The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Dance of the Dems & the Devout

Ever since Obama’s speech on religion, I’ve been eyeing the tenuous dance between the Democrats and evangelicals, as the latter carefully approaches the other; a casual observer of a conversation in which I have no part. The more I watch the more interesting it gets. This New York Times piece spotlights some tensions between some evangelicals and the GOP that I hadn’t been aware of, I guess because I’m not a part of either community.

Evidently this minister in Minnesota got two different reactions from his congregation when he started bucking the politics of the religious right. But here’s the thing. He’s not a progressive, even though some people seem to want to read him that way.

Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

But there were also congregants who thanked Mr. Boyd, telling him they were moved to tears to hear him voice concerns they had been too afraid to share.

It’s an interesting peek into a rift that I guess most people who don’t move in Republican and evangelical circles wouldn’t pick up on, but I don’t derive much hope from it if Boyd is any indication of the people Obama is talking about reaching out to. The only thing that makes he remotely progressive is his stand against today’s brand of christian dominionism. To some people that’s apparently enough to win him the title of “partial progressive”.

It is simply insane and political suicide to write these people off. That’s what we’ve been saying for the past two years, but many of the big liberal blogs still dismiss the idea as pandering to Evangelicals. That misses the point.

As George Lakoff notes, don’t think of them as Evangelicals, think of some of them (such as the union man who attends a conservative church cited in the article below) as partial-progressives. When Democrats speak in the language of wonks about a laundry list of issues, they miss the opportunity to connect with people at the level where they are, in fact, partially progressive. This is at the level of their deepest aspirations: for justice, for equality, for peace. These aspirations run deep, and not just in religious people.

It’s progressivism to a point, I guess, like the congregation in a previous New York Times article, described as “passionately progressive” except when it comes to ordaining a gay bishop.

Again, I don’t see where this guy is progressive, except in that it sound like he would probably not seek to have his views on homosexuality and abortion written into laws that the rest of us have to live with. And maybe that’s enough. Hey, I won’t ask him to officiate at the wedding if he won’t appeal to the legislature to stop it from happening. If he’s a christian who doesn’t want to use the law to force me to live according to his beliefs or punish me for not doing so, maybe that’s the best I can hope for. But I still have to wonder how he’s going to vote when it comes down to that question.

However, something Boyd says does strike a chord in me.

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

It’s something Bruce Prescott touches on over at the Christian Alliance for Progress, most effectively in the comments.

The difference being of course that we Liberals/Progressives aren’t actively seeking to limit or infringe on the rights of those with whom we disagree. You believe, for instance, that because, according to your “version” of Christianity, homosexuality in itself is morally reprehensible, that the rights of homosexuals should be limited (and many fundamentalists advocate total elimination of their rights and even imprisonment– I am not saying YOU advocate that, but many “fundies” do). Fundamentalists also advocate limiting a woman’s right to choose, and ignoring the rights of non-Christians or non-religious people to not be insulted with fundamentalist displays of false piety in public places, as well as limiting the rights of how an American either chooses to show respect OR lack of respect for a flag. That is to name but a very few.For me what fundamentalist “christians” represent is such an affront to God (with their whole agenda of greed, intolerance, war-mongering, polarization, and idolatry) that, were I of the same mind-set, I would be calling for THEIR rights to be limited. But I am not, and do not advocate such actions. Were I to do so I would indeed be “judging”. There lies the difference.

(Ed. Note: I would only add to Prescott’s remarks that some also advocate execution for homosexuality.)

For as long as I can remember, what has most mystified me about those on the religious right is the desire for dominion over those who do not share their beliefs; the desire to wield the law as a cudgel to force others to live according to their beliefs or to punish them for no doing so. It’s been a long time since I cracked a bible or sat in a Sunday school, but the emphasis on forcing others to conform their behavior to a fundamentalist reading of scripture seems to put the cart before the horse. For if you use a combination of fear and intimidation to get people to toe the line behavior-wise, you don’t necessarily reach or change their hearts. And it’s been a while since I was part of the faith, but wasn’t that supposed to be the point in the first place? Changing hearts. If not that, what do you want to change?

I guess that’s what bothers me a bit about Boyd and others like him. I know what they want to change when it comes to their own evangelical movement. It’s what they do or don’t want to change where my family and I are concerned that I wonder about. If they’re “partially progressive,” which part am I likely to end up facing?


  1. You’re being pretty negative. Boyd has taken a small step in the right direction- you shouldn’t be blasting him- you should be encouraging and more like him to continue taking steps like these.

    We all need to work toward tolerence. If you want everyone to think just about you and your family- accept your way of life- your no better than the people you are condeming.

  2. I have been reading some of the prior posts concerning Obama’s views on religion and I agree with your reactions to his views. People, no matter what religious group, should practice tolerance and acceptance…

    In response to Steph’s post, I do think that Boyd is very positive when compared to his religious counterparts who wish to enforce their view on others.

    As a Buddhist, I do not believe we should judge others. There is a discussion on Buddhist Connect ( ) about how one should react to intolerable behavior. People seem to agree that one should not go the route of a fundamentalist and try to promote “good behavior and ideals”; even if your counterpoint’s ideals are very wrong. The reactions to intolerable behavior should be to listen and then only react in positive ways.

    I believe that even though it may be to early to tell what the end result of the Progressive’s may be but if Boyd (and others who think like him) have good solid intentions and stick with them, the results are definitely going to more positive than the people he is speaking out against!

  3. Ahem, as an Atheist, brought up in a multi-religious and non-relious household: Two Atheists, one Congregationalist convert from Buddhism then back to Buddhism, one Roman Catholic convert to progressive UCC, one Unitarian, one Roman Catholic, and one agnostic convert to Jehovah’s witness (I take after my father)…I also think you might be hard on Boyd. (As some progressives are on Obama, I believe.) Boyd’s belief in sacrific, and in eschewing domination through power is a connecting line, a point of confluence, with people like Obama and with people like me (and yes, I’m also gay &pro-choice). It allows for dialogue. People can and ought to be different, it makes life interesting. The elegant, rough & tumble, and magical life of a democracy is how we create a nation together than respects our differences and how we chart an ever-changing future together. It’s called balance. And I, for one, and all for it. And I remain oh so Godless!