Is the left’s newfound religiosity real?

If the left thinks paying some rhetorical attention to Christian voters will win it future elections, it is sadly mistaken.

During the last 25 years, the Republican Party has become synonymous with traditional family values, steadily gaining the political confidence of a heavy majority of Christian voters. Whether deserved, November’s resounding election results confirm the rightward trend.

Democratic Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s inability to appeal to religious voters is just one example. Despite Kerry’s alter boy invocations and many references to prayer, very few thought of Kerry as a man of strong religious faith. This weakness likely cost him the presidency. After party affiliation, church attendance is now the single-most-reliable voting indicator, even more accurate than race.

The spiritual skepticism of Kerry is characteristic of value voters’ greater skepticism of the left as a whole. November’s election has made Democrats finally realize the liberal social values of their party base are largely out of step with mainstream voters, especially so among religious voters. As a result, the left is scrambling to assert itself as a party with Christian roots and faith-based values. The relevant question is simple: Can it be done?

The Democratic Party has not always been the party of Roe v. Wade, same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, radical feminism, unfettered sexual liberty, or bent on eradicating religious expression from public life. Historically, religiously motivated individuals and Christian values have played key roles in the abolitionist and temperance movements, the New Deal and the civil rights movement, to name a few of liberals’ favorite successes.

It was a democratically controlled Congress that successfully engineered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement garnered the support of millions of church-going Americans.

Furthermore, the Democrats are strong on some issues that are extremely important to religious individuals. Advocacy for social justice and the needs of the poor, basic human rights, responsible stewardship of the environment and the use of armed force as a last resort are all issues that find support in the Bible. In retrospect it seems curious that the Democrats have largely failed to publicly tie their positions to biblical values.

To bridge the religious gap between the parties, Democrats have resorted to a two-prong plan of attack. First, many members of the Democratic Party have begun making a conscious effort to appeal to traditional value voters through religious rhetoric. This first plan was most evident throughout the presidential election as Kerry continually espoused, “faith without works is dead,” and often referenced his Catholic upbringing. Similarly, two weeks ago in a fund-raising speech Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., praising faith- based initiatives, remarked, “I’ve always been a praying person” and went on to invoke “God” more than six times in her speech. Of course, the lighter side of the strategy reared its head during the Democratic primary when Howard Dean inaccurately located the book of Job in the New Testament.

As a second mode of attack, Democratic leadership has resorted to softening its stance on issues over which the party has traditionally taken a hard-line and unbending position. Specifically, after the election many leaders of the Democratic Party have publicly indicated the intent to soften their stance on abortion, especially in regard to partial birth procedures and parental notification laws. Clinton, in a recent speech to pro-choice advocates lamented that abortion is “a sad, even tragic choice (for) many, many women.”

The statement should sound familiar, as Kerry commonly conveyed the same sentiment. The stance coincides with now-Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s call for liberals to begin accepting pro-life Democrats into the party ranks. Similarly, few Democratic leaders have actually said they personally endorse gay marriage (likely confident the Supreme Court will do their bidding).

The problem with strategy is that it’s superficial. Religious voters are not stupid voters and can glean that no authentic change has been made. The shift appears to be disingenuous, pragmatic and a pure product of political calculus. For Christian voters who see many moral issues in black and white, the religious rhetoric sounds like nothing more than politicians talking out of both sides of their mouth. A senator’s 100 percent NARAL Pro-Choice America voting record will always be difficult to reconcile with her religious rhetoric, no matter how many times God is mentioned.

In sum, even the most powerful rhetoric cannot change voting records. Moreover, softening on issues that are moral imperatives for Christians is futile. Softening does not equal change. The abortion of innocent, defenseless and unborn life will never be an issue that Christians can balance away against other important moral issues. Likewise, gay marriage will always be directly contrary to God’s design and biblical order.

Pornography will never be a form of speech with redeeming value, and the stifling of public religious expression will always sound like a threat to religious liberty. No amount of smooth talking or softening on morally black and white issues will change where the Democratic Party stands on key social issues. In the end, only a real shift to the right will save the left.

Bryan Freeman welcomes comments at [email protected]