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Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Via Brad Plumer a really excellent article from Michelle Cottle explores just how unlikely it is that a significant number of white evangelicals will ever be won over by this sort of thing.

May 14, 2005 | Permalink

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Actually, that billboard is exactly the type of thing the Democrats have to do. But then they have to PROVE that their policies are better for helping the poor. In other words, back up your claim with action and quit deriding anyone who believes that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. Don't preach to me about my religion at the same time you're making fun of it.

I'm not a subscriber to NRO so I couldn't read the referenced article.

Posted by: Brian H | May 14, 2005 9:48:03 AM

As a Christian, I've never been derided by an actual Democratic Politician. I've been derided by lots of pundits who people align with the left, even if they aren't leftists on any issues by a handful in the Social Left grabbag. I've also been Condescended to by the Right, believe me, but I've never actually be derided by a Democrat.

Matt, I think your and Plumer's analysis is right, IF the Billboard is seen as trying to swing the Fundamentalist Evangelicals who identify as such. However, I think it might be significantly more effective with the Mainstream Protestants, Lutherans, Catholics, and those groups, all of which are significant. Also, it helps neutralize the Right-wing Counterarguments that might guilt swing voters and Democratic Voters. As a Democratic Voter, I KNOW that the Democratic Party does a better job of realizing Christian ideals for governance than the Republican Party. At the same time, the constant drumb beat of the Right to the Contrary does make one wonder. It's always good to have the point driven home. Finally, there is the possibility that it will suppress Right-wing turn-out, even if it can't get them to switch parties.

Posted by: MDtoMN | May 14, 2005 10:06:31 AM

Ah, such honesty from Cal Thomas, mean-spirited prig that he is:

As a bonus, says Thomas, opposing abortion and gay marriage generally has more to do with changing someone else's behavior than one's own.

Yep, I've been saying this for a couple of years now-- the appeal of the GOP is that it's always about what others are doing wrong or should be doing differently, with a hefty dose of validation for those who are complacent, selfish, or otherwise disengaged from any meaningful sense of obligation to the larger community. And that's where this is a weak spot IMO:

American evangelicalism's emphasis on free-will individualism, personal responsibility, and the paramount importance of one's personal walk with God predisposes many adherents to distrust government intervention in social problems like poverty

If you don't believe in community beyond your church or the local Rotary Club, quit trying to take the means of governing the broader institutions over. This is simply bad citizenship, and while I don't dispute anyone's right to feel this way, I'm outraged by their pretense that their fantasies of religious & national exceptionalism are somehow so noble that they can interfere in others' private lives. I think we should call them on it.

I also think the Cottle article is correct, but the interpretation of the intended audience is wrong... this is, like Matt's (and Kevin Drum's) inclination to bail on the Ten Commandments issue, an appeal to the mushy "middle." It's for the people who aren't really all that churchy, but think that they should be on the side of those who are because that's a good way to be seen as moral without too much painful introspection (see above, but to a lesser degree). We might as well give it a try-- unlike most Dem position papers, at least billboards get people talking, and it costs us nothing in terms of core principles.

Posted by: latts | May 14, 2005 10:21:33 AM

Well, but Latts, would a government of people like you really let conservative Chrstians run their own lives? Could a Christian school fire a teacher who was pregnant and unmarried? Could a Christian landlord refuse to rent to a gay couple? No and no, obviously. So Christians are forced into politics in self-defense.

Posted by: y81 | May 14, 2005 10:28:45 AM

When you tell me that I have to business trying to guide my 13 year old daughter's "reproductive health" and I have no right to even know about her getting an abortion let alone help her make good decisions in the matter. Aren't you interfering in my family's private life?

When you tell me that I can't cut down a tree on my own property because it'll induce global warming aren't you interfering with my private life?

When you tell my son he can't pray at a public school, aren't you interfering with his private life?

Is it OK for YOU to interfere, but not "The Christian Right"?

Come on, be a little consistent in your arguments. Hypocryte.

Posted by: Brian H | May 14, 2005 10:43:59 AM

let conservative Chrstians run their own lives?

