Vote Common Good

New Yorker riffs on Doug Pagitt counseling Democrats on how to reach out to evangelicals

New Yorker riffs on Doug Pagitt counseling Democrats on how to reach out to evangelicals

With President Donald Trump facing everything from impeachment to plummeting poll numbers, many Democrats are no doubt thinking this is their moment.

One huge gap in their 2020 strategy is how to pick off adherents to the GOP, most notably the religiously devout, who voted in huge numbers for Trump in 2016.

The New Yorker’s Eliza Griswold set out to cover an activist from the evangelical left who can speak fluent Democrat, yet at the same time offer up pointers on how to nab some of America’s evangelicals, who are one-quarter of the U.S. electorate. Candidate Barack Obama did a decent job of that in 2007.

Fellow GetReligionista Bobby Ross looked at some coverage of this effort a year ago. Since then Democrats have gotten more, not less polarized on religion. The big elephant in the room? That would be Beto O’Rourke’s promise to remove tax exemptions from houses of worship if leaders don’t embrace modernized doctrines on LGBTQ issues.

Her piece begins:

On a Tuesday afternoon this past summer, Doug Pagitt, a fifty-three-year-old pastor in a blue straw hat and glasses, stood in a conference room at the Democratic Congressional Committee’s office in Washington, D.C., laying out sandwiches. Pagitt was preparing to lead a training session for Democratic members of Congress on how to speak to evangelicals. A table was littered with blue-and-orange lapel pins reading “Vote Common Good,” the name of an organization that Pagitt launched last year to make the religious left more visible. “We want people to know that it exists, and they can join it,” he said. Last year, the group’s members spent a month traveling the country in a tour bus, campaigning for roughly forty progressive candidates on their religious message, but this was their first time speaking to politicians in Washington…

Robb Ryerse, a self-described former fundamentalist pastor and the political director of Vote Common Good, opened the meeting with a tip. “Trying to memorize John 3:16 in the car on your way to the event and then quote that is probably not the best way to connect with faith-based voters,” he said. He had seen a candidate try this trick on the way to a rally in Kansas and then struggle to remember the phrase onstage.

Here is a snapshot of a pastor from the ranks of the “emergent church” trying to help Democratic politicians succeed among voters who are active in traditional forms of religion. As tmatt has written previously, Republicans in recent years have increased their clout with religious voters and Democrats are increasingly made up of the unaffiliated “nones” a growing demographic.

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Post-Trump rise of religious left: Real trend or wishful thinking? We'll find out soon

Post-Trump rise of religious left: Real trend or wishful thinking? We'll find out soon

Stories about moral concerns — beyond the typical ones — prompting some evangelicals to consider voting Democratic in the midterm elections seem to be on the rise.

But will Democrats actually bite into the 81 percent support from white evangelicals that Donald Trump got in 2016?

That’s the big question.

As we noted earlier, the New York Times recently delved into whether white evangelical women might push Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke over the top in his bid to unseat Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Meanwhile, a group of progressive evangelicals called Vote Common Good is touring the country in a bus and generating a number of headlines in its quest to persuade fellow Christians to abandon Donald Trump’s GOP.

Religion News Service and my local newspaper here in Oklahoma City — The Oklahoman — have given interesting coverage to the group. Vote Common Good has an active media relations team and actually contacted me by email and telephone before the group’s Oklahoma event. However, I was headed out of the state to report on Hurricane Michael in Florida.

I bring up Vote Common Good because NPR’s Sarah McCammon (relevant background about her here) caught up with the group in Texas and has an informative news-feature out today:

On a recent evening in Houston, under the heavy branches of live oak trees, Doug Pagitt stood before a couple dozen people gathered on blue folding chairs on the Rice University campus.

"You've heard it said that to be a true Christian, you must vote like a Republican," he said. "But we are here to be reminded that just ain't so."

Pagitt, 52, describes himself as a progressive evangelical. He pastors a church in Minneapolis and has been traveling the country by bus, preaching a message that juxtaposes Trump campaign slogans against quotes from the Bible.

"You have heard it said, 'America First,' but we are here to be reminded to 'seek first the Kingdom of God,' on behalf of all those everywhere in the world," he said, quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Pagitt's organization, Vote Common Good, is focusing on evangelicals and other Christian voters who feel out of place in President Trump's Republican Party. It's an uphill battle, given that more than 8 in 10 white evangelical voters supported Trump in 2016.

Keep reading, and McCammon offers important context on the group’s private funding — nearly $1 million — gives supporters an opportunity to explain their thinking.

But I especially appreciate two things about this NPR report:

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