Yesterday, the Matthew25 Network had a conference call with reporters to unveil their plans for the general election. The group is composed of believers who are Democrats and who are “inspired by the Gospel mandate to put our faith into action to care for our neighbor.” The group is the brainchild of Mara Vanderslice, who held the thankless job of religious outreach director for the religiously challenged Kerry campaign in 2004, but whose talents at organizing religiously motivated voters has gained the attention of leading Democrats since Kerry’s loss. Vanderslice is one of the leading progressive evangelicals in the country. She is smart, plugged in, savvy. And, as we learned on the call, this year she has a half million dollar budget to spend on ads promoting Barack Obama to religiously motivated voters.

Vanderslice will be placing the ads mostly on Christian radio. This is a very intelligent way to use limited resources. The market is self-selected and the message can be directly tailored to it. The Matthew25 Network will focus on key swing states, especially Ohio, Michigan and Colorado, but they will also run ads in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri and North Carolina. Vanderslice said the group has also placed print ads in the National Catholic Reporter, although that might be preaching to the liberal choir.

Usually, Democrats do not advertise on Christian radio because they worry that increasing turnout among evangelicals is likely to result in more GOP voters. But, that was a self-fulfilling prophecy. So long as Democrats declined to make their case to evangelicals and other religiously motivated voters, James Dobson of the conservative group Focus on the Family, the Rev. Pat Robertson, and their ilk had the radio waves to themselves.

When the Matthew25 Network ran its first radio ad Dobson’s organization responded with a fusillade. Dobson called the ad “highly seductive” which he did not mean as a compliment. He and his co-host spent several minutes discussing the ad and hurling accusations of dishonesty at Obama. There was little in the way of Christian charity in the exchange.

The Matthew25 Network also intend to run ads on Spanish-language radio stations, and the Rev. Wilfredo DeJesus, from the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, spoke movingly on yesterday’s about why Hispanics are beginning to turn to Obama. Rev. DeJesus is heavily involved in efforts to assist those undocumented workers recently rounded up in an immigration raid in Iowa. It is often forgotten that a significant minority of evangelicals are Hispanics.

Also on the conference call was Sharon Daly, who worked at the Bishops’ Conference for years and was one of the vice-presidents of Catholic Charities. Daly noted that she had never gotten involved in partisan politics before but that this year she felt she could not stand on the sidelines. She noted her discontent with the Bush administration but also the affinity she felt for Obama. One wonders how many there are like her, people who have not gotten overly engaged in politics until now. Daly and DeJesus both said they hoped Obama would move their way on abortion, but that he was committed to reducing the number of abortions. This posture will not satisfy some in the right-to-life movement, but others see it as the best approach to such a divisive issue.

Matthew25.org is new evidence that the Democratic Party is not longer going to let itself be cast as the party of irreligion. The group’s message, calling for a politics that reflects the whole spectrum of values yielded by the Gospels and not just a few hot-button issues, confirms another trend in politics this year, an insistence that religion be reasonable and thoughtful when it enters the public square. And, the fact that the effort is led by young people highlights a third trend in 2008: Younger evangelicals are not content to follow the path marked out by their elders. They are asking new questions and discovering different answers.

Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 7/26/2008 - 12:50am
You have to take the Gospel in its entirety and not just what you think is important. Sometimes a lie can lead to many deaths as in the Iraq war. One thing I noticed from reading my Bible every day for many years is that the Lord doesn't put premiums on certain sins. The only exception would be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and to a lesser extent, greed. We could probably save a 50 million lives a year with the money we spend on the Iraq war. Three quarters of the women who get abortions site money concerns as a factor. The Republican Party votes to supress wages for workers, so their concern for life isn't reflected in legislation that affects life decisions.
Anonymous | 7/24/2008 - 1:44pm
Oh yeah, great use of resources to encourage Christians to vote for the most radically pro-abortion Presidential candidate over. One that supports cloning, ESCR, same-sex marriage and whose one regret in the Senate is not voting to enable Terri Schiavo to die earlier and who voted against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act in Illinois. Also in Matthew 25 which the PAC is based on "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."
Anonymous | 7/24/2008 - 1:11pm
This is welcome news. Catholics are by definition neither Republican nor Democratic. It is right for people whose faith will inform their vote to have the chance to hear all of the issues -- not just one or two issues -- considered in venues such as Christian radio.
Anonymous | 7/25/2008 - 9:24pm
The liberal Christians are responding to the abuses of rightwing Christians by copying their tactics and their blasphemy. This blatant attempt to make faith into a partisan endeavor should be condemned by all Christians. And Obama is not a Matthew 25 candidate by any stretch of the imagination. He has consistently voted to spend over half of the discretionary budget on wars and preparations for wars, which results in taking bread out of the mouths of the hungry. Responding to the hungry, naked, imprisoned and oppressed with bombs and bullets is not following the Gospel. And Obama is not a member of a Christian church, having resigned from the one he was in because its pastor dared to speak prophetic truth.