On the Church and Society
November 15, 2006
From a Christian perspective, is there anything to be learned from Election Day 2006? Well, as it turned out, there's a good deal - particularly regarding ballot measures - to be concerned about in the end.
Eight states voted on either banning same-sex marriage or defining marriage as being only between a man and a woman. As noted in the first issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," among the 20 states that previously voted on similar state constitutional marriage amendments between 1998 and earlier this year, the average popular vote in favor of defending marriage was 71 percent. At the low end was Oregon with 57 percent of the vote, while the high end came in at 86 percent in Mississippi. The story on November 7 was still in favor of traditional marriage, but not completely.
Arizona became the first state to vote "no" on a marriage amendment - by a narrow 51%-49% margin. Victories in other states ranged widely. However, margins wound up tighter in Colorado and South Dakota than had been previously experienced. The average "yes" vote on November 7 fell to 62%.
November 7 Votes Defending Marriage
|State||Yes %||No %|
How to explain this shift? Various activists on both sides of the issue have pointed to gay marriage supporters becoming more active and far more organized. It is disturbing to see that such a large swath of voters apparently holds no strong beliefs regarding the definition of marriage, and therefore, can be swung in one direction or the other.
Part of the problem clearly was unwillingness - for widely differing reasons, no doubt - of certain Christian churches and leaders to speak out with moral authority on the matter. Mark Tooley, director of UMAction for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, correctly observed: "The United Methodist Church is America's third largest religious body in the United States, and not a single major United Methodist leader spoke up to protect traditional marriage, even though the church officially supports 'laws in civil society that define marriage as one man and one woman.' Leaders of all the mainline denominations were equally as silent. Some even denounced the pro-marriage amendments. How sad! And what a betrayal of the Christian tradition. Our country is in a vast cultural struggle, and leadership from our church communities is needed more than ever. The lack of strength shown on such a common sense issue does not go unnoticed."
While the defense of marriage seems to have weakened a bit, it generally remains strong ... for now. But the defense of life suffered some mighty blows. Voters in South Dakota chose to repeal - by a 56%-44% margin - that state's law prohibiting abortion except when a mother's life is in danger. That was tragic, but not unexpected.
However, voters in California and Oregon chose to not even approve parental notification laws when minors seek abortions. Each went down by 54%-46%. While Oregon and California are liberal leaning states, those results speak volumes about the long and rough road ahead in many parts of the nation if the U.S. Supreme Court ever steps back from its grotesque and activist decision in Roe v. Wade.
In Missouri, while still a loss, in a perverse sense it almost seemed encouraging to see that the outcome was so close on the state's stem cell ballot measure, which allows for human cloning and the destruction of human embryos in embryonic stem cell research. It passed only by a 51%-49% margin. While closer than most suspected, it still ranks as a blatant case of the ends justifying the means, and a far too common willingness to further cheapen human life.
Meanwhile, is there something to be said from a faith perspective about the Democrats' taking majorities in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as among the governors' offices? Well, some would like to believe that this was transformative.
For example, consider the following statement from Jesse Lava, who is the executive director of FaithfulDemocrats.com:
One of the most significant revelations to emerge from the 2006 election is the Democrats' enormous success with faith-based outreach. Democrats who were willing to share their faith with voters consistently exceeded expectations. Lost causes became close races. Close races became solid victories. Solid victories became landslides.
Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania, Ted Strickland in Ohio, and Harold Ford Jr. in Tennessee - some of the most devout and faith-friendly candidates this campaign season - are cases in point. Even in a political climate that was destined to be hard on Republicans, the Casey race was supposed to be a nail-biter; it wasn't. The Strickland race was never expected to be a blowout; it was. Ford's candidacy was dismissed as quixotic; though Ford did not win, he made his race competitive and proved the pundits wrong.
Why? Because these candidates, among others, showcased their religious convictions instead of hiding them - using moral and, indeed, biblical language to communicate their values. This approach resonated with church-going Americans of all denominations, from the traditional black base to conservative white evangelicals - thereby trumping the values rhetoric that Republicans usually expect to be their saving grace.
There are a few points worth examining here. Various Democrats running for Congress this year were more moderate than has been typical in recent times, and some more openly religious.
However, Lava's analysis was way off base in each of the specific races he cited. The Casey race had not been a nail-biter for nearly a year, and no one expected it to be so on Election Day. And the Strickland race was long thought to be well in hand. Meanwhile, the Ford contest was long competitive, and only at the end did Ford falter. For good measure, conservative white evangelicals actually did not stray from the GOP, while Roman Catholics did.
In the end, it is a positive development that some Democrats this year stepped up to acknowledge the importance of their faith. A few apparently went even beyond mere lip service. On November 13, for example, The Washington Times reported: "Candidates like Brad Ellsworth, Indiana Democrat, and former Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, ran and won on pro-life, pro-marriage platforms. Mr. Shuler even suggested he would push for a pro-life plank in the Democratic Party's platform."
Democratic Party activists surely will greet Shuler's pro-life plank with intense hostility. Either these are tiny beginnings of a reversal, restoring the Democrats as a party that does not actively work to undermine traditional values. Or, this is mere politics, whereby Democrats run more moderate, even conservative-leaning candidates in certain parts of the country, in order to posses the power to advance a hard left social agenda nationally. If the latter turns out to be the case, those conservative-leaning Democrats in Congress eventually will have to abandon either their principles or their party.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report."
This column is from the latest issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," which also includes "A Tale of Two Sermons," "Christian Unity and C.S. Lewis," "Abortion Usual and Unusual," and "Boy Scouts and Pirates." To receive a free four-issue trial of "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.