Why Don’t Democrats Take Religion Seriously?

Many religious voters feel alienated from the Democratic party. Donald Trump overwhelmingly won Christian voters, including 81% of White Evangelicals and 60% of White Catholics. The obvious reason is that Donald Trump offered these voters more of what they wanted like overturning Roe vs. Wade and appointing conservative Supreme Court justices, but there’s something bigger going on. Democrats often have trouble speaking in moral or religious language, and they’re part of a broader culture that doesn’t take religion seriously.
Democrats don’t know how to talk to a lot of these people that go to church. I mean the Democratic party has become a secular party.

So is the Democratic party really secular?

To a large extent, yes. 28% of Democrats don’t identify with any particular religion compared to just 14% of Republicans. And only one third of Democrats say they go to religious services at least once a week. Just 10% of Democrats weren’t religious in 1996. That number has tripled over the last two decades, and the trend is only likely to continue as more young people join the party. Pop culture can also be pretty hostile to religion. Some comedians, journalists and artists actively antagonize people of faith. It worries me that people are running my country who believe in a talking snake. You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate though. Partly as a response, Christians and other groups have formed their own subcultures of movies and music and news.

For instance, Trump voters really love the movie God’s Not Dead, which is a movie about religious liberty that a lot of progressives have probably never heard of. Something wrong? I can’t do what you want. I’m a Christian. If you cannot bring yourself to admit that God’s not dead, then you will need to defend the antithesis. Of course, a lot of Democrats are religious. Black Protestants for example have consistently supported the Democratic party, even though a lot of these voters are conservative on issues like same sex marriage and abortion. But their views aren’t always reflected in the party. Roughly one third of Democrats identify as pro-life, but only a handful of Democratic politicians share their views.
Democratic leaders can also be uncomfortable with the language of morality and religion. Sometimes, this has resulted in wipeouts that are insulting. They get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion. Other times, it’s just embarrassing. One White House staffer recently reported that a former colleague kept deleting the phrase “The Least of These” from the title of a memo wondering whether the famous teaching from Jesus was a typo. This is a shift from the past. Progressive achievements like the Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on religious rhetoric. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. Leaders from Martin Luther King to Jimmy Carter framed their ideals in explicitly religious terms. Audiences were receptive to those messages. Some progressive leaders do this today.
Reverend William Barber, the head of the North Carolina NAACP has successfully led a Moral Mondays protest movement against the racist policies of the state legislature. I’m a preacher, and I’m a theologically conservative liberal evangelical biblicist. You could also argue that Bernie Sanders fired up millions of young Americans with his explicitly moral language about economic inequality. But both of these men are outsiders in the Democratic party. If Democrats really want to be the party of inclusion, it can’t just be about skin tone and sexuality, it has to be about belief, too.