Ghosts at the ballot box

Kerrydog The contretemps between the Bush and Kerry camps over Ohio dominated the television results last night and this morning. But while the networks focused obsessively on the presidential race and a handful of Republican scalps in the House and Senate, some underlying voting patterns did not get the coverage they deserved.

Though the exit surveys were lousy at picking the president, they did manage to find that a lot of voters were motivated by “values” issues this time out. Anti-gay marriage initiatives passed easily in all 11 states where the issue was on the ballot. Numbers are still rolling in, but vote totals ranged from 57 percent in Oregon to 86 percent in Mississippi.

All of this happened with very little support from the Republican Party. President Bush shocked a few people late last week when he came out against initiatives that would limit civil unions.

Gay marriage was far from the only expression of traditional mores by the American people. Pro-marijuana initiatives fared badly and, in my own state of Washington, an attempt to expand legal gambling (which, full disclosure, I voted for) went down in flames. The only counter-example that I can find is California’s vote to make the state’s budget woes even worse by pumping billions into embryonic stem-cell research.

So, yes, the Republicans won big last night, but they did so by riding a wave that was not of their own making and beyond their control.

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Revenge of the map: It's hard to avoid the obvious

2000_map_countiesMaybe there was something to that red America and blue America thing after all.

No, the map to the right of this post is not from last night.

This is the infamous 2000 map showing the red George Bush counties vs. the blue Al Gore counties. But does anyone doubt that, in a day or two, we are going to be digitally handed a 2004 map that looks almost exactly like this one?

And perhaps there was something to that “pew gap” research, as well. At least, lots of Democrats in the analysis chairs last night on cable television seemed to think so. And, lo and behold, the Catholic version of that gap even makes an appearance at the very top of the mainbar in the Bible of the blue elites, the New York Times. Take it away, R.W. Apple Jr. and Janet Elder:

For the second time in four years, the American people showed themselves deeply split yesterday about who should lead their country.

Interviews with voters as they left the polls indicated that women, members of minority groups, young people, political independents, moderates and baby boomers voted for Senator John Kerry. As anticipated, Mr. Kerry ran powerfully among blacks, attracting 9 African-American votes in 10; perhaps more surprisingly, the senator also won a solid majority of Hispanics.

President Bush did best among whites, men, voters with high incomes and evangelical Christians. Mr. Bush divided the Roman Catholic vote with Mr. Kerry, who is Catholic but whose positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research are at odds with his church’s positions. The interviews showed that Catholics who attend Mass weekly preferred Mr. Bush, while those who are less observant supported Mr. Kerry.

Four years ago, I spent a very tense night watching the White House returns for a simple journalistic reason — I had committed myself to writing a column, based on a speech by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, that required me to know the outcome of the election. Fat chance. I ended up writing a column, fingers crossed, that assumed the outcome of the election would still be up in the air the coming weekend.

Here is the strange thing: I could have written precisely the same column this morning. Here is a look at how it opened.

One thing is certain amid the chaos and nail biting of the White House race — the religious left now knows that Mount Sinai has not been erased from the political map.

“The tablets that Moses brought down from the top of Mount Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions. … (They) were the Ten Commandments. But more and more people feel free to pick and choose from them,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman at Notre Dame University, in a key speech during the home stretch.

“Without the connection to a higher law, we have made it more and more difficult for people to answer the question why it is wrong to lie, cheat or steal; to settle conflicts with violence, to be unfaithful to one’s spouse, or to exploit children; to despoil the environment, to defraud a customer or to demean any employee.”

But wait. This week’s soap opera also demonstrated that America remains divided right down the middle on issues rooted in morality and religion. There is a chasm that separates the heartland and the elite coasts, small towns and big cities, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, those who commune in sanctuary pews and those who flock to cappuccino joints.

Has four years made no difference at all?

Please note the emphasis that I placed in that old lead on the role of the religious left. Some people have assumed that the “pew gap” phenomenon means that there are conservatives who go to church and liberals who do not. That is too simplistic. There are moral and cultural liberals who are devout, as well. But their numbers are much smaller. The “pew gap” division is between traditional pews and a coalition of liberal believers and people who are openly and aggressively secular. This is the coalition that some have called the “anti-evangelical voters.” This coalition is growing and its role in the modern Democratic Party is pivotal.

Many have noted that Republicans face the crucial question of how to please the Religious Right without driving away the mushy middle of the American “values” spectrum. After last night, many more will be asking: How does the Democratic Party retain the lifestyle left, the “anti-evangelical voters” without killing itself in red-county America? Or does everyone just hang on to the cards they have right now and do this whole routine over in 2008? Anyone for Jeb vs. Hillary? Or what does the Religious Right do if its Rudy Guliani vs. John Edwards?

