers often bring with them religious trends from mass media and the mall. Many want to experience the presence of God, the goddess or some other god to be named later. Meanwhile, the old guard distrusts talk-TV mystics almost as much as Christian televangelists. It’s hard for iconoclasts who fled the supernatural worldview of evangelicalism or Catholicism to say “amen” when youngsters launch into sermons about the supernatural powers of Mother Earth.

    Church said he isn’t worried about the advent of a “Unitarian paganism,” but does reject many assumptions of the modern human-potential movements. In his most recent book, “Life Lines: Holding on (and Letting Go),” he argues that much of the New Age movement is rooted in an ancient gnosticism that tells believers to deny their pain, tap their inner powers, ignore the needs of others and, thus, achieve liberation.

    “There are people out there who are suckers for anything that advertises itself as a source of ultimate religious truth — so long as it isn’t attached to a traditional religion,” said Church. “They end up denying the reality of evil and suffering and death. Ironically, these subjects are at the heart of the questions that Unitarians want to encourage people to keep asking.”

  • mik

    There are interesting divisions within the UUs, with the younger crowd being more open to theism, deism and even forms of neopaganism. It’s a fascinating story, where the skeptics are the OLD GUARD.

    Very true. I would say, however, that even for the old guard, there is a huge difference between participation in a UU Service and participation in an explicitly interfaith service. IMHO, the YKos Service as it was performed would be entirely acceptable as a “home” service in many UU Congregations and would be strongly rejected as overly Theistic by a minority (but a significant one).