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Why We Should be Grateful to Religious Groups at Election Time

An op-ed this Sunday by Katherine Stewart in the New York Times singles out the political activism of the evangelical churches for complaint. But it reflects political paranoia, religious hostility, and an impoverished understanding of the needs of democracy. One of its main points is that the evangelical churches skirt the restrictions on endorsing candidates by pressing their antiabortion position. They thus steer their congregants to vote for the Republican party, which has far more officeholders opposed to the legality of abortion.

There is nothing at all wrong with a church focusing on issues of concern to their members, even if the discussion has the natural and even intended consequence of leading to more votes for the Republican party. It is not illegal. The so-called Johnson amendment prohibits only express endorsements of candidates by charitable organizations. Advocacy for a moral position is not immoral. Indeed, if one believes that abortion is the taking of a life, publicizing the parties’ positions on abortion around election time is a moral duty.

And such activism is not bad for democracy. One of the great problems of a modern democracy is that special interest groups, like unions or particular industries, whose concerns are generally monetary and narrowly-based, have disproportionate influence on elections. Unlike diffuse groups of citizens, they can avoid free rider problems that discourage people from giving to more broad-based causes. But religions can also motivate people to vote based on visions of the common good. We should be grateful for their participation in the public square

I doubt the New York Times would have run an op-ed worrying about the influence of mainstream Protestant churches and predominantly African-Americans churches when they made civil rights a top political priority, even though that implicitly called for the defeat of segregationists across the nation.

And today many charitable institutions have a left-liberal issues agenda and we do not hear objections to their activities either. Many foundations have programs pressing for the expansion of “reproductive rights.” Prominent universities have explicitly endorsed the Paris Climate Change Accords and relentlessly promote issues of identity politics that lean left. And I have heard more than a few students complain that their professors openly engage in partisan commentary, none of which is pro-Republican.

Thus, it is very likely that today the influence of charitable institutions, as a whole, pushes to the left. It reflects both institutional ignorance and political paranoia to focus only on evangelical churches. Indeed, the op-ed itself comes close to religious bigotry by labeling the evangelists that it discusses “Christian nationalists.” That is not how they describe themselves, and the issues they are pressing, as described in the article, are emphatically not centered in claims of national chauvinism, but of universal morality. Stewart does not like their positions but that is no reason to make their faith sound sinister. If she called an association of Muslims “Muslim nationalists” or indeed “Muslim internationalists” without basis, she might be fired or shamed, but casual denigration of evangelicals is a marker today of what passes for cosmopolitanism.

Reader Discussion

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on November 06, 2018 at 10:07:04 am

Thank you, Professor McGuinness.

Clear thinking is in short supply.

Your post makes it less so.

Please continue.

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Latecomer
on November 06, 2018 at 12:06:52 pm

An op-ed this Sunday by Katherine Stewart in the New York Times singles out the political activism of the evangelical churches for complaint. But it reflects political paranoia, religious hostility, and an impoverished understanding of the needs of democracy. One of its main points is that the evangelical churches skirt the restrictions on endorsing candidates by pressing their antiabortion position. They thus steer their congregants to vote for the Republican party, which has far more officeholders opposed to the legality of abortion.

I’ve chided others for criticizing what someone says without quoting the allegedly offending language. Here is another case in point: What complaint exactly does Stewart raise about evangelical Republicans?

Stewart begins with a thesis statement: “ If Democrats fail to realize their dream of a blue wave in Tuesday’s midterm elections, perhaps the biggest factor will be the organizing power of the Christian nationalist movement.” Most of the column then consists of quotes supporting this thesis. Quotes are not complaints.

[T]he op-ed itself comes close to religious bigotry by labeling the evangelists that it discusses “Christian nationalists.” That is not how they describe themselves, and the issues they are pressing, as described in the article, are emphatically not centered in claims of national chauvinism, but of universal morality.

Really? ‘Cuz Stewart begins by quote people at the Values Voter Summit. In case you haven’t dropped by their website lately, it explains that “Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.” Now, perhaps this is a universalist appeal, and the summit is designed to guide people’s votes throughout the Americas, but that’s far from clear given all the red, white, and blue.

Now, I won’t say that Stewart has no complaint. She concludes with this:

In his first months in office, Mr. Trump vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a federal law barring houses of worship, charitable nonprofits and private foundations from endorsing or financially supporting political parties and candidates. But it’s unclear what a repeal of the Johnson Amendment would accomplish. In Unionville, San Diego and elsewhere across the country, it’s all but impossible to separate pastors from political operatives, parties from houses of worship, and the redemptive messages of theology from the slogans of partisan placards.

Still, the narrative that government is stomping all over the rights of conservative churches to enter the public square is one of the best ways to get the base to the polls. With so much at stake on Tuesday, it seems too useful to set aside just because it’s not true.

In short, Stewart’s complaint is not that evangelicals engage in politics. It’s that evangelicals lie, advancing a false narrative that they’re somehow being prohibited from engaging in politics, thereby promoting anti-social paranoia and conspiracy-mindedness.

It is not Stewart who is expressing paranoia, it’s the evangelicals—and McGinnis.

