Archives For Values Voter Summit

befunky-design2

The term “values voters” has long described a specific portion of the American electorate. These voters are understood to express values that stem from their religious views, which are overwhelmingly Christian and socially conservative. In 2006, the movement made itself official by holding its first Value Voters Summit, an annual convention with the mission to “help inform and mobilize the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life, and limited government that make America strong.” American media has followed suit, and it consistently refers to voters who hold these priorities by their preferred moniker “value voters.”

[Photo Credit: Tom Arthur from Orange, CA, United States ]

[Photo Credit: Tom Arthur ]

The term, however, is inaccurate and dishonest. To begin with, it assumes that only those who vote for the conservative Christian issues, such as eliminating legal abortion, opposing marriage equality for the LGBTQ community, and the rather peculiar definition of “religious liberty” expressed in the recent spate of religious freedom restoration acts, are voting based on their values. Further, it assumes that only those in the conservative Christian movement have values, or at least that they are the only voters who express their religious values through the power of the ballot box.

Third, it lumps Christians together into a certain, small set of voting choices without taking into account the diversity that exists within a faith that swings from the conservative views of the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist churches all the way to the socially liberal values of the Metropolitan Church of Christ or the gay-friendly official views of the Episcopal Church. Religious “values” are not monopolized by conservative Christians.

Just as many Christians look to their faith to inform their vote on socially liberal issues, so too may practitioners of other religions cast their votes based on their own religious values. Everyone votes their values.

That includes those in the Pagan community. Possibly more than any other religious movement, Pagans of all types have a long history of expressing their religious values through their suffrage, through political action, and through direct activism. Some Pagans have been inspired by their religious practice to engage in environmental action, protesting corporate and governmental decisions to clear-cut forests, install oil pipelines in fragile or sacred areas, or create sustainable agriculture practices.

Others express their religious values of freedom by advocating for smaller government, lower taxes, and personal responsibility. The movement is not monolithic, and there are as many Pagan political values as there are Pagans, but the community does cherish its religious values. It does act on them. And it does vote on them.

Pagan voting values cover a large spectrum. While the more liberal sexual attitudes and strong movement toward inclusivity in many Pagan traditions may lead to an assumption that Pagan voters tend to lean to the left, that is not always true. Paganism often prides itself on a lack of hierarchy and distributed leadership, leading some Pagan voters look to their spirituality and find the freedom of the Libertarian message to be their strongest value.

Others find personal responsibility and self-development to be a vital part of their faith, and they may resonate toward the Republican message. Pagans are a complex group of people who get different inspiration from their spiritual values and, in this volatile presidential election season, those values help them make their choices for the highest office in the United States.

Jason Mankey, a prominent Pagan blogger who writes at Raise the Horns and the manager of the Patheos Pagan Channel, is a proud supporter of Hillary Clinton. Mankey says that he has “been a supporter of Hillary Clinton ever since she stepped down as Secretary of State.” Describing himself as a “realist,” Mankey’s values as a “Wiccan-Witch of the Gardnerian variety” lead him to “use what works,” and he describes Clinton as “what works” politically. “She gets things done,” says Mankey, “which matches how I approach the Craft.”

Beyond those practical concerns, Mankey explains that his spiritual practice “promotes treating those around me with respect and decency.” This, he says, is “why I can’t vote for a Republican party that promotes policies that treat women and minorities as second-class citizens. I want someone who is going to put judges on the Supreme Court that are going to continue to ensure access to marriage equality. I want a President who will treat my trans brothers and sisters with the dignity they deserve.”

That decency, he concludes, “extends to things like the social safety net, which is one reason I could never vote for someone like Gary Johnson who would dismantle that social safety net.”

Moon Shadow, who describes herself as an “eclectic Witch,” has a different set of values that come from her practice. As a supporter of Donald Trump, she stresses the value of self-improvement as her motivating spiritual value. While she acknowledges that Trump is, in her words, “abhorrent,” she says that is also true of Clinton, thus she seeks to vote for her party rather than its candidate.

Her spiritual values of “self-improvement, growth, and self-actualization” have influenced her plans to vote for the GOP’s candidate as she sees the party’s message as more in line with those concerns.

