BIDEN AND EVANGELICALS--AND CATHOLICS TOO

On July 13, the national newspaper, USA Today,  ran my Op Ed urging Biden to talk with evangelicals and Catholics.  The piece prompted a number of stories and comments.  I reprint it here in case you did not see it.  Pass it on to friends and encourage them to join my free blog: ronsiderblog.substack.com. (If you want a longer discussion of each issue, go to my blogs on November 6 and November 19, 2019.) Here is the OpEd:

Biden should talk to evangelical voters about abortion and gay rights.  Here’s why and how.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is reaching out to evangelicals. Hillary did not do that in  2016, and  81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. But things are changing.

PRRI recently reported that the number of white evangelicals who hold favorable views of the president has dropped from 77% this March to 62% in late May. That should offer substantial incentive for Democrats to have a serious dialogue with white evangelicals. For that to be productive, two things are especially important: abortion and religious freedom.

There are millions of evangelicals (and Catholics) in swing states who want to vote for Biden. We agree much more with Biden than with Trump on numerous issues: racial justice, economic justice, the environment and climate change, tax policy that demands more of the rich, health care for all — and much more. We want to vote for Joe Biden! 

But on two issues — abortion and religious freedom — we need to hear that Biden’s campaign understands, respects and can talk to us about our concerns, even though they do not fully agree.

Abortion should be less frequent

Take abortion. Former President Bill Clinton personally told a very close friend of mine that the reason his wife Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania (and the presidency) in 2016 was because of her stand on abortion. In 2008, she said abortion should be “legal, safe and rare." In 2016, she refused to say it should be rare.

That kind of stance ignores basic polling data. The Gallup poll shows that about 29% of Americans say abortion should be legal in every circumstance, 20% say it should never be legal, and about 50% say it should be legal but with some restrictions.

I expect that Biden will keep saying he'll guarantee that abortion continues to be legal and safe. But Biden could also say that as a Catholic, he understands those who want it to be less frequent.

Important Democratic policies actually foster fewer abortions. The number of abortions fell under President Barack Obama because of numerous policies that improved economic support for low-income persons, including insurance coverage for contraception. (One of the most frequently given reasons for having an abortion is the huge financial burden of another child.) In the past, Democrats (including Biden) used to make a space for “pro-life” Democrats.

Millions of evangelicals and Catholics in swing states do not think abortion trumps all other issues. We think universal health care is a “pro-life" issue. So are capital punishment, climate change, racial justice and effective poverty reduction programs here and abroad. We want to support Biden for these and other reasons. But it would make it much easier if Biden would show some understanding of the tens of millions of Americans who think abortion should be grieved, not celebrated.

Religious freedom is also crucial. Especially since the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage, some prominent figures (including former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke) have argued that any faith-based organization that believes it must be faithful to its traditional view of marriage in its hiring practices should lose all government funds, even 501(c)(3) status.  

That would mean that many thousands of religious colleges, universities and faith-based social service agencies serving millions of people would lose both government funds (for example Pell grants and work-study funds) and even lose their tax-exempt status. If that view prevails, it will vastly weaken and probably destroy vast numbers of faith-based organizations and harm millions of poorer Americans.

We must protect faith and gay rights

When Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, it refused to give Catholic Charities a  religious exemption to place children only in families with a mother and father. (There were many other adoption agencies willingly and regularly placing children with gay couples.) Is it not possible to work out some compromise that affirms pluralism and respects choice and religious freedom for everyone?

Millions of evangelicals like myself think that LGBTQ citizens, like all citizens, should have their civil rights protected in federal law. Currently, federal law does not do that. It should! Federal law should guarantee to LGBTQ persons access to employment, housing, financial credit, social service programs funded by government and service in business establishments. We support federal legislation that would do that.

Utah shows the way: We can protect LGBTQ people and religious freedom.

Something like the Fairness For All Act could do that. This proposed federal legislation guarantees LGBTQ rights and at the same time protects the religious freedom of faith-based organizations. It is modeled on a 2015 Utah law developed by the Mormon church and the LGBTQ community.

Millions of Christians in key swing states want to defeat Trump this year. Some of us will vote for Biden regardless of what he says on these two issues. But others will not. And that loss of votes might cost Biden the presidency — and far more important, mean another four years of Trump’s devastating policies. I hope Joe Biden will do what he can to hear our deeply felt concerns on abortion and religious freedom. And win on Nov. 3!