McCurrying Favor

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My oh-so-good (if sometimes intemperate) twin Pastordan can’t seem to stop fretting about Mike McCurry’s (and my, and now Adventus’) readiness to acknowledge something like the standard narrative of a Democratic party gone increasing secular if not a- or anti-religious over the past generation. Let me just add a couple of points to a discussion that may by now be trying readers’ souls.
So OK, it is a mistake to buy into the journalistic shorthand that Democrats/progressives abandoned public religion in the post-Vietnam era. The sanctuary movement of the 1980s, the ongoing community organizing of the Industrial Areas Foundation (where Obama got his start), were nothing if not faith-based. And there have been prominent politicians ready, willing, and able to wear their faith on their sleeves. But it is sheer nonsense to pretend that the public religious witness on the left has been equivalent to that on the right since 1980, and that the only reason it isn’t widely known is the success of the PR machinations of the religious right.
In the 1970s, religious right leaders, having denounced black churches for involving themselves in politics during the civil rights era (abandoning what was called “the spirituality of the church”), decided to go and do likewise. And they really did create a grassroots movement, via a host of national and state and local organizations. Though marquee groups like the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition have come and gone, Christian conservatives have continued to do their thing in American public life, very often but not always tied closely to the Republican Party apparatus. And, I would argue, their actions have tended to make the case against faith-based politics for many progressives. The religious-secular divide within the Democratic Party today is not illusory, and based in part on our experience of a generation of religiosified national politics.
For their part, religious progressives have not, until the past few years, faced up to the need to organize at the grassroots level. I remember giving a talk to a bunch of liberal religious warhorses during the 2004 campaign cycle. They believed that in order to counter the lamentable lack of media attention to themselves, the thing to do was to issue press releases and hold press conferences. They were not particularly happy to hear from me that what they needed was boots on the ground. The prevailing narrative has its shortcomings, but at the end of the day, what it signals is the correct recognition that progressive religious folks are out and about, doing their things in their own ways (hi RIC!) to counter a generation of active religious politics from the other side.
So yes, bro, you and your Dad have kept the faith all these years. But numbers are numbers and movements are movements, and for better or (sometimes) for worse, the Democrats have found religion in a measurable way. What they do with it now is the real question.