Sure, as long as they don't abuse their kids (or spouses), infring on others' rights, etc. They can beat themselves bloody in the interests of their immortal souls, for all I care.

Could a Christian school fire a teacher who was pregnant and unmarried?

Yep, if the school is truly self-supporting, (i.e., not taxpayer-subsidized).

Could a Christian landlord refuse to rent to a gay couple?

This is a commerce question & usually decided at the state level, IIRC. Businesses have to abide by certain rules if they reach a certain size, but since I've rented regularly from those who own smaller rental properties-- and had to face competition for the leases, which I won presumably because I was someone they trusted-- there's certainly a lot of leeway when it comes to how individual property owners can determine who their tenants might be. BTW, at least two of my former landlords have been very religious, and they never once asked me about my affiliation.

So the only rules people like me could even be accused of imposing on fundamentalists are related to how they deal with the general public and those who are objectively vulnerable... and even then the restrictions are minimal and related to the scope of the individuals' community dealings. That, I'm afraid, is how society works, and I'm generally unmoved by the complaints of those who want access to all the privileges and economic goodies society has to offer, but without accepting any responsibility for dealing fairly & neutrally with others. There are plenty of religious sects that simply isolate themselves instead of dealing with the vagaries of the modern world, and that's fine as well... civility is the intangible price (taxes being the tangible one) for living in, well, civilization.

Posted by: latts | May 14, 2005 10:50:44 AM

Well, maybe the billboard won't win over any of the hard-core evangelicals whom Cottle is writing about. But we just need to write off those people and concentrate on red-state swing voters who haven't sold their souls to TV preachers. My guess is that religion matters a fair amount to them too.

Posted by: Ethical Werewolf | May 14, 2005 11:04:36 AM

"a really excellent article from Michelle Cottle explores just how unlikely it is that a significant number of white evangelicals will ever be won over by this sort of thing."

Of course that type of thing won't win over most evangelicals. But it is still a good thing to be doing to make some folks on the margins think a bit. Much like the GOP outreach to Hispanics, you can make hay by pulling in small numbers of the other side's base.

The religious revival is, of course, mostly about sex. But that doesn't mean that there aren't folks out there who can be also reached by a poverty pitch.

I think the John Edwards focus on poverty is, in part, a Christian outreach.

Posted by: Petey | May 14, 2005 11:07:06 AM

Ethical Werewolf,

Please stop posting my thoughts while I'm still busy composing them. Thank you.

Posted by: Petey | May 14, 2005 11:08:27 AM

I think the main problem with the billboard is that it doesn't suggest deep knowledge of Christian beliefs and therefore comes across as ignorant, almost bullying. If you had a liberal Christian TV evangelist, complete with the bible verses and guests with inspirational stories--but without the apocalyptic talk--you could make more progress. Given that there are still black evangelicals who vote Democrat consistently, I don't see why this is so crazy. A serious religious show with good production values is going to gain an audience.

The idea that all serious Christians are conservative is a myth, but the billboard does nothing to counter it. The problem is that many liberals really are elitists, largely ignorant of Christianity, who laugh off evangelicals as a bunch of stupid throwbacks. This would be fine as far as I'm concerned except that the Christian right is no laughing matter. It'll take more than just throwing in the word Jesus to get them to take notice. We can't get them to like us, but it would be worth it to get them to stop feeling so fricking superior, and the only way to do that is to learn what they believe better than they do.

The billboard helps more than it hurts, but it suffers from the problem that struck me after all the post-election blather, that liberals are trying to fight an ideological war while refusing to study the terrain. If you want to shape a message to conservative evangelicals, you have to understand what they believe first.

Posted by: PaulC | May 14, 2005 11:46:25 AM

Brian, you're hyperventilating.

"When you tell me that I have to business trying to guide my 13 year old daughter's "reproductive health" and I have no right to even know about her getting an abortion let alone help her make good decisions in the matter. Aren't you interfering in my family's private life?"

