The left struggles to talk about religion in direct or specific ways – except when criticizing Christian nationalism – and this discomfort has serious consequences, especially as the U.S. heads into an election year.
At its most innocuous, this clumsiness creates a dearth of neutral-to-positive coverage of faithful progressives, which paints a bizarrely incomplete picture of the movement and implies that religion and religious communities are territory that belongs solely to the right.
Far more damaging, though, are dissonant and uncritical analyses of Democratic voters, and of the values that motivate them to support a candidate on election day.
A textbook example of this falsehood-by-omission is found in the reporting on Democrat Andy Beshear’s successful reelection in The Washington Post.
The story by Mariana Alfaro (“Beshear says his victory is proof that ‘angry politics should end’”) in the election night “Live Update” feed covers how Beshear “taps into his Christianity when speaking to Kentuckians” and gives examples:
“Known for his ability to steer the state through crises … Beshear also often taps into his Christianity when speaking to Kentuckians. He did so Tuesday, when he cited the parable of the good Samaritan and said Kentuckians ‘are all good neighbors, no exceptions […] Every single person is a child of God and they’re all our neighbors,’ he said, regardless of political party.”
But the analysis piece on the Beshear victory that ran on the Post’s main landing page late on election night, by Hanna Knowles and Dylan Wells (“Democrat Andy Beshear wins reelection for governor in Kentucky”), contains no mention of any of this. It completely credits his victory to his position on issues, and the only reference to faith in that article is attributed to the Republican who lost.
Crediting a candidate’s victory to their “positions on the issues” without the crucial context of whence those positions came is either a glaring oversight or an intentional omission. Both signal a major weakness.
The left cannot achieve its goals in our democracy without earnest engagement with religion – and specifically, how religious ways of being and seeing continually shape Democrats’ (and Americans’) political behavior.
As progressives – and the media that covers them – prepare for 2024, it is vital that they commit to thoughtful analyses of candidates’ and their supporters’ religious values across the political spectrum. Without interest in the moral, ethical, and religious commitments that shape our political landscape, Democrats risk developing hapless strategies, based on only half the picture.
Sarah Kissel, Senior Associate, The Raben Group
Michael Jose Torra, Managing Principal, The Raben Group