I have a few quick thoughts about Mark I. Pinsky's recent post for Religion News Service, "Can an evangelical, progressive Democrat succeed in Florida?" Although I find some of his claims to be far-fetched, I think it is worth considering the intriguing question Pinsky poses at the end:
...can a party dominated by devout secularists accept an evangelical Christian, even one who is also ideologically center-left?Admittedly, this characterization of the Democratic Party as "dominated by devout secularists" is the most puzzling claim in the post. Not only do I see no evidence to support such a claim, but contrary evidence abounds. We keep hearing about the "religious left," and liberal politician after liberal politician pushes Jesus at every opportunity. I believe Bernie Sanders might have been the first almost secular presidential candidate to get as far as he did in a primary election. I cannot agree that today's Democratic Party is even close to being dominated by secular persons.
Setting all that aside, we are still left with an interesting question: should evangelical Christian faith disqualify a political candidate for office, regardless of his or her politics? Okay, so this question is a bit different than his, but I find it even more worthwhile.
The politician described in Pinsky's post, Chris King, sounds like a decent guy. He went out of his way to express some nice sentiment to Orlando's LGBTQ community, and he did it as a Christian and in a public forum. At the same time, his contribution read a bit like proselytizing (e.g., "I believe one source of hope may come from the Christian church..."). Although he does acknowledge some mistakes from his church, it is fairly clear that he also believes that his religion is ultimately the solution.
King is running for governor of Florida as a Democrat. He's described as "an evangelical whose political ambitions are fueled by his faith." Will this be a problem for him? Should it be a problem for him?
As far as I am concerned, King's evangelical Christianity is one area in which I would disagree with him but not one that would necessarily prevent me from supporting him if I lived in his state and agreed with his politics. Would I prefer he was secular? Sure. Reading some of what he said about his faith makes him sound irrational, and that is cause for concern. But would I refuse to vote for him just because he's an evangelical Christian? No.
If I was a Florida voter, I'd compare King to his opponent on the issues. If he came closer to my position on the issues, I'd consider voting for him. That does not mean I wouldn't be at all concerned about the role his religious beliefs might play in how he governed. It does mean that I would not immediately jump to the conclusion that they necessarily should disqualify him.
As for the comments from Jim Wallis, I'd just like to point out that the whole "being friendly" thing goes both ways. Yes, secular Americans cannot afford to ignore religious voters and should treat them with kindness; the reverse is also true. Repeatedly characterizing secular Americans as anti-religion or as unfriendly to religious people is not just inaccurate but can come across as bigoted at times.