John Paget has no doubt there are conservative Christians in cyberspace who are praying for the salvation of his soul.
This may seem like a strange use of prayer time, seeing as how he is a pro-life, evangelical Christian who is a graduate of Biola University — once the Bible Institute of Los Angeles — and active at the First Baptist Church in Olympia, Wash.
Then again, Paget runs a certain political website.
It’s www.ChristiansForDean.info, with this cheery headline: “Good News! Christians don’t have to vote Republican anymore!”
Thus, Paget gets mail. Some of it says “hallelujah” or “Thank God somebody is doing this.” But many correspondents disagree.
“Lots of people assume I’m a fake, some stooge working for the campaign who is trying to fake Christians into voting for Dean,” he said. “Some people think I’m all mixed up. Many others assume that I’m lost and they say they’re praying that I will accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
Paget laughed and added: “So I feel supported in what I do. I have all these people praying for me.”
Other letters urgently question Paget’s core belief — that his progressive views on peace, economics, gender and the environment can justify voting for a politician who backs abortion rights and gay rights.
Consider this email from Austin, Texas: “If you are a Christian and plan to vote for Dean, or a Democrat, you need to get on your knees and ask God for guidance because you are on the wrong track, or you do not worship the same God as do most Christians. … They will eventually lead to the downfall of this nation. Wake up.”
Actually, Paget is a documentary filmmaker and he does not work for Dean. He also noted that he is registered as an independent. Nevertheless, he is a statistical rarity. He is a morally conservative churchgoer who feels at home among Democrats. Dean and the other Democrats know they need to find more people like Paget — quick.
It’s a matter of numbers. Voter News Service found that 14 percent of 2000 voters attended religious services more than once a week. These voters backed George W. Bush by a 27-percent margin. The 14 percent of the voters who said they never attended went to Al Gore by a 29-percent margin.These secular voters are especially crucial in major cities on both coasts, noted Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio of the City University of New York, writing in The Public Interest. But national Democratic candidates know they also need votes in the Bible Belt and heartland.
This “pew gap” is not new. While trends vary among blacks and Hispanics, they noted, the religion gap among white voters in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 presidential elections was “more important than other demographic and social cleavages. … (It) was much larger than the gender gap and more significant than any combination of differences in education, income, occupation, age, marital status and regional groupings.”
Meanwhile, the fastest growing Democratic power bloc is what Bolce and De Maio called the “anti-fundamentalist” voter. In 1996 and 2000, about a third of the total white Democratic presidential vote came from these voters that identified themselves as intensely secular or religious liberals.
As a member of the progressive United Church of Christ, Dean was preaching to these voters when he told a Houston crowd, “We’ve got to stop voting on guns, gods, gays and school prayer.” He also told the Washington Post that his faith played a crucial role in convincing him to sign a Vermont bill legalizing civil unions for gays. “From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people,” he said.
Hear those church doors slamming?
At some point, said Paget, Democratic candidates will have to learn how to reach out to traditional believers, especially those — such as Southern evangelicals and northern Catholics — who once were crucial to their party’s fortunes.
“Democrats have to get over their hostility to Christians and realize that we are not all Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells,” he said. “They have to stop taking pot-shots at us and be willing to invite us into a broader, more diverse Democratic Party.”