Uh, nobody is saying that. What many liberals oppose is government meddling to enforce the type of relationship you desire with your daughter on everyone. Shouldn't the government stay out of parent-child and patient-physician relationships?

"When you tell me that I can't cut down a tree on my own property because it'll induce global warming aren't you interfering with my private life?"

Straw man. Nobody ever told you you can't cut down a tree on your property because it will induce global warming. That's just silly.

"When you tell my son he can't pray at a public school, aren't you interfering with his private life?"

Nobody is telling your son (or anyone elses' son or daughter) that he can't pray at public school. Prayer goes on day in and day out, every day, at every public school. The frequency and intensity of such prayer increases immediately before exams, but it happens all the time. What liberals object to is government-sanctioned prayer and outright evangelism at public schools.

When you quit pummeling your straw men and are ready to join a serious discussion on these issues, do come back.

Posted by: Joel | May 14, 2005 12:02:37 PM

"Uh, nobody is saying that."

http://yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/2005/04/parental_notifi.html

Posted by: Brian H | May 14, 2005 12:15:50 PM

Gosh, Brian, I read it over three times, and I keep missing the part where Matt says you can't know about your daughter's getting an abortion. I do see an argument against legislation *requiring* that you be notified, which is not the same as advocating for legislation *preventing* you from being notified. Nobody is saying that in the cite you gave. Nor anywhere else, AFAIK.

Posted by: Joel | May 14, 2005 12:22:35 PM

crosspost
I completely agree. The Faith vs Works argument (dismissing Works) is a prescription for inaction. Also, there is the notion in some circles that You Get What You Deserve - which denies random misfortune. Prosperous preachers often get money because their prosperity is seen as a sign of God's approval. How are you going to combat that?

One possible approach is to get down into the details. Be critical of Paul’s epistles. After all, who is he to declare what's valid. He has less standing than those who actually knew Jesus. Admittedly, that’s a big task.

As to the sex, well, there isn’t much in the scriptures about sex (New Testament & Hebrew Bible). One could make the case that they are libertine in some ways (e.g. acceptance of concubines). And Paul’s comments – yes, him again - have been wildly misinterpreted.

I keep hearing all the talk from the conservative preachers, but where is the frontal attack on their theology? All liberals do is bring out their Enlightenment cannon and fire away. While that works in other settings, it doesn’t fall on receptive ears within the church’s domain.

Get with it, you liberal Christians! Assemble Jesus’ teachings, which are communitarian, redistributionist, and pacifistic (mostly) and start talking the talk.

Posted by: Quiddity | May 14, 2005 12:38:27 PM

I had this all figured out last November :) but I forgot the punchline when I wrote the previous posting.

I don't want evangelicals to like liberals like me or think that I like them, but I do think that liberals ought to target them with an effective message. This is what we've consistently failed to do.

The right message is "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" and the shame need to be on their own terms, and they need to go away feeling that shame or at least a little doubt about all the things that seemed clear to them. The billboard is hinting in this direction, but I agree that it won't work. I'm partway through the article Matt linked, and I guess that might suggest it would never work. But anyway...

The value to studying the terrain is that when you point out for instance that gluttony is also a sin, they have to take you seriously. If a Friday night pitcher of beer is bad, then so is a third helping of sausage at Sunday brunch. You can also point out that there's nothing Christian about "praying ostentatiously" and feeling morally superior. You can point out that the gospels contain a number of stories that counter the whole idea of a work ethic; in the parable of the vineyard, the workers who come late get the same pay and the early workers are chided for complaining that it's unfair.

I'm guessing, but I think the conservative Christian conscience is reinforced with thoughts like "I deserve my McMansion because I work hard and I'm a virtuous person." Now, I'm just a liberal lapsed Catholic, but that sounds like "Bzzzzzzt! Wrong Answer" based on my reading of the gospel. What I have to say to such people is: Did we study the same gospel? Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?

If you want to attack the conservative conscience and create shame, though, you have to know what you're talking about. Writing out a check over your radicchio salad to fund a billboard spot just isn't going to do it.