[Wikimedia Commons]

[Wikimedia Commons]

Pagans are in a religious minority, comfortable with going against the grain. Many have values that attract them to third-party candidates. Rev. Allyson Szabo, an interfaith minister and Wiccan from New Hampshire who practices “as [she] see[s] fit,” is a Libertarian and strong supporter of Gary Johnson for the presidency.

“I believe in choice above all,” says Szabo. “Freedom extends to all things beyond my nose. Your right to choose and act ends at my nose, and vice versa. Johnson is very much a candidate that supports and lives that way.” Spiritually, Szabo values honesty, and says that the quality of honesty “shines forth from Gary Johnson.”

Sam Carranza is also a Libertarian, but would have supported Republican governor John Kasich in the primary if his home state of Florida allowed open primaries. Carranza describes himself as a “Thelemic-Druid-Eclectic-Pagan Witch” and looks to Aleister Crowley’s Liber Oz to guide the interactions between his civic, mundane world and spiritual practice. While the environment is a spiritual value for Carranza, his view of Liber Oz helps him understand that “not every single acre” of land has to be set aside for conservation.

Therefore, he says, “As a Druid I can revel in the outdoors, but also on a political basis support fracking.” Carranza believes that “the bounty of the Earth Mother is meant to make lives better and leaving it in the ground does not always serve that purpose.” Spiritually, he values perseverance, and will be voting for Gary Johnson in admiration of the former governor’s “motivation and drive to pursue a goal in the face of daunting odds.”

Peter Dybing, who describes himself as a “Pagan activist in service with strong Goddess roots,” was a vocal and active Bernie Sanders supporter in the primary. With Sanders’ defeat in the primaries, he has shifted his support to Green party candidate Jill Stein. His primary spiritual value in this decision is “concern for the environment” and personal freedom. He supports candidates who “believe in social, environmental, and human rights justice issues.”

Storm Faerywolf, a warlock and Faery tradition initiate, also supported Sanders in the primaries due to the senator’s strong stances against big money in politics and in fighting climate change. However, he has shifted his general election vote to Hillary Clinton. “In Faery,” he explains, “we are taught that each and every one of us is divine,” and that “everything in the world has an inherent divinity.”

Faerywolf admires the fact that “Hillary Clinton has spent her entire adult life working to ensure that the most vulnerable among us are given the help they need in order to live and thrive.”

presidential-1311753_960_720

Beyond values that come from their spiritual practice, some in the Pagan community also look to practical concerns to drive their voting decisions. Mankey values experience, and believes that Clinton “actually has the experience necessary to be and effective president.” He stresses that she “knows how the system works, understands policy, and has a firm grasp on what’s happening in places like the Middle East.”

Mankey said, “I feel like she is going to get elected and then she’s going to spend the next four years working her ass off for us. Half the country won’t appreciate it, but she’ll do it nonetheless.”

Faerywolf’s reasons for shifting include Clinton’s “proposals for addressing climate change and positioning the U.S. to become a clean energy superpower,” as well as her ideas for “reforming the criminal justice system” from its problem with “systemic racism” and “protecting and expanding LGBT rights here and around the world.” He also stresses that Clinton is “probably the most qualified and thoroughly vetted person who has ever run.”

Moon Shadow is concerned about policies that encourage “taxing the ‘rich’ to hand out freely to the ‘less fortunate.’” These policies, she says, are ineffective. She is against “allowing illegal immigrants to live off of taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” and adds that, “I see and have experienced the damage that ‘enabling’ does to communities, businesses, the state, and our country,” she also worries that “we have become a codependent society;” all of which drive her conservative voting decisions.

Choice is a very important value for Pagans. In her support of Governor Johnson, Szabo stresses that “if we give up our ability to make choices, we become drones.” Similarly, Carranza tends to vote for candidates “who would ensure maximum freedom in the framework of responsibility.”

Dybing, in advocating Dr. Stein, declares that his vote “will always be for [his] chosen candidate” rather than simply one of the two major parties. “Those who frame supporting third parties as a protest vote,” he says, “just don’t seem willing to consider that third party voters are simply voting their values.”

