Democrats Challenge the Idea that Christian Equals Conservative

Andrew Gillum recently shocked the political world by winning the Democratic primary in Floridas’s gubernatorial election. He has now chosen Orlando businessman Chris King as his running mate.

Gillum’s selection of Chris King was almost as startling as the mayor’s victory in the primary. King, a total political newcomer, ran for governor himself – finishing fifth in the primary with just under 2.5 percent of the vote. He has no record in public office to recommend him, or for the Republicans to attack, but some of the things King advocates – like abolishing capital punishment and slapping a tax on bullets – made him the only candidate in the race farther left than Gillum.

In other words, Gillum didn’t try to “balance the ticket” with a more moderate choice. Here’s where things get interesting:

At the same time, King is also a lifelong, evangelical Christian: In high school, he belonged to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; at Harvard, he was affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ. Now, he is an elder at the nondenominational, evangelical church where the family worships in Orlando. His mother-in-law is a religious broadcaster with Good Life Broadcasting’s WTGL-TV Channel 45 in Lake Mary.

King didn’t campaign as a Christian candidate. However, the question often came up, and when it did, he was quick to connect it to the policies he advocated on the stump. “My faith always propelled me to serve others and to care about the needs of folks who’ve not had a voice and who need an advocate,” he told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “So my politics are really a reflection of that. For the last 30 years, I would say that the Christian faith has in many ways been hijacked by a very conservative Republican ideology that is not reflective of a commitment to serve, and care for, and lift up people of all backgrounds. My politics I think reflect a much more comprehensive view of the Gospel of Love.”

Meanwhile, take a look at this new video from Stacey Abrams, Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia:

There are those who will suggest that these are simply attempts to win over a few white evangelical voters. But my experience in that world tells me otherwise. Amy Sullivan nailed it when she said that “eighty percent of white evangelicals would vote against Jesus Christ himself if he ran as a Democrat.” If the goal is to reach out to white evangelicals, it is sure to fail.

But what if it’s not actually a campaign strategy—at least not in the sense that people so often assume? Especially among African Americans in the south, there is a very strong tradition of melding Christianity with progressive politics. One would be hard pressed to find political organizing going on anywhere outside of the church. The notion that politicians should distance themselves from their faith is a relic of northeastern white Democrats and has never been part of the southern tradition.

This is one of the many ways that a more diverse Democratic Party is going to change things. That doesn’t mean that everyone will have to get on board the religious bandwagon. It simply means that when a candidate tells us that they’re an evangelical Christian, it won’t be safe to assume they are conservative.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.