Democratic Party and local religious leaders gathered in Goleta on Sunday to discuss the link between politics and religion, and how each should impact the other in a country that cares a lot about both. The Republican Party has been widely considered the more religiously outspoken of the two parties for approximately 30 years.
But the Republican behavior is often divisive, said Jerl Laws, the Interfaith Outreach Director for the California Democratic Party. They tend to focus on three or four divisive issues, such as gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research. The idea behind the summit was to offer an alternative to the Republican view of faith and how it is tied to politics; something many say the democrats weren’t currently doing. “It’s no secret the Democrats needed to reach out to the faith community,” Laws said. The effort isn’t just a ploy to get democratic votes, event organizer Karin Quimby said, but rather to have a “conversation of integrity, addressing issues on a broad spectrum. They’ve defined the discourse over values and morals, and the democrats have let them do that,” said Quimby, who also works in Rep. Lois Capps‘ Santa Barbara office. “We have to raise up the discourse and stop dividing and start to talk about values.” Alliances need to be built which go beyond party lines, she said.
In November a roundtable discussion amongst local clergy spawned talks of a larger meeting on faith and politics. After speaking with community activists, Sunday’s summit was birthed. After opening comments from California Democratic Party Chair Art Torres, Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, Goleta Mayor Jean Blois and Capps, the nearly 160 attendees broke down into smaller workshops which focused on subjects such as the environment, foreign policy, poverty, healthcare, and immigration.
The underlying purpose of these meetings was to define the relationship between religion and politics. The summit also sought to define what the nature of said relationship should be at the personal and community levels. Capps spoke of balancing her personal beliefs with her public life. Rev. Billy Calderwood from Aqueous Church in Isla Vista said he rarely speaks about specific issues, but “tells stories about what Jesus did,” and allows people to figure things out for themselves. There are more plans for discussions and meetings, according to Quimby, as well as organized task forces which will continue to seek answers.
Religion and politics are also being talked about on a national level, with moderate to left-leaning religious groups rapidly growing in popularity. Tonight, Sojourners, a group dedicated to “articulating the biblical call to social justice,” will be hosting a forum on CNN featuring Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama, during which they will talk about faith, moral values, and poverty.