Bridging the Evangelical Gap

Andrew Demillo AP
Booklet on Tort Reform

New Orleans    Whether it’s the New York Times, Washington Post, or the local papers, there’s now a spot for the so-called “conservative” columnist to make sure the paper can survive the anti-media waves lapping around them and, frankly, appeal to their elite, “uptown,” and wealthier readership.  A common trope for many of these and other pundits has been the deal that rock-ribbed, moralistic evangelicals have made with the devil, which is to say Donald Trump both as candidate and now even more so as President.

He can spout vulgarities about women that surely bring blushes to the sisters in the front row of the choir.  His countless affairs with various women, including porn stars and former Playboy models, even while his latest wife was bearing his latest child, certainly don’t fit well in the Sunday school lesson of the day.  Yet, he grabbed the lion’s share of their votes in 2016, more than 80%, and all polls indicate that they have stayed with him through thick and thin to this point.

He may not know the verses, but he sings along on the chorus, especially on abortion, but has also done a good job at lip-synching on a number of the other evangelical cultural issues.  He could care if there’s religion in public schools.  In fact, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, he has precious little experience with them, so how could it matter?  Separation of church and state whether on wedding cakes or healthcare, what the heck, as long as they don’t expect him to go to church every Sunday rather than one of his golf courses.

All of which made a news item recently more noteworthy when evangelical churches and leaders in Arkansas made opposing tort reform a huge part of their package before the coming election.  Tort reform has been a bellwether for corporate Republicanism for decades.  In plain English it means putting a limit on how much judges and judges can award victims of various forms of negligence.  Evangelicals in Arkansas in his instance showed some fealty to consistency in line with their pro-life ideology, joining the argument that there cannot be fixed limits on the value of life.

Interviewing the Public Interest Network’s campaign director, Zach Polett, on Wade’s World this item came up in our wide-ranging conversation about politics both local and nationally.  Zach mentioned that he had been asked to join some conversations over the last year, largely he suspected because of his long identification with ACORN, organized under the rubric of something called the Arkansas Democracy Working Group.  The point of these conversations has been to create a dialogue between right and left, especially evangelicals, to see where there might be common ground.  Having read the blurb about their tort reform position, I asked if the Working Group could take any credit for that, and Zach replied that he doubted it, while voicing his newfound respect for the head of the Arkansas Family Council and his sincerity.  On the other hand, he predicted that the statewide initiative that would raise the minimum wage in Arkansas to $11 by 2021, which would be about the highest level in the South, would win in November.  In that instance he thought a bridge had been built to evangelical leadership who increasingly understood that low-wage workers and increased equity for the poor were moral issues expressed secularly by increased efforts to create living wages and the dignity of work.

There’s a lesson there worth relearning.  No matter how wide the gaps or how much certain politicians see their self-interest and survival in polarizing people, there’s huge value in doing the work to find common understanding on issues one by one, even when we might be in different churches at other times.

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