OPINION: Democratic Party needs to ‘get’ religion (again)

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By Randy Patrick

Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Catholic Church?

Those weren’t the words Sen. Kamala Harris used when she grilled a federal judicial nominee in December about his membership in the Knights of Columbus. But her line of questioning was reminiscent of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s interrogation of suspected Communists in the film industry in 1940s.

In her cross examination, the former prosecutor demanded of Brian Buescher: Had he belonged to the Knights for the past 25 years? Was he aware that they opposed “a woman’s right to choose?” Did he know the group opposed marriage equality?

Defending the sanctity of life and traditional marriage are positions of the Catholic Church, and the Knights of Columbus are a Catholic men’s group with two million members.

It isn’t only Catholics, though, who are suspect.

Trevor McFadden, now a federal judge in the District of Columbia, was asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, R-R.I., during his hearing in 2017 whether he agreed with his Anglican parish’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

It would be improper for him to express an opinion, McFadden said, but he would uphold the precedents of the federal courts, including the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality the law of the land.

McFadden was confirmed, but those who didn’t vote for him include every Democratic senator who is a candidate or has been mentioned as a candidate for president in 2020 except Amy Klobuchar and Jon Tester — Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Article VI of the Constitution prohibits a “religious test” for public office, but that isn’t a problem for some Democrats. They interpret the First Amendment’s “free exercise of religion” clause narrowly to mean something consenting adults do behind closed church doors, and the “establishment clause” broadly, declaring every public expression of faith to be an “establishment of religion.”

That wasn’t what the Founders intended.

Hostility toward traditional Christian beliefs is no longer imaginary.

Witness the hatred against Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, for accepting a teaching position at a Baptist school.

The New York Times got it wrong when it reported that the school doesn’t allow gay students. Immanuel Christian doesn’t bar students because of sexual orientation, but it requires that teachers, parents and students adhere to a standard of conduct that includes abstaining from extramarital sex of any kind and affirming certain beliefs, including the infallibility of Scripture and Jesus’ definition of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6).

I was brought up as an evangelical Christian, but I’m not as theologically conservative as most family members, including my sister, who taught pre-school and kindergarten at schools similar to Immanuel Christian.

Like former President Barack Obama, who did not publicly support same-sex marriage until 2012, my views on that matter have evolved. But I still struggle with reconciling what I know about the science of sexuality and Jesus’ commandment to “love thy neighbor” (including thy gay neighbor) with the way evangelical churches have always interpreted Scripture regarding homoerotic acts.

Although I’m center-right, I’ve liked Obama, a self-described “born-again” Christian, since I heard him address the DNC in 2004, when he emphasized that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

“We worship an awesome God in the blue states,” he said, and “have gay friends in the red states.”

Yes! I thought. He gets it!

These days, I’m not sure most Democrats get it.

And many millennial Democrats, especially, see religion as something that divides rather than unites.

Pew Research Center data last year showed that only 32 percent of white Democrats believe in “the God of the Bible,” compared to 61 percent of black Democrats and 72 percent of Republicans.

I was astounded when “Meet the Press” reported a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that found only 37 percent of Democrats were comfortable with an evangelical presidential candidate.

That means someone like Barack Obama, the Clintons or Jimmy Carter wouldn’t make the cut.

I find that troubling, because it indicates the Democratic Party no longer welcomes traditional Christians, and that doesn’t bode well for the party in 2020 and beyond.