In the late 1960s, some white liberals — especially college-age baby boomers — began to adopt a secularized version of liberal Protestant values. Yet even then, the Democratic Party’s leaders retained a connection to those religious traditions, which allowed them to maintain their appeal to religious voters.
Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, the party’s leading antiwar candidates for the presidential nomination in 1968, were practicing Catholics who found inspiration in the church’s teachings. Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist deacon who regularly taught an adult Sunday school class during his 1976 campaign for president.
Jesse Jackson, who won several primaries in 1984 and 1988, was an ordained minister. Al Gore was a Southern Baptist who had attended divinity school. Bill Clinton had deep roots in the Southern Baptist tradition, despite his troubled relationship with some of the conservative leaders of his denomination during his presidency.
Hillary Clinton frequently cited her Methodist faith as a source of her values. And Barack Obama, despite a secular upbringing, learned to speak in the theological cadences of a Protestant Christian tradition while attending a progressive African-American church in Chicago.
Yet now younger, secular Democrats are attempting to separate their party’s progressive values from those religious traditions. Some may belong to a religious tradition or consider themselves to be spiritual people, but they are not able to speak the language of a communally based faith because it does not inform or shape their political views.
This has posed a problem at the polls, because most Democratic voters are not as secular as these activists might assume. While only 47 percent of white, college-educated Democrats identify as Christians, Christianity remains the faith of 81 percent of African-American Democrats and 76 percent of Latino Democrats.
The religious differences between…