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Democrats must key on how GOP uses religion

THE OP ED pieces on the role of religion in the future of the Democratic Party (Nov. 10) are arranged in pro-con fashion, but both Stephen Prothero and Robert Kuttner have a point. Kuttner is right in saying that the Democratic Party cannot jettison its stands on the issues, particularly economic justice. But Prothero is right in saying that most Americans are people of faith, and the party cannot ignore this either.

The Democrats' situation in the election, with Republicans claiming the mantle of "moral values," is much the same as the position mainline denominations have found themselves in. In recent years, evangelical fundamentalists have been much more aggressive than the mainline denominations about proclaiming their beliefs and getting their message out to the larger community outside their own doors.

Consequently, many believers in the more moderate churches have come to see talking about one's faith as something done by pushy people who knock on your door, insist that theirs is the only true faith, and don't take no for an answer. And since they don't like having it done to them, they aren't going to do it to anyone else.

When Senator Kerry said during one of the debates that he didn't like to "wear his religion on [his] sleeve," he wasn't alone. Millions of Americans feel the same way. However, it has become a self-fulfulling prophecy -- the more that believers from mainline churches shrink from talking about their faith in public and confine their "God talk" to their own churches on a Sunday morning, the more the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of the world come to dominate the public face of religious discourse. in the U.S. The more this happens, the more their numbers grow. And the more that happens, the easier it is for the media and a large segment of the public to think of them -- and the Republicans they support -- as the only ones concerned with faith and morals.

To say that Democrats have to learn to speak the language of faith is not to say that they need to become Republicans, any more than mainline churches need to become fundamentalist. Nor should they use the language of faith if they don't believe it. What it does mean is that if they do believe it, they shouldn't be afraid to talk about it.

KEVIN J. MORRIS St. Albans, Vt.  

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