Yesterday, we looked at “The Ongoing Erosion of The Religious Conservative Voter’s Voice in 2008.” We discussed conservative Evangelicals that were “shooting themselves in the foot.” Seeming, initially, to refute our claim was a post at First Things by J. Daryl Charles. In reality; however, Mr. Charles is combating the NYTimes, not us:
In this hour of “new day” presidential politicking, it is difficult to distinguish prophecy from wishful thinking, especially among those in the electronic and print media. Take, for example, the purported radical shift in alignment among religious conservatives that was reported as a cover story in the New York Times Magazine in October 2007. Under the definitive title “The Evangelical Crackup,” David D. Kirkpatrick announced that the “conservative Christian political movement” today shows signs of “coming apart beneath its leaders.” And this, we were told, when “just three years ago,” by Kirkpatrick’s reckoning, “the leaders of this movement could almost see the Promised Land.”
Lowell and I were just talking about mistakes made by Evangelical leadership (well, in Dobson’s case; I doubt Keller could lead a parade in progress), Mr. Charles is refuting a somewhat twisted narrative that is making the round concerning Evangelical shifts. The real heart of Charles’ argument is:
Conspicuously absent from Kirkpatrick’s reporting, a genre that rests on the perpetuation of false or exaggerated stereotypes, are several inconvenient facts. First, it ignores the remarkable—and seldom reported—diversity among evangelicals on matters social and political. Those of us who teach at the university level cannot help but be impressed by the current generation of young evangelicals, who possess a remarkably sensitized social conscience that is far more diversified and progressive than evangelicals of a previous generation. This development, it needs reiteration, has been measurable since the 1980s and is both heartening and to be encouraged. To describe this as a “recent” phenomenon or a “desertion” of traditional priorities or a major leftward political shift, as Kirkpatrick does, is pure fiction. Kirkpatrick need only consult a recent Pew study that reports “a small increase in the number of Democrats” that is coupled with an increase in the number of “independents and politically unaffiliated Americans.”
I think what is going on may be a bit more complicated. “Evangelical” was originally a theological term describing a particular approach to Protestant Christianity. The press really did pick it up to mean something along the lines of “Idiot redneck believers too stupid to understand things so they vote dogmatically.” There have always been liberal voices inside Evangelicalism, but they could not get press attention. Now they can — largely, it would appear to me, because the Democrats have identified religious voters as important to their efforts.
But also, missteps by conservative Evangelical leadership, like those Lowell and I discussed yesterday, have served to energize the Evangelical left. Which brings us back to identity politics. People that identify as part of your group, in this case Evangelicals, but who are told either explicitly or implicitly, that they are not “really” a part are going to get ticked off. So, in this case, when Evangelicals have allowed the press to define Evangelicals in this way, and in so doing sent either an implicit or in some cases explicit, message that you had to be conservative politically to be Evangelical, well you can count on the Evangelical left to respond – strongly.
That’s what happens when you make a theologically defined group political. United in your differences simply becomes divided. That is what is going on here.
Speaking Of The Evangelical Left . . .
. . . Their chief spokesperson, Jim Wallis, appears to have been caught in a bit of an embarrassing “flip-flop” himself.
On his blog yesterday, the liberal evangelical Jim Wallis, reacting to comments made about Barack Obama by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and Tom Minnery, said this:
Dobson and Minnery’s language is simply inappropriate for religious leaders to use in an already divisive political campaign. We can agree or disagree on both biblical and political viewpoints, but our language should be respectful and civil, not attacking motives and beliefs.
I agree with Wallis about the need for civility and respectful language. I wonder, then, what Wallis would say about these aspersions, made by a professing Christian not long ago:
I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. And this isn’t about being partisan… I’ve heard plenty of my Republican friends and public figures call this administration an embarrassment to the best traditions of the Republican Party and an embarrassment to the democratic (small d) tradition of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this war and the shameful way they have fought it. Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted—because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.
But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison – after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.
It turns out that these disrespectful and uncivil words, attacking motivations, came from … Jim Wallis, back in November. How terribly inconvenient for Wallis.
A lefty is a lefty is a lefty. It really doesn’t matter what their faith, or lack thereof. They are interested only in the advancement of their political causes, and past statements cease to become “operable” the moment they are uttered.
Now, About McCain . . .
If Christian conservatives stay on the sidelines during the fall campaign, presidential hopeful John McCain probably stays in the Senate.
Christian conservatives provided much of the on-the-ground, door-to-door activity for President Bush’s 2004 re-election in Ohio and in other swing states. Without them, the less-organized and lower-profile McCain campaign is likely to struggle to replicate Bush’s success. And so far, there’s been scant sign that the Republican nominee-in-waiting is making inroads among these fervent believers.
Not a bad analysis, and it points out the problem when you back yourself in a corner a la Dobson. Not voting for McCain is voting for Obama. With McCain we may not get what we want. With Obama, we will undoubtedly get much that we flat-out oppose. BIG difference, that. Worth thinking about, is it not?
Lowell adds: I will point to my favorite reason for not staying home and sulking on election day: The U.S. Supreme Court.
Today the Court held, in the Heller case, that the Washington, D.C. ban on handguns is unconstitutional – by a single vote, 5-4. We were one vote away from a decision that would have lasted for the rest of this Republic’s history saying that an entire city can declare itself off-limits to handguns.
Just a few days ago in the Boumediene case, the Court held, 5-4, that enemy combatants have habeas corpus rights. We’ll be living with that decision for a long, long time. By one vote, the Court gave al-Quaeda members greater rights for crimes on the battlefield than American soldiers have.
Back in 2000, in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution gave the Scouts the right to exclude openly gay men from serving as Scoutmasters. What was the vote? Yes, 5-4 again.
If John McCain is president, he may well appoint some Supreme Court justices of whom I will disapprove– but he has promised to appoint justices like Roberts and Alito. But if Barack Obama becomes president, we are guaranteed to have justices appointed who will vote like the four dissenting justices in Dale, or the five majority justices in Boumediene.
And they will be on the Court for decades.
So if you are sitting at home, upset that John McCain was rough on Mitt Romney, or unhappy that he does not respect Evangelicals; and you’re thinking that you’ll sit this election out, so that in 2012 a conservative can rise up like Ronald Reagan did; ask yourself: Even if you are right and history does repeat itself that way, how long will it take to undo the damage? Obama’s appointees will be on the Supreme Court until long after “the next Ronald Reagan” has left office.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Vote for a candidate who can win and who will appoint justices who won’t damage the Constitution.