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In a story by Elizabeth Dias in the New York Times, we learn all about how evangelist Franklin Graham is traversing the state of California, doing whatever he can to boost Jesus Republicans — and therefore the evangelical Christian agenda — heading into the June 5 primaries in districts where their elections or re-elections may be in doubt.

The blue wall of California, Mr. Graham told the gathering, represents secular values that have taken root on the country’s west coast.

“Progressive?” he went on, “That’s just another word for godless.” Now is the time for churches to “suck it up” and vote.

[His] mission, Mr. Graham says, is about faith and Jesus, but the parallel political message is just as resounding: Support candidates who will advance the socially conservative causes dear to many evangelicals — especially opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage — and get to the polls and vote for them.

The article shows how white evangelicals are still playing the persecution game, pretending that evangelicals are underdogs in the political sphere, even though they currently control everything (and the country’s gone to shit because of it). No matter how much scandal Donald Trump is mired in, Graham believes he can still use the old playbook of finding wedge issues that will get Christians to the poll, while ignoring all the injustices going on because of the man they elected in 2016.

But notice how he frames the fight: He says “progressive” is “another word for godless.”

He’s right in one respect. Countries where religion doesn’t have a stronghold are indeed progressive in all the right ways. Sociologist Phil Zuckerman has pointed this out very thoroughly:

Those societies today that are the most religious — where faith in God is strong and religious participation is high — tend to have the highest violent crime rates, while those societies in which faith and church attendance are the weakest — the most secular societies — tend to have the lowest.

It is the highly secularized countries that tend to fare the best in terms of crime rates, prosperity, equality, freedom, democracy, women’s rights, human rights, educational attainment and life expectancy. (Although there are exceptions, such as Vietnam and China, which have famously poor human rights records.) And those nations with the highest rates of religiosity tend to be the most problem-ridden in terms of high violent crime rates, high infant mortality rates, high poverty rates and high rates of corruption.

In the societies where godlessness is a choice, and people choose it en masse, people fare much better. So cheers to the progressive agenda!

But Graham also implies that Democrats — the progressive party, relatively speaking — somehow embrace godlessness. That’s not true in any meaningful way. Democratic candidates bend over backwards to get religious votes all the time — and they almost always avoid atheists and the non-religious vote.

Hillary Clinton, someone Graham would no doubt claim is progressive, said the most influential book she’s ever read is the Bible, and she selected a former missionary as her 2016 running mate. There is currently one openly non-religious member of Congress, and the Congressional Freethought Caucus has a grand total of five members.

Even thought Republicans can count on the Religious Right turning out in their favor, the Democrats take our votes for granted yet do little to no specific outreach to organizations promoting non-theism.

So to suggest that progressive candidates would automatically promote atheism, as Graham did, makes no sense at all. I wish they would! But they don’t. They actively stay away from us because they still believe it’s toxic to associate with atheists.

Democrats spend far more time wooing progressive Christians than liberal atheists.

I’ll give Graham credit for one thing, though: He knows that winning congressional races isn’t the only game in town.

… In California, one clear goal is to change the makeup of school boards. “Can you imagine if your school boards were controlled by evangelical Christians?” he asked the pastors in Pasadena, a not so subtle reference to conservative religious protests of California’s new sex education curriculum, which includes lessons on LGBTQ sexuality.

And school boards are just the start. He wants Christians to run for city council, for mayor, and every level of government.

Graham and other conservatives are well aware that local elections have far more consequences on our lives than what someone in D.C. can do on a regular basis. They are working to have evangelical candidates in those races, and because so many of them get little attention, it doesn’t take that many votes to decide who’s in charge of local governments.

Graham and the people who support his anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Jesus agenda may lose a lot of races next week, but he’s well aware that the long-term game lies in local elections that are under the radar. We’d be wise to follow his lead, find sensible candidates for those offices, and support rational thinkers over evangelical theocrats.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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