By JIM KUHNHENN
Thirteen years ago, David Wilhelm, then chairman of the Democratic Party, told the conservative Christian Coalition that good Christians could belong to either major political party.
He was hissed.
Today, Wilhelm wants to spread that message to a different audience — Democrats. He’s hoping for a better response.
With a leading poll showing only one in four Americans viewing the Democratic Party as friendly to religion, Wilhelm and a broad-based group of Christian Democratic activists are starting an Internet effort to organize religious voters whose views might be compatible with Democrats.
The site, http://www.FaithfulDemocrats.com, will go online Tuesday and showcase theologians, party strategists, political leaders and bloggers in hopes of conducting a national discussion on politics and faith.
"It struck me as strange that people whose political world is motivated by faith had to be Republican. Democrats need to be on the playing field," Wilhelm said.
He said the site will give religious Democrats "the moral support and some language they can use."
The nonprofit Web venture was conceived by Wilhelm and Chicago-based Democratic activist Jesse Lava. Tennessee state Sen. Roy Herron, a former minister, and Rev. Romal Tune, founder of the Washington D.C.-based Clergy Strategic Alliances, are co-chairmen.
By venturing into the unrestricted and freewheeling world of the Internet, however, FaithfulDemocrats are just as likely to find an full-throated blowback as an amen chorus.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., caused a furor in the liberal blogosphere this summer when he warned liberals and progressives in a speech that "we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse."
The Web site and its place as an alternative to Christian conservatism comes as churchgoing voters who consider themselves politically liberal have tried to link their religious values to causes such as social justice, opposition to the Iraq war and the environment.
Over the last 30 years, the GOP has found common ground among traditional pro-business, anti-tax Republicans, small government advocates and social conservatives. Democrats, on the other hand, have been influenced by a secular, liberal bloc that advocates separation of church and state. The party’s disparate groups have had more trouble finding a single voice.
A poll by the Pew Research Center found that the proportion of Americans who considered the Republican Party friendly to religion dropped from 55 percent last year to 47 percent this year. But that is still significantly higher than the 26 percent who regard Democrats as friendly to religion.
An effort such as FaithfulDemocrats is an "example of the evolution of this debate," said John Green, an expert on religious voters and a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. "It could be very well be that things like this could turn that image around."
FaithfulDemocrats’ debut on the Internet features articles such as "What’s wrong with the Religious Right" and "Religious values, the higher ground."
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press