Thursday, January 31, 2008

Democrats are closing the 'God gap'

by Jeneiene Schaffer

TUCSON -- Sitting around a campfire in the wilderness with other conservationists and assorted liberal-types, as I do frequently, I can’t help but feel the presence of Spirit. It’s a spirit of gratitude, of wholeness, and of communion. This is not an uncommon experience.

In a recent opinion piece in the Arizona Republic, a pastor speaks to the commonality of all who strive for the common good using the metaphor of wilderness protection. Doug Bland, pastor of Community Christian Church in Tempe and chairman of the Earth Care Commission for the Arizona Ecumenical Council, spoke to the Arizona congressional delegation in Washington DC to advocate wilderness designation for the Tumacacori Highlands in southern Arizona.

In his piece, Pastor Bland comments on the tradition of speaking for ‘the least of these’. “Sometimes the voiceless ones are people – homeless, hungry, abused people – but other times the ‘least of these’ include the land or a special plant or animal species.” This tradition has always been at the heart of what I have strived to share with my family, my community, and my profession.

Raised as a Presbyterian, converted to Judaism in college, followed the teachings of Buddhism for over 20 years, and have recently found fellowship amongst Unitarians, my search and yearning for that higher Spirit has been an enriching and enlightening one. But, as a liberal, for many years I have felt disenfranchised from the dialogue of community religion. I can’t even completely blame the Religious Right for this. Amongst Democrats, Independents, and even moderate Republicans, to speak of God publicly and authentically has not been, until now, considered relevant.

So, it was with great anticipation that I attended last night’s workshop: “Reclaiming the Debate on Religion and Values” sponsored by the Arizona Democratic Party. I attended with my husband and AZ State House LD29 candidate Daniel Patterson.

I was already familiar with presenter Mara Vanderslice. She was profiled in the January/February 2007 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, to which I subscribe. In the article “Closing the God Gap,” Hanna Rosin recounts how Vanderslice, founder of the political consulting group Common Good Strategies, has been successful in helping seven congressional democrats win last November. Vanderslice is a self-identified evangelical Christian, and part of a growing number who are voting Democratic.

In Michigan, she and partner Eric Sapp and Common Good staffers met with about 500 conservative and moderate members of the clergy. Time and again they would hear, “Where have you all been?” According to Sapp, “At a fundamental level they just want candidates to give God his due.”

It was clear last night that for far too long, we liberals have not been outspoken about the Spirit which guides us for the common good.

My support for Daniel is firmly grounded in a belief that he shares this democratic vision for the common good of Tucson. Regardless of which spiritual house guides your heart and personal quest for a good quality of life that we all can share together, please join me in supporting Democrat Daniel Patterson who will work to protect ‘the least of these.’

Jeneiene Schaffer is co-chair of Daniel Patterson for Arizona House

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