Why Wesleyans Tilt Republican

Instead of discussing THIS election lets think about 165 years of why Wesleyans tilt toward the Republicans in voting. Focus on the church and social issues.
(Immediate campaign comments will be deleted--I've done some hard research here, please honor it by giving thoughtful and insightful observations based on the past 165 years of history OK? ;-)

keith drury


Ken Schenck said...

So I guess the question I have is when we were simply riding a cultural wave and when we were standing prophetically against the tide. And how can you tell the difference when you're in the thick of it?

alee said...

schenck poses the same question i had. the church in general is wise to side with those who agree with the things they and Christ would support, but repeatedly run into trouble when they end up putting their faith in those politicians and leaders on all fronts (constantine, gwbush, even lincoln) instead of Christ. i like what tony campolo says when he is asked whether he is a dem or rep. he replies, what is the issue. Christians and people in general, want to rally behind a leader, but we don't have the luxury of baptizing any leader as the be all and end all. they are fallen and messed up and are not God, just like the rest of us. I'd like to think that wesleyans line up with Reps because they have genuinely thought about the issues and see the party's point of view as representative, but i think most of the time it is just easier to baptize one side or the other, pick a side, and fight for the party ideals instead of Christs.

Kevin Wright said...

If the issue of slavery helped move the Wesleyans into the Republican camp, why didn't the Civil Rights movement have a similar affect in moving the Wesleyans closer to the Democrats? When the Black vote went decisively for Truman in 1948 after he issued an order desegregating the armed services and an executive order setting up regulations against racial bias in federal employment, you would think that the denomination that had so fiercely fought for the freeing of slaves less than 100 years earlier would have now supported Blacks in their quest for equal rights. But as far as I know, this was not the case, and abortion was not even an issue at the time.

So maybe the conversation about why Wesleyans tilt Republican needs to shift gears into a dialogue on Wesleyans and race. We are still a denomination that has very few black churches, and the ones we do have are typically made up of blacks from the Caribbean or Africa, not African Americans. In other words, is there something about the Wesleyan Church's inability to make significant inroads into the African American community and the Republican party's inability to do the same that explains why the two have been so closely wedded over the years?

Outside-the-Beltway Drury said...

1) Civil Rights didn't move Wesleyans toward Democrats because Democrats never out-supported Republicans on civil rights. Take for example the Civil Rights bill of 1964 which included a famous filibuster: Republicans were far more supportive of the bill than Democrats (80% Republican support in the House and Senate) The issue was more of a regional issue than a party issue, but the notion that Democrats were the party of "civil rights" is simply a myth.

See the Vote Totals

2) Wesleyans tilt Republican because they are also quite conservative in the more classic sense of that word. They are not prone to changing without a lot of time and foot-dragging. That means Wesleyans hang on to a lot of stuff they could get rid of, but that also means they are not prone to rash or hasty changes--which is probably a good thing

KD gives some great historic context. I think abortion sealed the deal. Wesleyans see the civil rights issue for unborn children. Democrats scoff at these rights and support unrestricted access to abortion. To Wesleyans this puts Democrats in the same corner as sexual promiscuity, lack of self-control, selfishness, murder, greed, and for some of the more thoughtful, racism. That's a tough corner to escape...

Keith Drury said...

Kevin, OTBeltway gives my answer here well, I was an eyewitness to this fight and it was [mostly Southern] Democrats who fought civil rights and the Republicans (and northern democrats) who supported civil rights. (though the southern-western Dem president LBJ ramrodded it through. But you are right in noting that Wesleyans were not actively pro-civil rights... as you say, more than 100 years has passed and the great grandchildren had forgotten their anti-slavery heritage (as much as we now forget our anti-alcohol heritage.) THANKS Ken, Alee, Kevin & OTBD for thoughtful insights already!

David Drury said...

Sorry but I had to pirate the comment board with this long post... I never do this to you but your wonderful history lesson got me thinking about this...

I'm struck with the "measure of success" each religious support of a political party resulted in--or the "so far" trajectory of how much the vehement support of religious conservatives has actually resulted in the change desired.

I'll grade each on a scale of 1 to 4... 1 being little to no success, 4 being a great deal of success (I'm not saying I agree with all the goals--I DON'T--just judging them by their own measure):

4 -- the goals of the Wesleyans and the Republicans were fully aligned and we won. This one worked out.

Women’s suffrage
4 -- again the goals here were fully aligned and it worked out well (although I bet in most Wesleyan churches they would be shocked that this was our position. In my church we had a woman -- pastor Judy Huffman -- preach this morning, and another, student Jess Manglos, preaching tonight. I will receive no flack for this. However--in MANY other Wesleyan churches it would start a bit of a, shall we say, DISCUSSION. :-(

1 -- Absolutely no success in the long run. Yes--some would argue they were the best days on earth, but even if so there was no long-term-win here... as the culture now has an almost PRO BOOZE attitude. The legalism on drinking almost fathered the excessive views people have today in reaction.

