In early January, Doug Pagitt stepped down as pastor of Solomon’s Porch — the Kingfield church he founded two decades ago — and set off on a planned 10-month-long road trip aboard a bright orange tour bus previously used by Guns N’ Roses and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Pagitt’s goal is to travel to all 50 states before Election Day, and his nonprofit, Vote Common Good, is hosting boisterous rallies in hundreds of cities across the country in an effort to motivate politically progressive and moderate Christians to turn out on Nov. 3 and vote against President Donald Trump.
“We want to create a crack in the system that says, ‘If you’re religious, you vote for Republicans,’” said Pagitt, who twice voted for George W. Bush. “You don’t have to stop being a Republican, but just don’t vote for this one.”
Vote Common Good has raised $1.5 million since its launch in 2018 and is hoping to raise $2 million more by November. “There are four things that get us around the country: faith, hope, love and diesel,” Pagitt said.
On Feb. 4, the tour bus stopped at Solomon’s Porch for a 90-minute event that Pagitt called “part revival, part political rally, part hootenanny and part fundraiser.”
Meah Pace, a former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader, jingled a tambourine and sang classic gospel songs like “This Little Light of Mine.”
Activist Genesis Be spoke about “growing up a queer, Muslim, multi-racial black woman in Mississippi” before rapping: “We need you at the polls, out in droves, fighting against the bigots you oppose.”
And pastor Daniel Deitrich energized the 100-person crowd with his song “Hymn for the 81%” — a reference to the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016.
That figure is key to Vote Common Good’s campaign: With evangelicals comprising a quarter of the electorate, Pagitt believes that if just 5% to 15% — fed up with Trump’s “inhumane immigration policy” and the “damaging way he uses the bully pulpit of the presidency” — can be dissuaded from voting for him, that could be enough to swing the election.
Vote Common Good has been training Democratic political candidates on how to authentically engage with faith-motivated voters. “Show that you like them and show that you listen to them,” Pagitt advises. When talking about abortion, he suggests candidates emphasize that restrictions haven’t historically led to drops in numbers.
During the 2018 midterms, Vote Common Good held rallies in more than 30 “flippable” congressional districts, including a Richfield rally attended by Angie Craig and Dean Phillips, both of whom ended up unseating their Republican opponents.
“We’re trying to help religious-motivated voters who want to change their habit actually change that habit,” Pagitt said. “You need to create an alternative community people can be part of [and you need to] give them a very clear next action step to take.”
Flipping the script
A new book being published in March, “Taking America Back for God,” uses public survey data to separate the historical Christian faith from a right-wing “Christian nationalist” framework that the authors argue has grown in strength over the past several decades at the expense of pluralistic, democratic ideals.
Sociologists Andrew Whitehead, of Clemson University, and Samuel L. Perry, of the University of Oklahoma, found that a set of six cultural beliefs — including, most pointedly, whether the federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation — can better predict if someone will support Trump than can their religion or even their political party.
Yet once those Christian nationalist beliefs are taken into account, Whitehead and Perry found, people who spend more time practicing their religion — by praying, reading a bible or going to church — are actually less likely to hold political views typically associated with Christian nationalism, such as believing illegal immigrants from Mexico are mostly dangerous criminals or that police shoot black people more often because they’re more inherently violent.
“The 20% of evangelicals who didn’t vote for Trump are the people who reject Christian nationalism, and it’s their faith that undergirds why they voted against him,” Whitehead said.
Pagitt said these findings align with his experience (though he noted evangelicals self-identify as “exclusivists,” not “Christian nationalists”) and said he feels the core of his work is getting “religious voters to vote their conscience.”
Since the 1970s and ‘80s, Whitehead said, the religious sphere has been increasingly politicized, with evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson creating division by identifying things “that are making us less Christian” — issues such as homosexuality, abortion or divorce.
At the Minneapolis rally, organizer Christy Berghoef pleaded for Christians to “flip the narrative, flip the script.” “We flip the script when we lift voices that have historically been left away from the tables of dialogue and decision, when we respond to false, shallow sound bites with human-centered stories,” she said.
Berghoef asked why food assistance funding is being cut as poverty is swelling, why people must pay for health care with bankruptcy and why environmental protections are being slashed in a time of fire, drought, famine and global warming.
Pagitt said Vote Common Good rallies can help create a sense of community for religious voters who find Democratic candidates “cold or hostile” to their faith, but who no longer feel at home in the modern Republican Party.
“People will change their view on policy in order to fit the identity of their political party,” he said. “Democrats were not saying ‘Medicare for All’ four years ago, and Trump supporters were not saying ‘build the wall’ before Donald Trump asked them to say ‘build the wall.’ They’re not into Medicare for All, they’re not into building walls. They’re into the identity of their community and that tells them what they think about policy.”
Barbara Gilbertson, a lifelong Lutheran, drove to the Minneapolis rally from her home in Eagan.
“The common good is not political,” she said. “The common good is certainly in the bible and in other holy texts, but it is also common sense and social justice, and you don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican to get into it fully.”
Victoria Peterson-Hilleque, an Uptown resident who does community building work for Solomon’s Porch, said she feels the “religious conversation associated with Christian values has been co-opted.” She said she appreciates how Vote Common Good has helped expand the conversation around faith in politics to issues like immigration, health care and caring for the poor.
“Sometimes I’m afraid or embarrassed in some circles just saying I’m a Christian … I feel like I need to give all these disclaimers,” she said. “There’s room for me to be a progressive political person who’s also a person of faith.”
Near the start of the Solomon’s Porch rally, Pagitt, a spry 6-foot-7, bounded onto the stage, leaped up and down and began speaking in a booming double-time preacher’s voice: “I think everybody is a child of God, the beloved one, the salt of the Earth and the light of the world.”
“I believe Donald Trump is the light of the world,” he continued. “But not every light of the world should be the president of the United States of America, and we should let him shine his dim little light somewhere else.”
Sometimes people will ask Pagitt if he feels like he’s preaching to the choir.
“I’ve been a pastor for 30 years,” he’ll respond. “I’ve known a lot of choir members. Choir members could use a lot of preaching. The choir has lost its song in this country. The choir has lost its tune.”