Republican leaders are often accused of manipulating religious Americans for their own ends. But what if Democratic leaders, who are courting religious voters, exploit them? Will reporters hold them responsible?
Newsweek‘s profile of a religious Democratic official was a discouraging sign. The story about Leah Daughtry, the DNC’s chief of staff and a Pentecostal minister, was almost completely free of religious content. Surely like any religious person, Daughtry must perceive some conflicts or tension between her faith and her party. Yet this story implies complete harmony between Daughtry and the Democratic Party, as if things are just peachy.
The party has tried preaching to religious voters in the past, encouraging Democratic candidates to talk about their personal faith; to adopt the GOP’s language of “values” and “morals,” and to quote from the Bible. But talking about faith can get the Democrats only so far, especially among conservative Christians, who will not vote for candidates who favor abortion and gay rights, no matter how often they go to church. Knowing this, Daughtry has set more-modest goals. “We want to maintain the groups we’ve traditionally held. African-American churches and mainline Protestants,” she says. But they’re also reaching out to religious voters she calls “persuadables,” more-liberal Catholic parishes that may be less stringent about abortion and a younger generation of evangelicals who say their faith teaches them that global warming and poverty are as important as trying to stop abortions and gay marriage.
Reporter Eve Conant does mention, twice, that Daughtry speaks in tongues. What she does not mention is that speaking in tongues is characteristic of Pentecostals, “Bible evidence” of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Which raises the question of what Daughtry thinks of the spiritual state of her colleagues in the DNC’s halls who don’t speak in tongues.
Conant does not describe at all Daughtry’s most distinguishing physical characteristic: her shaved head. Her visage might not sound like an issue, but it is one for pentecostals. The United Pentecostal Church International considers short hair on women to be unholy. As further evidence that the story missed this religious angle, Conant notes that, while growing up, Daughtry did not wear makeup. How has Daughtry reconciled or dealt with this tension?
And Conant does not mention at all Daughtry’s views on social and cultural issues. What does Daughtry think about the party’s secular stands on abortion, homosexuality, cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, etc.? As far as the United Pentecostal Church is concerned, those positions are wicked and sinful. [The General Council of the Assemblies of God takes the same stands.]
The story’s failure to mention those three conflicts is problematic. It creates the impression that Daughtry isn’t serious about her faith, that she views it as subservient to her politics. “We’re not talking about changing the party’s platform,” she tells Newsweek. “But there’s a way that we can explain ourselves and present ourselves that will resonate better.”
Talk about manipulation. You wonder if Newsweek considered whether Democratic leaders are coming across as manipulative.