We are going to be writing about these trends for days to come, I am sure. For now, let’s end with this poignant anecdote from reporter John M. Foster, <a href="blogging for The New Republic (tip of the hat to Roberto Rivera y Carlo).

ESPANOLA, NEW MEXICO, 12:34 a.m.: I just came from the Rio Arriba County clerk’s office and saw the vote totals with about a third of the precincts reporting. It was stunning. In a county that’s more than 80 percent Democratic, the count was 5,000 votes for Kerry but 3,000 (or 37.5 percent of the total) for Bush. That margin will probably stay the same or even draw a bit closer for Bush. I asked the clerk why.

His answer was simple: religion. This area is heavily Catholic and also has plenty of evangelical churches. For the past month, people attending those churches have been hearing about stem-cell research, abortion, gay marriage, and a host of other social issues. Those issues have swung many northern New Mexico Democrats away from their usual voting patterns toward retaining Bush.

On the ground, the people were talking about faith, family and morality. The Democrats didn’t notice, or could not afford to notice. Apparently, there is a red America out there and, by the way, journalists will have to cover all those people and even sell them newspapers.

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Taking the pledge

Pledge_2Uberblogger Jeff Jarvis’ Post-Election Peace Pledge expresses what I’ve been hoping to see for some time now: A nonpartisan willingness to place the commonweal ahead of ideological purity.

The commitment is straightforward:

After the election results are in, I promise to:

: Support the President, even if I didn’t vote for him.

: Criticize the President, even if I did vote for him.

: Uphold standards of civilized discourse in blogs and in media while pushing both to be better.

: Unite as a nation, putting country over party, even as we work together to make America better.

The only explicit religion angle to the pledge comes in Jarvis’ update:

Commenters ask me what I mean by “support.” Right question. I do not mean blind support, love-it-or-leave-it support, with-him-or-against-him support. I mean acknowledging that the president is the president and especially in a time of war, we need to stand together against our enemies — namely, Islamofascist terrorists — and not act, as too many have during this administration (and the one before it) that the enemy is in the White House. No, we’re on the same side.

I happily sign on to the pledge, and I invite GetReligion’s readers to criticize me if I stray from it.

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My ultra-brief visit with the MoveOn.org man

Moveon140_1The doorbell rang Sunday afternoon and it turned out to be a bleached-blond Gen X man from the MoveOn.org organization. He said he was there to get out the vote for the Democratic Party. He asked me if I had voted or decided for whom I would vote. Was I registered?

Yes, I said, I’m a lifelong Democrat.

He smiled.

I have decided that I will not be voting for John Kerry, I said.

He turned to leave without saying a word.

I asked if he wanted to know why.

Apparently not, because he kept walking. Then I turned around and realized that he might have assumed he knew why I was not going to vote for his candidate. Directly behind me was a bronze cross, some Orthodox icons and some prayer candles in a small niche in the wall. The MoveOn.org man would have been looking right at them.

Truth is, a lot of pro-life Democrats and other cultural and religious conservatives have struggled this year, knowing their party’s candidate has a perfect pro-abortion-rights record on all recent proposals to limit abortion in any way. Meanwhile, the GOP has courted the anti-abortion vote in some ways, while offending many people who prefer to refer to themselves as “consistently pro-life.” A vote for President Bush is, in some way, a vote for the party that embraces the lifestyle Libertarians symbolized by the Terminator.

People caught in this dilemma have received some press attention this year. But not much. Here is a sample of the non-mainstream coverage.

At the same time, there has been an interesting debate about the validity of the whole red state-blue state phenomenon or even, as this blog prefers to say, the red county-blue county reality. Jeff Sharlet of TheRevealer.org keeps saying that talk of a “pew gap” is too simplistic and he has some battlefield anecdotes to make his case. Here is a recent sample from the Dallas Morning News.

Take the “blue,” Democratic state of New York, believed by many self-declared culture warriors to be a bulwark on the godless side of the gap. Venture upstate to Schenectady, a small industrial city with a liberal arts college at its core.

Schenectady is an immigrant town. One Catholic church has been, successively, German, Polish, and Italian. Now the building houses a Guyanese Hindu congregation ­ and it’s Republican. The city’s former mayor, a Republican, lobbied hard for Guyanese immigrants to move to Schenectady, since he guessed, correctly, that their Hindu values would mesh well with his Republican vision of how his down-on-its-luck factory town can revive its fortunes.