Posted by: PaulC | May 14, 2005 12:41:32 PM

The "Talk to them in their own language" comment can be a lot of work for those who don't want to "think like them". Still, on the business of posting the "Ten Commandments" (translation query on commandments), why go to idolatry and publicly divisive fascia by way of showing brotherly love ? I don't see the religious justification let alone the civic.

Posted by: opit | May 14, 2005 1:04:16 PM

The "Talk to them in their own language" comment can be a lot of work for those who don't want to "think like them".

Yeah, it's a lot of work to get enough Arabic speakers, but what's the alternative, Abu Graib?

Oh... wait... you were talking about evangelicals.

Posted by: PaulC | May 14, 2005 1:11:26 PM

Gosh Joel,

If you can't understand that being against parental notification is telling me that I don't need to know about what's going on in my 13 year old daughter's life, then you are missing something.

Posted by: Brian H | May 14, 2005 1:33:59 PM

I think you meant to say this PaulC.

The problem is that many evangelicals really are elitists, largely ignorant of Christianity, who laugh off non-evangelicals as a bunch of stupid throwbacks. This would be fine as far as I'm concerned except that the Christian right is no laughing matter.

Posted by: Rambuncle | May 14, 2005 1:36:40 PM

Well, no, that's not what I meant to say. I agree that evangelicals do not agree with me on their interpretation of Christianity. But they're not ignorant; a lot of them go to Bible Study and put effort into building a mental framework for what the believe. This is why they're such a potent political force. They are convinced that they're right. What I'm suggesting is that any effort to counter them has to begin by destroying their confidence in their own rightness (and righteousness). Spouting quickie slogans about Jesus isn't going to do it.

Posted by: PaulC | May 14, 2005 1:43:19 PM

When you tell my son he can't pray at a public school

This is one of the Big Lies that reactionaries use to rally the troops.

It is, actually, unconstitutional to tell your son he can't pray at a public school. The only limits on student prayer are those on general speech--e.g., you can't talk during a test, so you can't pray out loud during a test either.

Did you really not know this, Brian, or were you just trying to play the victim card?

Posted by: mythago | May 14, 2005 1:44:05 PM

"If you can't understand that being against parental notification is telling me that I don't need to know about what's going on in my 13 year old daughter's life, then you are missing something."

Being against government-mandated parental notification is telling you that you can't expect the government to enforce the relationship with your daughter that you desire, and that you can't expect the government to enforce that type of relationship on anyone else either. You do need to know what's going on with your daughter's life. Start doing that, and stop asking the government to do it for you and for others.

How does lack of governmental meddling in parental notification prevent you from knowing if your daughter has had an abortion? Isn't your daughter's health care your responsibility? Why do you need the government to do your parenting job for you? Why do you want the government meddling with patient-physician relationships?

Posted by: Joel | May 14, 2005 1:53:19 PM

Joel,

My daughter can't go to the hospital and get her appendix removed without parental notification and CONSENT. This is a government enforced patient physician relationship. And there is good reason for it as a child is not considered able to make informed consent about a medical procedure.

But it's OK for her to be given an abortion without even parental notification? The school nurse can encourage an abortion and drive her to the abortion clinic without telling the parents. This same school nurse can't issue the child an aspirin without a prescription from a doctor and a signed permission slip from a parent. You don't see a problem here? That's allowing the state to interfere with a parent/child relationship.

Posted by: Brian H | May 14, 2005 2:49:59 PM

Eliminate incest/molestation from the world, and maybe parental notification wouldn't be such a controversial issue.

Posted by: HARRY | May 14, 2005 3:26:08 PM

"This same school nurse can't issue the child an aspirin without a prescription from a doctor and a signed permission slip from a parent. You don't see a problem here?"

Yes, Brian, I do. Requiring a prescription from a doctor and signed permission slip from a parent in order to dispense aspirin is *stupid*. Why are you using an example of stupid behavior to justify your POV? Just because someone does something stupid, are you compelled to compound that stupidity?

Posted by: Joel | May 14, 2005 3:48:27 PM

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