1 -- if the goal was to suppress Catholic influence... :-)Pope John Paul 2 changed a lot of that by being better than most other Protestant leaders we could point to... and the whole Anti-Christ thing didn't pan out with Kennedy. So failure.

School prayer.
1 -- Complete failure here... in fact the culture wars failed so much that people have mis-interpreted the law in many areas and schools are far more restrictive to religious activity than the actual laws would require.

Women’s rights--ERA
2 -- moderate success... if the goal was to not let the ERA pass... although I think only three more states need to ratify it for it to become official. In general, views on women in all forms of leadership have shifted so much that now Sarah Palin is the Republican Bright Hope for Tomorrow (2012?) So, things have changed. Somehow this goal seems outmoded, eh?

2 -- Some success here in that partial restrictions have been put in place and the general "tone" of the debate has changed because of the strength of the anti-abortion lobby and voting block. It is no longer possible to be vehemently "pro-abortion"... you have to be softly "pro-choice". In general though there has been little success. With all that's gone into it so far this may be the great failure of the last 25 years in conservative politics. I guess life and death for the unborn isn't as important for most politicians as tax cuts and playing on our fears.

Gay rights.
TBD -- although the trajectory is definitely "2"... not a ton of success here. The big Prop 8 fight that Garlow (Wesleyan) is fighting for in California will be a tide-watermark next week and may signal things. However, we have given up a lot of ground here fast in the last decade.

Okay... so, that doesn't betray my thinking on all these too much but helps me see that in general we haven't had a great deal of success in co-opting a party to get done what should be done. Moreover, at times we have not had the right intent in the first place—and had our view won it may have been bad for the country.

Perhaps we should be doing other things.


Kevin Wright said...

OTBD- I think you're right that Civil Rights was more of a regional rather than a party issue and to prove that Democrats were a monolithic force behind Civil Rights is impossible to prove. However, when you say that "Democrats scoff at these rights and support unrestricted access to abortion," I think you make a statement that is equally tenuous. Democrats are not all pro-abortion, in fact, there is evidence to suggest that a majority of African Americans are actually pro-life and furthermore, opposed to gay marriage (there is far greater stigmata to being gay in Black communities than in white). The same goes for many Blue collar democrats in the rust belt. Additionally, 63 House Democrats and 17 Democratic Senators voted in favor the Partial Birth Abortion Ban in 2003.

I think there is still something to do with Wesleyans and race that affects this equation but I don't have any solid theories yet. I also think that the Wesleyan Church's move into mainstream evangelicalism where voices like Jim Dobson tended to dominate had something to do with it. Thus, while abortion did give Evangelical right-wingers an issue to wield, how they wielded it had perhaps more to do with why the Wesleyan Church went Republican than the issue itself.

Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

It's interesting: your description definitely shows a social issues/social action attitude, which I think is probably pretty accurate, and very "Wesley"-an - but not so much adherence to one philosophy of government.

I suspect the adherence to a philosophy of government comes more from Calvinist thinking that's leaked into evangelical thinking, and less from Wesley.

James Bauers said...

Shalom, I'm not as gifted or as well verse as you folks who have posted so far. But, I would like to say that as a long time Wesleyan/Methodist I stopped being a Republican a LONG time ago. I'm not a Democrat either. As has been pointed out, I believe that the line between the two parties are becoming more and more blurred. When it comes down to it, we need to fully look at how the one running for office comes across in the issues that are speaking life. I know that for me Pro-Life is best, but to be honest, I'm more concerned with poverty and injustice and the death penalty and so forth. I'm concerned about HIV/Aids and the homeless. I know folks from both sides who are deeply committed followers of Yeshua/Jesus and are deeply concerned about these issues. I've been pondering these thoughts for quite some time and so your post KD was very right on timely for me. Thank you!

Percival said...

Doesn't regionalism have a role here too? Wesleyans are numerous in Republican areas of the country, aren't they? Before the 70's most Southern Baptists would have been Democrats since they were whites from the South. Now the white South is Republican as are the Southern Baptists. We look at issues that we believe in and say that's why we support this or that party. But maybe we are just fitting in to the political culture around us. I'm just saying maybe.

John Mark said...

I have a simpler (or simplistic?) version, perhaps, of Ken Schenck's question. Where-or what- is the evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the Church? As we look at church history as a whole, is it fair to say that the Church has generally gone the direction that prevailing cultural or political winds have blown her?
There seems to be a feeling here, and perhaps I'm reading too much into this, that this is the case, and in Wesleyan (or the American Holiness Movement, to include my own) history we have been mostly flawed human beings reacting to those things we have been afraid of, instead of salt and light.
How can we know when we are being led of the Spirit, or led by cultural trends? Was the Spirit operating in our stance on doctrinal or lifestyle issues, or not? I suppose you would have to take that case by case.......
And how big a role has racism played into this? It is all very disheartening to think that we have missed it all along the way, so probably are now......
This demonstrates to me that we still struggle over the relationship between Christ and the culture. I think the American Holiness Movement is in a real identity crisis which may not be resolved in my lifetime, and to be honest, if it is, dinosaur that I am, I may not like the resolution. At least over certain aspects of it all.