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nobody.really
on November 06, 2018 at 12:21:11 pm

[…] R. McClarey J.D., The American Catholic America, Defend Life – Lauren Enriquez, The Stream Why We Should be Grateful to Religious Groups at Election Time – John O. McGinnis J.D. The MidTerm Election: Deep at the Heart of Texas – Al Perrotta, […]

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TVESDAY GOD & CAESAR EDITION – Big Pulpit
on November 06, 2018 at 13:31:19 pm

Hey, nobody:

And when was the last time you read a NYT editorial lambasting African american churches for "getting out the vote" for say Obama, Maxine Waters, etc? or the Unitarians for promoting LGBT, etc.

Were there an equal pillorying of the Churches, I would be fine with that. Yet, somehow, it always seems that only Evangelical christian churches are worthy of critical note.

Where was the last NYT article criticizing Farrakhan and his Black Muslims - the same Farrakhan who recently sang along with his Iranian friends, "Death to America"

Where is the NYT editorial condemning Muslim Imam calls for Death to America or calling for the imposition of Sharia Law?

Haven't had the *pleasure* of reading those, have we?

Nope, if there is to be criticism, let it be as broad based and "ecumenical" as can be.

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gabe
on November 06, 2018 at 14:31:22 pm

Dude, you’re missing the point.

And when was the last time you read a NYT editorial lambasting African american churches for “getting out the vote” for say Obama, Maxine Waters, etc? or the Unitarians for promoting LGBT, etc.

Were there an equal pillorying of the Churches, I would be fine with that.

Well … great. ‘Cuz I have seen NO NYT editorials blasting churches for getting out the vote, or for promoting views. Not black churches. Not Unitarian churches. Not (white) evangelical churches. So we have seen equally pillorying on that basis—which is to say, NO pillorying.

So you got your wish.

Where was the last NYT article criticizing Farrakhan and his Black Muslims – the same Farrakhan who recently sang along with his Iranian friends, “Death to America”

Where is the NYT editorial condemning Muslim Imam calls for Death to America or calling for the imposition of Sharia Law?

Haven’t had the *pleasure* of reading those, have we?

In fairness, I haven’t seen anything along those lines.

That said, it may have escaped your attention that today is election day. (I know; these things sneak up on me, too. Someone should have made an announcement or something....) But Stuart wrote her column to discuss things that may influence the outcome of elections. Are you suggesting that Farrakhan or Imams chanting “Death to America” have enough influence to alter the outcome of elections? If not, then again I think you’ve missed the point of the column—whatever the merits of complaint otherwise.

Finally, in case you also missed McGinnis’s point, he argues that there is nothing wrong with churches taking a position on political issues (although the law gets stickier regarding taking a position on specific candidates). I agree. Thus, I find no fault with an Imam advocating Sharia Law. Churches have free speech. If YOU (or I) don’t like Sharia Law, then it falls to YOU (or me) to oppose it politically. But otherwise, so what? I don’t share the Jewish aversion to pork; nor have I seen NYT editorials opposed to such teachings. And this disquiets me not at all.

Is Sharia Law an unpopular imposition on a primarily non-Muslim population? Then I expect it won’t get adopted, even if some Imam somewhere promotes it. Does Sharia Law violate some Constitutional provision? Then presumably courts will bar its enforcement. Does Sharia Law violate the Establishment Clause because it comes from some religious source? If so, then criminal statutes against murder violates the Establishment Clause because it comes from the Ten Commandments. In short, I don’t wet my pants over Sharia Law. You’re gonna have to come up with a better boogeyman than that.

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nobody.really
on November 06, 2018 at 19:58:07 pm

Here is the Farrakhan link.

In case you don;t recall previous discussions here at LLB, re: Hamburger and tax exempt status, I think we agree. I care only that criticism be equal.

If all churches or no churches do politics, I don;t care.
But if one is to be criticized, then let them all be criticized.

For that matter, if churches are to be subject to taxation for endorsing a candidate, then let labor unions, political parties and NGO's also be taxed.

How is that for simplicity?

and you intentionally MISS MY POINT. Like you I do not have an aversion to pork - in fact, I am about top have a dijon mustard, wine and lemon sauce over some yummy pork tenderloin. The fact that the NYTimes chooses not to comment on it, bothers me not a fig - although under the ministrations of my wife and I the meal is definitely worthy of consideration in their Food Section.

Hmm! Shall I have a nice petit verdot or a grenache with that?
What say you, nobody!
Surely, not mead!

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gabe
on November 06, 2018 at 19:58:45 pm

Oops, here it is:

https://hotair.com/archives/2018/11/06/louis-farrakhan-leads-death-america-chant-iran/

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gabe
on November 07, 2018 at 16:08:20 pm

As an aside, this post was punitively written by "John O. McGinnis[,] the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University."

Really? The undergraduate Northwestern University has a George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law?

No. McGinnis is just too shy to acknowledge that he teaches at the law school--specifically, the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law , so named when J.B. Pritzker (JD '93) gave $100 million to help the school focus on public interest initiatives in civil and human rights, among other things. And now Pritzker is the Democratic governor-elect of Illinois!

McGinnis, you must be so proud. Let me be among the first to congratulate you. But there's no need to hide this light under a bushel. Feel free to revise your bio to let everyone know about this exciting news!

You're welcome.

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nobody.really

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