Martin E. Marty
November 1, 2004
Having done little Monday-morning sighting of the 2004 campaign, at its end, we should, at least, look at the "flip-flops" or "changed places" among religious groups.
First, Catholics: The May 17 Sightings ("Catholic Elections") commented on how the Vatican and American bishops in 1960 assured U.S. citizens that bishops' (fatefully futile) intrusion in Puerto Rican politics (declaring it sinful for any Catholic to vote for the pro-birth control PPD) would never find a counterpart here. That first intervention under an American flag reflected only the "practical and special condition of the island," they said. It can't happen here. But it did in 2004. Many flip-flopped. Had the old anti-Catholic Protestants been rightfully wary back when they warned about Catholic power in American politics?
Second, conservative Protestants: The World Book Yearbook of 1965, for which I wrote the "Protestantism" round-up (and still do), covered the 1964 campaigns. That entry sets us up to observe more flip-flopping, role-reversals, and changes of place. Until that year, most evangelical-fundamentalist-pentecostal-conservative-Protestant groups had shunned formal involvement with politics. The first "flip" against that historic understanding occurred when "many of the more conservative Protestants" were attracted to candidate Barry Goldwater. Since then, they have gone ever further against their tradition and now have established a new one: moving from most passive and invisible to become the most active, visible, and forceful religious force of all.
Third, mainline Protestants: As for what is now called the "Protestant mainstream," a poll of denominational editors in 1964 revealed a preference for candidate Lyndon Johnson, and "the great majority of prominent church periodicals that did endorse a candidate gave their support to the President." Now for another flip-flop: from then until now, such mainline Protestants have backed away from endorsement and, certainly, from "denominational" involvement. Were there endorsements of either party among any of them in the current campaign? Mainline action today is mainly in local spheres and does not consist in national partisan endorsements.
Fourth, black churches: African-American issues received much treatment in 1964/65, but Martin Marty was too dumb to sight activity among black churches back then. Here there has been the most continuity: the civil rights movement was being organized by, and the Great Society legislation was receiving open and explicit support among, African-American churches. Today's social issues still receive such support from this faction, and candidates trek to these churches.
Fifth, Jewish groups: The 1965 World Book Yearbook article on Jews did not connect them with the campaign story, but Jews went overwhelmingly for Johnson. Nearly 80 percent voted Democratic in 2000. Now some pundits are predicting a decline in Arab-American support for Republicans and Jewish support for Democrats.
Of most "flip-flop" interest on the Jewish front is the coalition between some "evangelicals," often with apocalyptic Christian Zionist and pro-Israel views, and many Jews. In the mid-sixties, sociologists were still associating "orthodox Protestantism" with "anti-Semitism," though liberal Protestants were more often "anti-Zionist." Today, Republicans are counting on conservative evangelicals to boost Jewish votes for Republicans. And the same evangelicals who, forty years ago, often spoke of the Pope as the Anti-Christ are now in coalition with the Pope and with Catholics.
What would a Rip Van Winkle who retired in 1964 make of the altered religious-political landscape of 2004? He'd probably flip.