Helping Democrats Bridge the 'God Gap'

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service
Saturday, October 21, 2006

At a meeting of the House Democrats' Faith Working Group, a perplexed congressman turned to his colleagues for pastoral guidance. How could he counter a local preacher who argued that all of Jesus's moral teachings were about the world to come, not the here and now?

Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) stood amid the sympathetic sighs and "you can't convert everyone" comments to offer a new spin on an old parable.

The Good Samaritan is walking down the road and cares for a stranger who has been beaten and robbed, Price said. The next day, on the same road, another person has been beaten and robbed. So it goes for another week -- more robberies, more victims.

"How long is it going to take before the Samaritan says, 'Hey, maybe we ought to patrol this road,' " Price said. In other words, the lawmaker argued, there are some problems that individuals can't solve on their own. They require the resources of a morally responsible government.

As Democrats seek to reframe America's debate over moral values and close their "God gap" with religious communities, conversations such as these are blowing like a mighty wind through party circles.

Gone are the days when "faith outreach" meant visiting African-American churches two weeks before an election, party leaders say. Instead, Democrats are seeking -- and getting -- regular meetings with megachurch pastors T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren.

Rather than cede red states to Republicans, the party is buying airtime on Christian radio stations, with the message that Democrats are indeed a party with deep moral convictions.

No longer leaning on 1960s-era preachers to guide progressive politics, Democrats are now also turning to young voices such as strategist Mara Vanderslice, 31, and writer Amy Sullivan, 33, who offer new perspectives and fresh ideas.

While Republicans learned long ago how to connect with religious voters, Democrats are just now starting their efforts.

After interviews with dozens of politicians, strategists, the think-tank set and a Noah's ark of religious leaders, Religion News Service has identified 12 of the most influential voices in helping Democrats reach people of faith. Those on the list are whispering in the ears of the powerful and playing matchmaker between religious and political pace-setters.

They are:

ยท The House Trinity : Reps. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), Rosa L. DeLauro (Conn.) and David Price, who lead the effort on Capitol Hill to frame legislative debates in moral terms.

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