The Common Good

What do evangelicals want?

Source: Salon.com
Date: January 23, 2008

In a year in which even "real" polls seem to have gotten it wrong, online polls should probably be taken with an extra grain of salt. Still, a new online poll out from Beliefnet provides some interesting insights into the question posed during a panel discussion at George Washington University today: "What do evangelicals want?"

The answer, it turns out, is a little more complicated than "Not Giuliani."

More than 900 self-proclaimed "evangelical/born-again" voters responded to Beliefnet's online poll. Among them, 55 percent said they had a favorable view of Mike Huckabee, and 49 percent said the same of Barack Obama, meaning that he was viewed nearly as favorably by the poll's respondents as John McCain (53 percent). Only 25 percent of the respondents said they viewed Mitt Romney favorably -- a showing that even Hillary Clinton was able to beat at 27 percent.

On the issues, the poll suggests that traditional hot-button issues for evangelical politics, such as abortion and gay marriage, may be trumped in importance by the economy, cleaning up government, reducing poverty, improving public education and access to healthcare, protecting the environment, ending torture and ending the Iraq war. Only then does ending abortion come onto the radar (even farther down is banning gay marriage). And when asked how to end abortion in America, 69 percent said it should be done "by changing the culture through education and other means," as opposed to only 26 percent who favored limiting abortion rights.

If these don't sound like the views of stereotypical evangelicals, the Rev. Jim Wallis says that's exactly the point. At this afternoon's panel discussion, Wallis, an evangelical Christian who founded the religious social justice group Sojourners, said the media has done "a lot of stereotyping" and has exhibited a "lack of awareness" of the evangelical community.

Maybe we have. When we talk about "evangelical Christians," it's usually as shorthand for the sort of folks who make up Huckabee's base. But as the speakers at today's panel showed, the evangelical community is broader than that; some of today's speakers even implied that their ideal candidate was -- God forbid! -- a Democrat.

Some, but not all. Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior pastor at Maryland's Hope Christian Church, argued in 2004 that African-Americans should vote to reelect George W. Bush. Jackson didn't push for any particular Republican candidate today, but he did challenge the legitimacy of the church Obama attends. Wallis shot back by defending his "friend" of 10 years and what he called his solid Christian values. Wallis denounced attempts to apply a "religious litmus test to politics," asking evangelicals to look at each candidate's moral compass. He then went a step further and gave kudos not just to Obama but also to Clinton and John Edwards for their efforts on healthcare and the elimination of poverty. The Rev. Cheryl Sanders, a professor of Christian ethics at Howard University's School of Divinity said, "I'm not voting for the person I want to be my pastor. I'm voting for some kind of credible vision or strategy." Wallis concluded: "God is not a Democrat or a Republican."