Diversity is good. Monoculture destroys the land. That emphasis on freedom may be what it all really comes down to. Paganism is a religious minority, the members of which have freely chosen to break away from mainstream religions and practice the spiritual tradition that calls to their hearts. The same is true in their voting choices, which is a positive, extremely American practice. In both politics and spirituality, Pagans around the country are standing tall for that one very American common value: freedom.

*   *   *

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

I truly admire it when public figures bluntly state their true views on a subject. There is so much hedging, retracting, and re-positioning in modern politics that it can be hard to pin down anyone on anything. So when Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 10,000-strong First Baptist Church of Dallas, introduced and endorsed presidential contender Rick Perry at the Values Voters Summit it was something of a jolt to hear him publicly proclaim what many Christians secretly profess.

“That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult,” Jeffress told reporters here. “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”

There it is: “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” That’s the bottom line. No matter how conservative you are, how in-line your values are with the Republican party, a massive chunk of the grass-roots and conservative king-makers won’t embrace you if you aren’t (the right kind of) Christian. As Andrew Sullivan says, “If you turn a political party into a church, as the GOP essentially now is, sectarianism will eventually emerge.” There is only one exception to this “don’t vote for non-Christians” rule, and that is if the only choice is between Romney and Obama.

“I’m going to instruct, I’m going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian who embraces biblical values than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.”

Of course many conservative Christians have been trying to make the argument that Obama isn’t actually a Christian for years now. So in their minds it would be non-Christian vs non-Christian (In which case thumbs-up Romney? I guess?).

According to a Pew poll, 68% of Americans are ready to vote for a Mormon president. That support or understanding is built on a “big tent” view of Christianity. If Mormons are just another flavor of Christianity, then it’s OK to vote for them (and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been on a charm offensive for years). However, that support evaporates if you aren’t seen as religious. 61% of voters see atheism as a negative when considering a candidate, no doubt numbers are similar if you have religion but are part of a “cult” and not seen as part of the Judeo-Christian mainstream. As Jeffress would say: “Private citizens can impose all kinds of religious tests.” As it stands now a third of white evangelical Protestants (34%) say they are less likely to support a Mormon. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s a potentially damaging percentage when you take into account the fact that more than half of Republicans are evangelicals.

This is a problem for the Republicans. Not because they prefer Christians, but because Christianity is losing its hold on America, or “softening” as Duke Divinity School professor Mark Chaves would put it. If you become the party of “Christians only” (outside of rare exceptions) you’re setting yourself up for long-term demographic irrelevance. As Americans become more comfortable with atheists, agnostics, and minority religions, the more a political party whose grass-roots demand theological purity suffers. Right now we are in a place where it seems only a Christian (or possibly a Jew) could be elected president, but as the calculus changes, the groups that are more agile in embracing a post-Christian future will ultimately benefit.

On September 28th the Get Religion blog, which critiques religion coverage in the mainstream media, asked its readership a question: “Let’s pretend for a minute that you get to spend 30 minutes with any presidential candidate. What questions would you ask? How would you shape those questions that makes sense for your readership?” The author of that post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, then narrowed that down to “you get one question to ask a candidate: Go.”

Here’s my response:

“Do you think this is a Christian nation? If so (or if not) what roles and rights should adherents to minority faith groups expect in the United States? Do you feel a follower of Wicca should have the same rights and expectations in this country as an evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, or Catholic?”

Stretching my question into rules-bending multi-part territory, I would follow up and ask if they agreed with the notion that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment only applied to Christians and Jews, a theory advanced by Christian pseudo-historian David Barton and American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer. Of course Barton’s and Fischer’s opinions regarding the First Amendment aren’t even remotely accurate or historically valid, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming heavyweights within the politically-minded Christian conservative network.

It’s no great secret that it is vital to get the support of conservative Christians if you want to win the Republican nomination for president of the United States. They are the lifeblood of the Republican grass-roots, the ones who ultimately set the agenda, and tomorrow the Values Voter Summit, perhaps the ultimate symbol of that power, begins. The speakers list is a who’s who of the confluence between the Republican party and conservative Christianity, and all the Republican hopefuls will be there to try and garner more support going into the primaries. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be speaking at this event just before Bryan Fischer, and People For the American Way have called on him to publicly denounce his views.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

“At next week’s Values Voter Summit, Mitt Romney is scheduled to take the stage immediately before Bryan Fischer, an American Family Association (AFA) spokesman with a long and shocking record of bigotry against gays and lesbians, American Muslims, Native Americans and other minority groups. Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum are also scheduled to speak at the event, which is sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council, the AFA, and other Religious Right groups. PFAW is urging these candidates for our nation’s highest office to condemn bigotry.

