Redefining the “Religious Voter”

In building a winning coalition of religious voters, Barack Obama cut
into the so-called God gap that puts frequent worshippers in the
Republican column, won Catholics, made inroads with younger
evangelicals, and racked up huge numbers with minorities and people
with no religious affiliation.

That's the opening paragraph of an Associated Press piece by Eric Gorski posted in the Washington Post's On Faith online section, Obama results show gains in key religious voters.  It offers a basic glance at how religious voters cast their ballots on Tuesday.  I certainly hope and expect more substantive analysis of religious
voters in the coming days and weeks, but perhaps this article represents a modest start to the discussion.

But there's a big problem with that opening paragraph.  Let's review the categories of "religious voters" offered by Mr. Gorski in the AP piece:

  • "frequent worshippers"
  • "Catholics"
  • "younger evangelicals"
  • "minorities"
  • "people with no religious affiliation"

Excuse me?  Are Catholics, younger evangelicals, or minorities not frequent worshippers?  Are minorities to be defined more by their race than by their faith? On the flip side, are white voters to be defined more by their faith than by their race?

Of course, "frequent worshippers" is meant to describe "white, evangelical frequent worshippers" or "white, evangelical, frequent worshippers over age 40."  But by failing to be descriptive in this term, Mr. Gorski connotes that minorities, Catholics, and younger evangelicals are not frequent worshippers.

And to that end, perhaps Mr. Gorski could have led this piece not with the tired, old-paradigm categories of religious voters, but with the essence of this quote, burried in the middle of his report:

"This is a coalition that includes white Christians," [John] Green [a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life] said of
Obama's faith-based bloc. "It's just white Christians aren't the senior
partners in this coalition."

White Christians aren't the senior partners in the religious coalition that supported President-Elect Barack Obama.  White Christians – for now, anyway – are not the driving force in American politics.  Let's repeat that.

White Christians are not the driving force in American politics right now.

I don't doubt that white evangelicals will be back in force in two or four years, but I am glad to see the beginning of a redefinition of the "religious vote."  For Christianity is not just the domain of white, suburban and rural evangelicals concerned about gay marriage and abortion.  Rather, the Christian Church is also home to people of color, young people, and people for whom issues of poverty and social justice are a political priority.

Not only did Barack Obama win on Tuesday, but so did the many religious voters who are not comfortable being lumped together with the Christian Right.  Redefining our terms and recognizing the diverse interests and politics of people of faith . . . that's a change I can believe in.

Published by Lutheran Zephyr

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

2 thoughts on “Redefining the “Religious Voter”

  1. I do love your political commentary.
    I’m trying to figure out how to talk to my fundamentalist/Pentecostal relatives about abortion.
    Realizing that I won’t change their minds, still trying to put it in cogent writing.

  2. In essence no. What happened was the poll used a bunch of different dimensions, one at a time, to define people: frequency of worship, religious affiliation, race age, etc.
    The commentator then picked out the categories where the Democrats made gains, wiyhout specifying that people would be represented at least twice, i.e. that some Catholics would also be frequent worshippers, that everybody has both a religious affiliation choice (because no affiliation is a category) and a race, etc.

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