The night before I left town, a friend made a special request: "Can you please find out what the story is with people who are both evangelical and Democrats?" This is an important question. About 82 percent of Missourians identify themselves as Christian. Of this huge majority, about 45 percent are evangelical (the rest, 55 percent, are evenly split between mainline Protestants and Catholics). Anyone of any faith, anyone who is an atheist, anyone who considers the Republican ticket in Missouri and everywhere else profoundly frightening, needs to understand as much as possible about what makes an evangelical Democrat tick. We are allies.
I have just left the Faith Council here at the convention center, another room (like the LBGTQ caucus yesterday), that was packed with more than 200 people. The panel I attended, "Leading With Values," included representatives from an array of belief systems -- one Morman, a Muslim, a Catholic, and a few Christians, including an evangelical Latino whose roots lay in poverty but whose branches reach out (thanks to government assistance) through higher education and into political activism.
Every single one of the people on this panel hold some kind of leadership position in his or her respective organization. Every single person spoke to the need for people of faith to think about what is called for when "the blood of your brother cries out from the earth," as Gabe Salguero the president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition said. "I worry about balancing the budget on the backs of poor people," Salguero said simply.
"I can't imagine a person of faith being opposed to health care," said the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance.
"It is irresponsible to put two wars on a credit card," said Sr. Simone Campbell, one of the famous Nuns on a Bus.
"We are in the middle of a divinely oriented reformation," said Bishop Yvette Flunder, who is African American, female, and an "out" lesbian. "This administration supports ALL of who I am," she said.
What struck me about this session was just how "like everybody else" the evangelical Christian sounded in the context of a broader coalition, faith-based and secular, trying to solve Big Problems. Of course the language gets a little, well, bloody. Or at least earthy. But so what? (My people speak of the earth swallowing up our ancestors whole. One of my sons actually SANG about this when he turned 13.) Heterogeneity is who we are as a nation, heterogeneity across so many variables it's annoying to spell them all out (but I will anyway, at least a few) -- age, gender, sexual orientation, biological sex, ethnicity, geographical region, physical ability, language practices, socioeconomic status, and cultural beliefs (values and practices, including religion). The tent of this party really is big and wide. Like the Mississippi. We churn up a lot of mud out here on the big river, but this is the way it is. You pray your way, I'll pray mine. As long as everyone who needs to see a doctor can do so. As long as everyone learns to read for real. As long as we can figure out how to live on a planet we've rendered a lot less hospitable.
I know I still need to track down the Missourians here who are evangelical, assuming there are some. But the question of trying to figure out what's motivating the evangelical Democrat seems a little less pressing. Their understanding of Jesus' suffering allows them to work for social justice. Or at least not hate other people so much. Period. Honestly, I'd rather try to listen a little more closely to the evangelical Republican who happens to be poor and/or live in rural Missouri. THAT'S the person I don't understand right now. But they're back home. Maybe Scott Howell, a Mormon who is running for U.S. Senate from Utah, and spoke with super intensity about Jesus, and seemed to be on the brink of tears toward the end of his impassioned speech, put it best to the Democrats assembled before him: "Be not ashamed of our party."