Outside-the-Beltway Drury said...

kw: Since abortion is the key issue of the last two generations driving the Republican tilt in the Wesleyan church, I will respond to the notion that there is something "tenuous" about the modern Democratic party "scoffing" at the rights of the unborn and supporting unrestricted access to abortion.


the late Bob Casey. A Democrat governor from PA--was and continues to be a key swing state. Casey was a figure in States' attempts to limit access to abortion--including a famous Supreme Court case bearing his name. He sought an opportunity to address the Democratic convention in 1992 to express a minority view on abortion within the party. Answer from the party: Shut up. Stay away. That is political scoffing. The Dem party was saying it didn't need to even listen to one of its popularly elected governors from a politically important state who believed the unborn have rights worth protecting.

[allowing Casey Jr. to speak this round simply acknowledged the error of a public scoff]

Unrestricted Access:

Obama describes abortion as "a woman's fundamental right to choose". He promises to sign the Freedom of Choice Act which affirms a "fundamental" right to choose. Here's the YouTube vid.

A fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution affords the highest level of legal protection. Governmental restrictions on fundamental rights are subject to "strict scrutiny" and may only withstand such scrutiny if they serve a "compelling" government interest and are "narrowly tailored" to serve that interest. However, even fundamental rights may be restricted. The fundamental right to free speech does not allow someone to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

Support for a ban on partial birth abortions--procedures so barbaric they shock the conscience--is no more restrictive than limiting one's right to shout "Fire!" in a theater. Citing the paltry number of Democrats who voted to ban partial-birth abortions in 2003 forgets or ignores that Bill Clinton vetoed this same law in 1996 and chronicles the shame that twice as many Democrats voted to protect the practice as voted to ban it.

This illustrates the continuing and dominant view (by a 2 to 1 margin) among Democrats--access to abortion for women and even minor girls should be afforded the highest protection allowed by our Constitution, the same as our freedom of speech. That's pretty unrestricted.


Twinsfan1 said...


You are correct in the majority Democratic response to abortion.

They also support the "right" for a minor to be taken across state borders for an abortion WITHOUT NOTIFICATION OR CONSENT OF THE PARENTS.

Our lone House rep and senior Senator (both Democrats) support this.


Ken said...

i tilt republican because i will never agree with pro-choice legislation.

as the husband of an adopted woman and the father of a child never born, i find it shocking when our country continues to put economics above morality.

senator obama (and now president-elect) is the most vigorously pro-choice candidate we've ever witnessed, and now he will occupy the most influential house in the nation.

shame on us...

Pete Vecchi said...

So what do I think? I think you are right on the mark, Keith!

Kevin Wright said...

OTBD- While you were able to address certain figureheads of the party, and the upper echelon of their leadership, you did not address some key constituencies of the Democratic party. 1.) African Americans 2.) Blue Collar Rust Belt Workers 3.) Hispanics.

There is absolutely no proof that I know of that demonstrates any of these groups to be as pro-abortion as you are painting the leadership of the Democratic party (i.e. Nancy Pelosi). These are not the loudest voices in the democratic party, but they are none the less a key contingency of it.

Glen Asbury said...

I have been PLEADING for a long time for an exhaustive analysis of Kevin Wright's initial post material (why holiness people were virtually MIA in the civil rights movement) from someone who knows the holiness movement inside out.
I hope it happens sometime; I don't have the sociological bonafides or knowledge to do it myself (or time either for that matter, which is probably everyone else's difficulty, too :)).

I am something of a Republican activist and have connected the Republican dot on the ballot for the last 3 elections, at least. But, I do think that it is unreasonable for us to expect that holiness Republicans who were alive during the Civil Rights era and stood on the sidelines rather than marching at Selma have the credibility to attack people for voting on the basis of race.

Dan said...

One reason Wesleyans tilt Republican is because they believe "I am my brother's keeper, not the government." The Dems forgot the second part in their convention and stump speeches.

Another is that Republicans generally (in principle, but less often in practice) believe less government is better than more.

A third is that Democrats are the party of pluralism. Republicans tend to appeal to "God & country" folks who have a more defined idea of Who God is and what He expects of His children. In Wesleyanism that spectrum would extend from the United Methodist Church toward the pluralistic end to the Wesleyan Church toward the defined end.

Tom Cook said...

Keith I assume the date you list at the beginning of the article,1942, is simply a mis print?
Thanks and God bless!

Keith Drury said...

Woah--how'd that hundred-year type survive for a week...! thanks, I fixed it.

Mark O. Wilson said...

One interesting discovery -- Hiram McKee, the first Wesleyan in Wisconsin, was a keynote speaker at Wisconsin's first Republican Convention at Madison. There's a direct link between the Wesleyan Methodists and the formation of the Republican Party.