How about red-as-a-rose Kansas, in the heart of Bush country? In rural Kansas, I watched as 1,000 nearly naked Pagans -­ Isis worshippers and Wiccans and devotees of Thor -­ danced around a bonfire. Don’t misunderstand: this was a strictly family-values affair. Many participants were proud soldiers, sailors and Marines.

One senior witch, retired from active duty in the Air Force, recently announced a series of Pagan days of prayer running from Halloween to the election. While the Kansas pagans endorsed neither candidate, it’s not difficult to guess that, military or no, most won’t be voting for the current commander-in-chief.

Interesting anecdotes. I’m sure Dallas is a wild religion town, too. But I imagine more Baptists will cast ballots there (and buy newspapers) than druids.

As the politicos keep noting, “data” is not the plural form of of the word “anecdote.” Meanwhile, the veteran Los Angeles Times writer Ronald Brownstein wrote this rather down-to-earth summary of the state of the nation heading into today’s election. The headline: “Why ‘This is About Bush.’ His narrowly focused ‘hedgehog presidency’ cements the allegiance of conservatives and galvanizes his foes. The result is bitter division. ” Whew.

… (The) basic boundaries that divided red (Republican) from blue (Democratic) America in 2000 remain largely in place.

The latest polls still show Kerry and Bush commanding mirror-image demographic and ideological coalitions defined more by cultural values than economic interests, just as in 2000. Bush dominates among rural voters and middle-income whites, especially those who are married and attend church regularly or own guns.

Kerry holds strong leads among urban voters, minorities, singles and those who don’t attend church regularly or own guns. He also runs competitively among lower-income whites open to his economic message and affluent white voters responsive to his views on social and foreign policy issues.

And, as Walter Cronkite used to say, “That’s the way it is.”

Casey1So each of us will have our anecdotes to share from the drama of this week (or even the month ahead) and, if the statistics are correct, many of these stories will be rooted in conflicts rooted in fundamentally different ways of viewing faith, morality and, to paraphrase the U.S. Supreme Court, how we view the mystery of the universe. We will try to bring you the best and the worst of some of this “pew gap” or even “no pew gap” coverage in the days ahead.

Hang in there. And, because I know that blogs are a blend of personal and public information, here is a link to a piece that I wrote in 2000 about my own political pilgrimage. It was written as a right-of-center piece for Slate.com, but they rejected it. Thus, it ended up running as a left-of-center piece in, of all places, World magazine. Here is a sample:

So why did I break down and vote for George W. Bush?

Here’s why: I am convinced that the biggest issue of the next generation of American life will be free speech, free speech for people who even want to have the right to stand up in public and take conservative stands on issues linked to culture, education, morality, and faith. Free speech for people who want to protest what they cannot embrace. …

Free speech is painful, but it beats all the alternatives. Let open debates and free speech continue. Perhaps even in the Democratic Party.

That was 2000. I will not vote for the candidate of my party again today. But I have not decided whether to vote for President Bush. Let’s face it, some of us old-coalition Democrats really miss the late, great Gov. Robert Casey (photo). Is there anyone in either party with his blend of moral conservatism and progressive politics?

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To everything there is a season — and a liturgy?

MenopauseThe story of Episco-Druid rites has moved from the Anglican blogosophere to print, and in two very different forms.

Julia Duin of The Washington Times reports the story, adding the detail of Bishop Charles Bennison’s statement (PDF) about the controversy.

Religion editor Shirley Ragsdale of the Des Moines Register writes a column that praises the Women’s Liturgy Project by the Episcopal Church’s Office of Women’s Ministries but does not mention the rite attributed to the Rev. Glyn Lorraine Ruppe Melnyk, or the firestorm of criticism it attracted from conservatives.

Ragsdale begins with this description of the liturgical landscape:

Women make up more than half of churchgoers, but so much of their lives is ignored in terms of religious rites, rituals and ceremonies.

There are ceremonies to baptize their babies, but no rituals to mark the passage from girl to woman or to celebrate conception or pregnancy. There are few rituals to mark losses such as miscarriages or passages such as menopause.

. . . The intent is to create liturgy that can be used within the context of a Sunday morning service to mark menstruation, conception, pregnancy, any form of pregnancy loss, childbirth, menopause and other changes or loss. Having passed almost all of those female milestones with little fanfare from my faith tradition, the idea that a woman’s church family might pay attention to some of them is appealing.

