In Political Ads, Christian Left Mounts Sermonic Campaigns
By STEPHANIE SIMON
Randy Brinson, a conservative political consultant in Alabama, has been fielding anxious calls for weeks from business interests across the South.
Their concern is massive ad blitz on Christian and country-music stations across 10 states. The ads, funded by a left-leaning coalition, urge support for congressional legislation to curb greenhouse-gas emissions -- by framing the issue as an urgent matter of Biblical morality.
"As our seas rise, crops wither and rivers run dry, God's creation cries out for relief," begins one ad, narrated by an evangelical megachurch pastor. Another opens with a reference to the Gospel of John, slams energy interests for fighting the bill, and concludes: "Please join the faithful in speaking out against the powerful."
Dr. Brinson tells his clients they are right to be worried. Such an aggressive political campaign by the religious left is unexpected, he says, and could prove powerful. "This is the first time I've seen a moderate group of evangelicals come together and do a coordinated campaign," said Dr. Brinson. He is warning clients: "You're going to hear a lot more of this."
Emboldened by what they see as a kindred spirit in the White House, progressive and liberal Christians are stepping up their political activism in a big way.
A religious coalition called the American Values Network spent nearly $200,000 placing the global warming ads. Some political analysts credit the campaign with boosting support for the Waxman-Markey climate bill, which narrowly passed the House last week.
The coalition plans to spend an additional $150,000 in the coming months to enlist pastors in Nevada, Arizona and Colorado to rally support in the pews as climate-change legislation moves through the Senate.
Another left-leaning religious coalition will begin airing scripture-citing radio ads in key congressional districts this weekend, calling for legislation to make health insurance more affordable. The coalition -- which includes Faith in Public Life, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good -- also is distributing an eight-page guide, full of Biblical quotes and health-care statistics, to encourage pastors to raise the issue in sermons.
Democratic lawmakers representing conservative districts say such efforts help them make the case to skeptical constituents that they aren't simply toeing the party line -- or turning into bleeding-heart liberals -- when they support President Barack Obama's calls for health-care and climate-change legislation.
"It's important for people to see that it's not just [Democrats] saying this is important, but people who are coming at it from a moral background," said Rep. Tom Perriello, a freshman Democrat who has come under fire in his rural Virginia district for supporting the climate bill.
The religious right and secular conservatives are taking notice. In recent weeks, key religious-right groups such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council have heavily promoted the work of a group called the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. The Cornwall Alliance dismisses global-warming alarms as hype and argues that forceful action to cut greenhouse-gas emissions could cripple the economy and harm the poor. It is organizing conservative pastors to carry this message to the pews.
The religious left has a long tradition of activism on social issues, including the civil-rights movement. But for the past quarter century, faith-based politicking has been dominated by the religious right, which built a powerful army of activists -- and a formidable fund-raising machine -- on the strength of leaders such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority and radio host James Dobson of Focus on the Family.
The religious left's re-emergence as a strong voice -- with the financial backing to make aggressive media buys -- is a "seismic shift," said D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University who studies evangelical politics.
"The religious left is experiencing today what the religious right had in 1981," Mr. Lindsay said. "They've finally found a White House that's not just tolerating but welcoming, affirming, of their involvement."
Left-leaning Christian groups also have started to attract funding from secular donors who share their political goals -- and who see Biblical appeals as a promising way to broaden public support.
Oxfam America has worked with churches for years, but on relatively non-controversial campaigns such as staging fasts to call attention to world hunger. Now, the group is teaming up with the religious left to push for congressional action to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
E. Calvin Beisner, a spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance, says the right has to respond forcefully to the well-funded campaigns from the religious left, because "they're certainly not being silent."
Source is worried.
Transcript and audio of health care ads here.