Prepared Remarks of DNC Chairman David Wilhelm Before the Christian Coalition September 10

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Prepared Remarks of DNC Chairman David Wilhelm Before the Christian Coalition September 10, 1993 -- Embargoed until 9:00 AM EDT -- Thank you all for having me. I appreciate the courtesy of your invitation, and I wanted to respond in kind by being with you here today. I may be the only speaker you hear from at this meeting who is not running for the Republican nomination for President in 1996. As I thought about what I would say to you this morning, I kept coming back to one simple, direct statement. And it is this: "I believe and trust in Jesus Christ, and I am a Democrat." I am a Christian, and I am also a Democrat. Now, I am no preacher. I am no great theologian. I try not to take myself too seriously. But I do take my faith seriously. And like most Americans, I believe strongly that God and faith are not and can not be the province of one political party or movement. No party has a corner on the allegiance of the community of believers. However inconvenient it might be, God is an Independent. And no entity can claim to speak for all persons who believe in Christ and consider themselves to be Christian. That's why I'm here today -- to send a clear message to you and to people all across this country that the Democratic Party will continue to reach out to and win support from people of faith. Let me say it plainly: the Democratic Party is and always has been a party of values. And those values are at least as richly informed by religious beliefs and moral principles as the party you have chosen to align yourselves with -- the Republican Party. We stand in the mainstream of American life, and extend our hand to people of all faiths, including Evangelical Christians. There is a home in the Democratic Party for all Americans, including those who put religious values at the very center of their lives. I want you to know how my faith informs my views, and how proud I am of the values my Party stands for. I want to talk about why millions of people of faith from all political persuasions often find themselves in strong disagreement with the Christian Coalition. While we may disagree on a range of things, on one point I'm sure we do agree: Whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim or practice another faith, to draw on spiritual teachings to guide your public commitments is both appropriate and desirable. President Clinton last week said that our public life may have become too secular, and he's right. Separation of church and state means that we, as Americans, are free to practice our faith without government coercion or interference. Our forefathers and mothers fled to these shores, in part, to escape religious persecution. No American can be kept out of the political process because of their religion. And no American can be kept out of the political process because he or she does not practice religion. But, as the President said, freedom of religion doesn't mean that we must be free from religion. As Thomas Jefferson understood so well, the separation of church and state was intended to strengthen the practice of religion. And we as a society can only profit from the moral and ethical foundation that religion provides. But let us also acknowledge that we may read the scripture and answer its call in different ways. Only God possesses absolute truth. None of us may declare other points of view as invalid or irreligious. From the depths of our conviction, we must always remember the guideline, judge not lest ye be judged. And let us say that while religious motivation is appropriate, it is wrong to use religious authority to coerce support in the public arena. Most Americans are troubled by the implication that religious values dictate one position or one path in politics, public policy or private belief. Throughout our history as a people, tolerance has been inseparably linked with faith, and we must fight to preserve tolerance in our hearts and in our public debate. The President said last Monday, and I quote: "the thing that has kept us together over time is that our Constitution and Bill of Rights gives us all the elbow room to seek to do God's will in our own life and that of our families and our communities ... There will always ... have to be some room for Americans of good faith to disagree." I am very proud of how our Party is fighting in the tradition and spirit of our religious heritage for the values at the heart of our culture: striving for justice, strengthening our families, generating economic opportunity for each and every American, and again creating a broad sense of responsibility and community across this great nation. I am a Christian and I am a Democrat, and the principles I embrace and the causes I champion are very much rooted in the values and traditions of my faith. Let me tell you about those roots in my own life. My father, a refugee from post-war Europe, was brought to this country and a better life by the Brethren Church. My father-in-law, Bob Dodds, who is here today, is a lay Baptist minister. My wife, Degee, who is also here, encourages my own sense of faith every day. And it is that background which has helped shaped my faith, and my beliefs. Because of that faith, I believe in helping the needy. Because of that faith, I believe in working in the service of others. Because of that faith, I believe fiercely in the value of work. Because of that faith, I believe in working to create a more tolerant society. And because of that faith, I believe in the sanctity of the family and the support and nurturing derived first and foremost from the family. So this year I was proud to champion a budget that raised the earned income tax credit to help lift working families above the poverty line. It's about rewarding work. It's about strengthening families. It was a budget that asked of most Americans just a dime a day, for this tax credit and for other initiatives, from immunizations for our children to empowerment zones for our cities and better health care for rural America. And at the same time, it was a first step toward unburdening our children and grandchildren of the crushing debt that threatens their future. I am also proud that earlier this year we fought for and passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, because nobody should have to choose between a job and caring for a sick family member or a new child. Today, we are fighting for a health care system that works again. We are determined to relieve families of the fear of inadequate health care, or the financial catastrophe that could result from a single illness or accident. I am proud that the President has made fighting the battle against drugs and violence in our neighborhoods and in our schools a high priority. He is reaching across party lines