What makes this even harder to ignore for Romney is the fact that Fischer has also publicly stated that Mormons aren’t entitled to First Amendment protection either, and that Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy.

“On a recent episode of his television show Focal Point, Fischer said that the First Amendmentdoes not apply to Mormons and that the Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy. But next week, Fischer will be sharing a stage with America’s most famous Mormon, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, TPM reports in a story headlined “Awkward: Mitt Romney Set to Share Stage with Anti-Mormon Shock Jock.” Despite the “inflammatory, hateful and occasionally just plain bizarre remarks” Fischer has made on his show, Republicans vying for the presidency, including Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich all made appearances on Fischer’s show earlier this year, TPM reports.”

It really all comes down to my one question, do minority religions have the same rights and expectations as the politically and culturally dominant (Christian) faiths? I see this as a Rubicon moment, will Romney, who many believe will become the Republican nominee, actually say anything to repudiate the notion that his faith isn’t equal in standing to other Christian faiths? Does he have the courage of character to strike a blow for American pluralism, or will he make nice with Fischer, a man whose record of utterances are so vile even his own organization distanced itself from him.

“The American Family Association celebrates Religious Freedom for all people and for all beliefs as one of the foundational values that make the United States of America a great nation […] under American law all religions enjoy freedom from government interference.  However Joseph Story’s view continues to have proponents, including Bryan Fischer, one of American Family Radio’s talk show hosts.  However, the American Family Association (“AFA”) officially sides with Jefferson on this question.   AFA is confident that the truth of Christianity will prevail whenever it is allowed to freely compete in the marketplace of ideas.”

Andrew Sullivan says that the “Christianists” have succeeded in taking over the Republican party, and that this is the reason Romney isn’t a shoo-in for the nomination.

“Well, a few years later, examine the candidacies of the two front-runners for the GOP. One [Rick Perry] launched his campaign in a revival meeting calling for God to solve our economic problems (having previously led mass prayers for the end of the Texas drought); the other [Michelle Bachmann] emerges entirely out of Dominionist theology and built her entire career in the Christianist world of home-schooling, and anti-gay demonization. One reason Mitt Romney is not a shoo-in? Sectarianism, and his own previous deviations from binding orthodoxy. And it is this fundamentalist mindset – in which nothing doctrinal can be questioned, and the real world must be bent to the shape of a rigid theo-ideology – that defines these two candidates.”

I can’t remember a candidate for either party who was both a front-runner, yet almost universally disliked by the party he’s trying to woo. Clinton and Obama’s long 2008 primary battle may have been exhausting and divisive, but both managed to emerge unscathed and willing to work together when it was done. I’m not sure if the same can be said of Romney once this is all said and done. In any case, this is the moment. Romney can say to the values voters: “I’m with you, but as a Mormon I recognize that all faiths need to be respected under the First Amendment.” This can also be an opportunity for the other candidates to stand behind Romney on this one thing, if nothing else. Sadly, Mormon-raised religion commentator Joanna Brooks doesn’t think it will happen.

“It’s a marvelous image:  a strong-jawed Mitt Romney acting all presidential, crossing the stage and quietly holding Bryan Fischer accountable for his rancid bigotry, not only against Mormons, but against all of Americans who are non-white, non-straight, or non-Christian (as Fischer defines it). But it will never happen. […]  Saturday morning, Mitt Romney is going to look Bryan Fischer in the eyes and give him a handshake and a smile. If he’s feeling really passive-aggressive, maybe he’ll have Ann Romney come onstage and pass Fischer a plate of home-baked cookies. And if things get really heated, maybe Romney will love-bomb Fischer by sending a thousand free copies of the Book of Mormon to his radio studio.”

There’s little chance that I’m going to vote Republican in this, or any, election, but the seeming impossibility of Mitt Romney standing up for religious minorities saddens me.  If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken.  I’m not expecting any Republican to suddenly embrace Wiccans, or to showcase Dan Halloran at a campaign stop, but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.