As a teen, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated an announcement in church when I got my first period, but I can imagine that a coming-of-age service where a number of girls could be recognized for reaching young adulthood might be something to be proud of.

Actually there are liturgies to mark “the passage from girl to woman” (and the passage from boy to man). For liberal Episcopalians, Journey to Adulthood offers spiritual formation, pilgrimages and a churchwide service called Rite 13.

I’ll leave aside the question of whether prayers about menstruation or menopause ought to become part of a Sunday service.

Ragsdale is strongest in telling the story of a Presbyterian woman who joined her sisters in persuading their mother to give up her car keys for the sake of her safety:

After dinner, one daughter said a prayer: “God, we are truly grateful for our mother and grandmother and friend. She has always been there for us. So many times she put each of our needs before her own. We ask you to be with her now in this time of sharing and in the days ahead when she will be sad because she cannot do the same kinds of acts of neighborliness and mercy that she could do when she was able to drive. Bless her and us, for this is a day of endings and beginnings.”

There were stories about the kindnesses the mother had performed, including emergency trips to the hospital and reliable transportation to church. Then they volunteered to make the mother’s transition easier. Grandchildren and teenaged neighbors offered to drive for her. Daughters committed to mother-daughter outings.

When the stories and promises concluded, the mother reached into her purse and with tears in her eyes handed the car keys to her daughters. It seems likely that the mother’s bitterness about giving up her independence was tempered by the sweetness of the prayer and ritual performed by her family and friends. I like to think that because of the ritual, the family was more likely to follow through on their promises.

It isn’t exactly liturgy. But it could be. The congregation could recognize the mother’s contribution to the church and join in the promise part.

That’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another way: Isn’t it amazing that this woman’s family rose to the liturgical and pastoral challenge without an official Service of Diminished Driving Capacities? And could it be that this mother and grandmother might prefer not to make her painful transition the focus of a corporate service?

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Why should the devil have all the bad music?

Mandm True story: Your humble scribe once got sucked into a conversation with a guy who thought his own taste in music should settle the argument for what is good and hip and cool. A few minutes in, I let slip that I enjoyed the songs of the late lamented crypto-Christian rock group Creed, which launched my friend on a whale of a rant.

He said the group was Very Bad and he questioned how I could claim to like them with a straight face. He got worked up and yammered on a bit but here was the kicker: “Their music is so derivative.” I shot back: “ALL music is derivative.” Objective observers might have wondered if his head was going to explode as he considered that one.

All of which is a long way of explaining that I’m not reflexively down on Christian rock. Sure, it’s often too preachy, and the unofficial Jesuses per minute quota is a bit much, but rock is supposed to be a populist art form. If Christian artists often sounded like their secular counterparts with more uplift and less faux Satanic posturing I could fall back on the fact that even the Rolling Stones began as a cover band.

That said, I’m still trying to process the news that Jesus rockers have decided to ape the most annoying thing to emerge from the world of official rock since “We are the world.” In the Washington Post last Friday, entertaining religion writer Hanna Rosin reported from the front lines of a Rock the Vote- (and Vote for Change-) like effort to use Jesus rock to sign up young evangelicals to cast ballots for whichever candidate best represents their values in the political arena. In other words, Bush.

The movement, which flies under several banners, including Redeem the Vote, has been using pop Christian music to register as many young churchgoing voters as possible, with some success. I encourage readers to follow this link to Rosin’s story and read it for the fun details and the sometimes loopy quotes. Contemplating our strange new world in which the Southern Baptists are sending around an 18 wheeler that used to belong to the Charlie Daniels Band just might be the perfect respite from the nail biting and nervous poll watching of this dreary election day.

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God's new party

Here’s a twist. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin has hauled off and said that Sen. John Kerry’s slight rise in recent polls toward dead-heat status is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. Well, OK, he didn’t put it that way. He said the president is down and Kerry is up and “That’s how God wants it to be.” There was no immediate response from press officials working for the Rev. Pat Robertson.

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Location, location, location

It is interesting to have to turn to Baptist Press for coverage of an event in the Roman Catholic community — for the most part — in Miami-Dade County. The Democratic League there has decided not to endorse Sen. John Kerry, primarily because of religious and cultural issues. The Baptists note that it has “more than 1,000 members and a reach that expands to 100,000 pro-life, pro-family Democrats in Miami” and that it is “primarily led by Hispanic-American Democrats.” It’s impossible to read the group’s 10 reasons for rejecting Kerry without hearing the voice of Pope John Paul II. I can’t find national coverage of this story, other than this weak nod in that direction.

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