Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Houston, created a stir on Tuesday night when he called the Democratic Party “some kind of religion that is basically godless.”
Young was speaking at a watch party for a Republican congressional candidate who had just conceded defeat to a Democrat.
Now for a little context. Pastor Young had just referenced the case of Mark Salvas, a man in Pennsylvania who recently lost his position as the executive director of the Allegheny County Democratic Party because he was too religious.
Actually, Mark Salvas had declared his support for a white officer who recently gunned down an unarmed black man.
And the Pennsylvania Democrat wondered aloud on his Facebook page why we must ban the Confederate flag just because some crazy guy shot up a church.
Ed Young focused on the man’s comment that he stands for the flag and kneels for the cross, but it is doubtful that this reference alone would have cost the man his position.
In other words, Salvas showed the same disregard for Democrats of color that Ed Young demonstrated with his ill-considered remarks.
More context. After calling the Democratic Party a “godless religion,” Pastor Young said that every Democrat he knows personally has no respect for the sanctity of life and, so long as that remains true, God cannot bless this nation.
Let’s get something straight: most Democrats are people of faith. Evangelical African Americans comprise a huge slice of the party’s base, as do evangelical and Catholic Latinos. Jewish Democrats definitely punch above their weight on the Blue team and, especially on the east coast, the Jewish Community has supplied a large number of progressive political candidates and jurists for decades.
I have also worked with many devout Muslims who are voting blue in large numbers because they are tired of being demonized as terrorists by Republican politicians.
Many of these people (especially black evangelicals and Latino Catholics) take a conservative stance on the issue of abortion; but that single issue doesn’t determine their vote. They might wish the Democrats would focus on the moral aspect of the abortion debate instead of being so damned pragmatic and libertarian on the issue, but they have bigger fish to fry.
White mainline Protestants and Catholics split more or less evenly between the two major parties, but it is well known that 81% of white evangelicals supported Donald Trump.
In the video clip, an African American pastor claims to be surprised by Ed Young’s remarks because Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians all attend Houston’s Second Baptist Church. I am not sure that’s true. A Democrat at Second Baptist would be wise to keep her politics to herself.
Of course, the Democratic party has its share of atheists, agnostics and folks who identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Democrats in this category might respond with a shrug when they hear their party derided as “godless”. If not thinking too much about God makes you “godless”, they might think, so be it. Who gives a f–k?
And it is certainly true that the secular wing of the Democratic party tends to be predominantly white, young and stridently pro-choice. Anyone who has spent much time in Democratic politics realizes that secular whites and devout people of color don’t always see eye-to-eye. Considerable tension exists between the two camps, but they are willing to live and work together.
Beto O’Rourke addressed the diversity within the Democratic Party in his concession speech, saying he was proud to be part of a movement “comprised of people from all walks of life, coming together, deciding what unites us is far stronger than the color of our skin, how many generations we can count ourselves an American, or whether we just got here yesterday, who we love, we pray to, whether we pray at all, who we voted for last time, none of it matters.”
Well, it does and it doesn’t. If you are devout adherent of a faith community, “who we pray to” matters a lot. We are happy to work shoulder-to-shoulder with people of other faiths and people of no faith, but, in large part, our religion drives our political values.
Christians, Jews and Muslims all see their Creator as loving, kind and merciful. That belief has profound political implications.
Beto betrayed a perhaps unconscious secular bias when he dropped the f-bomb in the course of his concession speech. Most Democrats either got a kick out of Beto’s casual use of the f-word or didn’t attach much significance to it. But if the party really wants to bring America together, vocabulary matters.
Some people, both Democrats and Republicans, don’t want to hear their political leaders using profanity in public. Most of these people are over 65 and most of them take their religion seriously.
White secular Democrats need to stretch a bit if they genuinely wish to make room for their devout brothers and sisters. Democrats of faith tend to be conservative on the abortion issue, and that includes me. I am pro-choice but, regardless of what Ed Young might think, I take the sanctity of life very seriously. I just don’t think banning abortion would make the world safer place for the unborn any more than banning alcohol promoted public safety.
Here’s the thing, both major parties are dominated by people of faith. One party has a place for secular folk, and the other party, increasingly, demonizes the unreligious as “godless”.
The secular wing of the Democratic party will grow in size and influence in coming years because Millennials are much less religious than their parents.
Pushing out the unbelievers might work in the short-term for the Republicans, but it is suicidal as a long-term strategy.
But Democrats must come to terms with the legions of devout people, most of them people of color, who share their party affiliation. The devout and the religiously indifferent must learn to work together or nothing of lasting significance will be accomplished.