and old divisions to make the streets where our children play safer. I am proud that we are working in the spirit of serving others -- one of the foundations of our religious tradition -- with a national service bill that gives Americans the chance to help rebuild their communities. I mention these issues in some detail because you are yourselves branching out. You are working on the issues which you now realize your members, like the rest of American families, consider the highest priority -- the economy and jobs, welfare, the budget deficit and crime. That is your right. Our Party has always been at the forefront on the bread and butter issues which can make our families strong. But I must tell you that the Christian Coalition's decision to attack the President's economic plan and much of the rest of his agenda -- and especially the manner of that attack -- has been a great disappointment. When you call yourselves the "Christian Coalition" and savagely attack members of Congress for their point of view, implicit in that attack is the message that those who disagree have taken an un-Christian position. I believe with all my heart that if there were a Christian position on the President's budget, it was to support it. But I am not going to stand here and tell you that you are bad Christians for opposing it. And frankly, when I disagree with you, you had better not tell me that I'm a bad Christian. We think you should have been fighting beside us to enact more WIC funding, and Head Start -- initiatives that everyone agrees save and improve the lives of our children. We think you should have been fighting with us to restore tax fairness and enact a tax cut for 20 million working families. For record deficit reduction, and the lower interest rates that have come with it. Perhaps your opposition was inevitable, given the politics of the Republican Party and your desire to play a larger and larger role in its future. But I believe the effect of your actions gave aid and comfort to the economic elites in our society -- those who stood to benefit from the status quo. And I fear it came at the expense of the economic interests of the working families who overwhelmingly make up both of our ranks. Whether you agree with me or not, from either side of the debate on the economic plan, the most important points to keep in mind are these: The President's budget was shaped by concerns that in part had their roots in religious values. But something as complex as the budget is a good example of the limits of religious faith in politics. Faith can tell us what we should be concerned about, but it doesn't spell out the details of fiscal policy. And most important, no one became a bad Christian because of his or her vote on the budget. No matter how they voted. What upset me most was not the fact of your opposition, but the tone and mischaracterizations of the radio ads and mailings you used to attack the plan. The use of scare tactics on the issue of taxes, I believe, played to selfishness, rather than the importance of thinking of others first and the good of the whole community that my religious upbringing emphasized. I'd ask you to consider the case of one Congressman who has been attacked with Christian Coalition radio ads as an example: Congressman Ted Strickland, from Southern Ohio, who represents the district where I grew up. He is a person of faith, a person of unquestioned devotion to his community, the families he represents, and his church. Congressman Strickland attended a Christian College in Kentucky -- Asbury College -- and then earned a Masters of Divinity at Asbury Theological Seminary. He served as an ordained United Methodist Minister. He worked for seven years at a Methodist children's home, and served as a missionary in Europe. No one in the Congress, I can guarantee you, cast a more carefully considered vote for what he believes are the best interests of his constituents than Ted Strickland did on the President's budget. He cast his vote according to the dictates of his conscience. And he doesn't deserve to be targeted with mean-spirited, misleading commercials by this group or any other purporting to speak for religious Americans. Believe me, I know these techniques better than anyone. I know the tools of modern politics. No one in politics should cast the first stone on this one. But I look to people of strong faith for the courage to lift the debate -- to bring us toward a tolerant middle ground -- rather than throw more mud. People who organize as Christians should hold themselves to a higher standard. I cover these disappointments honestly, because I do not believe that the natural interests of your members and the voters you seek lie as far from the President's program as you portray them to be. Indeed, in many cases, there is no distance at all. The Christian Coalition wants to support families by strengthening family values. Values are important. But American families also need economic support in order to raise strong, healthy, well educated children. That means jobs and health care. It means education. So we hope you will be with us in the effort to reform health care. In the effort to break the cycle of dependency and reform welfare. As we reinvent the way that the federal government does business. We also recognize that there are other issues which have long divided Americans and our political parties, and on which we may never reach much common ground. Issues such as reproductive choice. I believe you can be a good Christian and support a woman's right to choose. I believe as a majority of Americans do, that it should be a matter between a woman and her conscience, not a woman and her senator. I believe strongly that God loves and accepts all his children, regardless of differences among us, including sexual orientation. That is why I find it troubling when religion is used as a weapon to divide rather than a tool to heal, and hatred is preached in place of tolerance. As Americans, we are blessed to have the right to say something is wrong if we believe it. And we are also blessed with the great tradition of tolerance -- that there must always be the room for people of faith and good will to reach different conclusions. As Democrats -- Christians, Jews and people of every faith -- we seek an America in which every child prospers, every family has an opportunity to succeed and the life of every citizen is filled with the richest values of our religious inheritance. It is in that spirit -- informed by deeply held beliefs and values -- that we Democrats set out each day to fight for healthier families and a stronger nation, to search for common solutions to our common problems. John F. Kennedy had it right when he said that we must "go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on Earth God's work must truly be our own." 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