Paul Prather

Democrats are finally speaking more about their faith. Why they should keep talking.

A few weeks ago, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) published a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece called “Democrats Need to Talk About Their Faith.” It appeared in The Atlantic online.

I’ll summarize it, but hope you’ll read it yourself if you haven’t already done so.

Coons makes an important point on a topic that’s long bothered me.

In politics, the Republican Party has for decades successfully positioned itself in the minds of many voters as the party of God.

It has courted white evangelical Christians and formed them into one of the most powerful Republican voting blocks. It’s captured conservative Roman Catholics, too.

Democrats have been characterized—and unwittingly have cooperated in this characterization—as the party of secularism and, its critics say, of hostility to religion.

“Unfortunately, choosing not to talk much—or even at all—about faith and religion has become common in today’s Democratic Party,” Coons says.

Yet, while conventional wisdom holds that Democrats are irreligious or even anti-religion, he writes, the facts tell a different story.

The majority of Democrats not only aren’t hostile to faith, they’re practicing Christians. Or, in lesser numbers, Jews or Muslims.

According to the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners describe themselves as Christians; another 8 percent belong to non-Christian faiths. An overwhelming 76 percent of Democrats are absolutely or fairly certain God exists.

Among black and Hispanic Democrats, these numbers are higher still.

It’s time Democrats started speaking openly about their faith, Coons argues. They must stop ceding spiritual ground to the opposition.

“Make no mistake—those GOP efforts have made a difference,” he says, “and slowly but surely, Democrats have allowed conventional wisdom to correlate public displays of Christian religiosity with anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ policies.”

Democrats have often failed to show how their own political positions on issues such as immigration, climate change, taxes and health care grow from their religion, Coons says.

He notes with pleasure that several Democratic presidential hopefuls are indeed now talking openly about their Christianity.

Speaking to his home congregation of Baptists, Senator Cory Booker called Jesus Christ “the center of my life.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (a former Sunday school teacher), Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden all have said Christianity is a guiding force in their political positions.

“Those examples reflect an important point: Democrats can fight for our progressive values while also identifying with the religious backgrounds that are so important to tens of millions of Americans,” Coons writes. “It’s … about letting those Americans for whom religion is central to their lives know that we understand them, respect them, and in many cases share their religious backgrounds.”

I was so glad to read Coons’ essay.

As a lifelong Democrat—that will come as a surprise to exactly no one, I imagine—I’ve often grown frustrated with the widespread characterization of Democrats as heathens.

Not only am I a Christian, and a minister, but probably half of the fine people and good friends I worship with also are Democrats.

And half of those I worship with and love are Republicans.

That’s fine, either way. I believe my Republican friends are mistaken. But I have to remember, they think I’m the misguided one.

We’re all in a quandary, really, because there is no flawless party of God here on Earth. In an imperfect world populated by imperfect people who form imperfect political factions, we all make trade-offs. There’s no other way.

Yet, to me, the Republican Party has sought to position itself as God’s pure and only party by screaming incessantly about two incendiary issues—abortion and gay rights—while ignoring myriad other weighty spiritual matters.

I’ve wanted Democratic leaders to state the obvious: concern for the poor and the sick—not just lip service, but serious dollars-and-cents help—is a moral and religious issue, too.

Mercy toward desperate immigrant children, not snatching them from their mothers and confining them in what amount to kiddie prisons, is a religious issue. Equal treatment for all, whatever their color, faith, orientation or gender, is a religious issue. Humane prison conditions and fair sentences are religious issues.

I could go on. There are a great many issues to which faith speaks. You shouldn’t get to choose just one or two. They all matter.

To me, you have to find the party you think gets it right most often, knowing that even so, this being a fallen world, that party will get something else badly wrong.

I just want my party’s leaders to point out, loudly and repeatedly, that lots of us Democrats are as propelled by our faith in God as is the most ardent Republican. Because that’s a fact.