The Party Faithful, Amy Sullivan’s new book is a must-read for academics, journalists, and just about anyone interested in the recent entwining of American politics and religion. In lucid, elegant prose, Sullivan explains where we are today (or were pre-2008) with Republicans claiming to be God’s Own Party while atheists, secular humanists, and other ‘others’ found safe haven in the Democratic party.
Sullivan begins her account of how the Democrats lost the religious vote in the early 20th century, providing colorful details about the emergence of fundamentalism, the rise of neo-evangelicalism and the sad case of Jimmy Carter. By 1980, the great migration of white Southern evangelicals to the party of Lincoln seemed a foregone conclusion. Pushed out by liberal causes and identity politics, once-diehard Southern Democrats were pulled in by the traditional values rhetoric of Ronald Reagan and his Republican friends. Unmoved by this mass defection, Democrats then ushered Catholics out.
At the nub of these shifts was the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, that legalized abortion. Abortion would become central to the politics of the next three decades; the beating heart of the Right’s crusade for traditional values and the cherished prize of feminists and the Left. Sullivan argues that these sharp polarizations are fading: younger evangelicals see a need to address other issues, and many mainstream Democrats are comfortable calling for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”
If Sullivan is right and Hillary Clinton’s, Barack Obama’s, and John Edwards’ ease with their own religiosity (and careful formulation of their support for abortion) signals the faithful that the Democratic Party has room for them, too. That’s significant because notwithstanding the recent Pew poll, which found number of Protestants and Catholics was down while the religiously unaffiliated were growing, evangelicals and Catholics can swing an election.
Reporters who want the full scoop—who did what, when, where, and how—should read Sullivan sooner rather than later. The Party Faithful will provide helpful context for covering the next eight months.
Over at The New Yorker, Honor Moore has a fascinating piece about her father, Bishop Paul Moore, Jr. The piece is interesting because Moore explores the nexus of her father’s spirituality and sexuality, and how little she knew or understood either one. It is only when her father passed away that she met the man who had been his lover for 30 years. She learns from him that a sermon that had been pivotal in her acceptance and appreciation of her father was not at all what she had thought it was. On the night the sermon was preached, Bishop Moore mistakenly believed his longtime lover had died of AIDS. She writes:
I had been at that service and it was during the sermon that night that I’d felt my father transfigured in the power of his preaching. It was also that night, years before the discovery of his hidden life, that, feeling the love coming from him as he preached, I had decided to accept who he was, to take the love he gave when he was his truest self, when he was preaching. Now I’d learned that my father had preached that night believing a man he loved had died.
Is it possible to read this piece outside the context of the current state of the Anglican communion? Or maybe it’s simply a story of a father and child. I’m curious to hear what others think.