It's no wonder that Mitt Romney won plaudits from evangelical bigwigs for his commencement speech at Liberty University on Saturday. It showed he's learned how to talk to them--or at least, learned to listen to the people who know how he's supposed to talk to them.
When he was running for president last time, Romney told the bigs that he was pretty much like them in considering Jesus his Lord and Savior. But if there's anything evangelicals don't like, it's Mormons claiming to be Christians like them. Then he gave a speech declaring that, like a presidential candidate half a century earlier, he did not "define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith." But evangelicals (these days) don't much believe in Kennedyesque separation of faith and public office.
Evangelicals' Lock On The GOP Cracks; Syria Crisis: Army Steps Up Homs Shelling; Diamond Jubilee: Queen Celebrating 60-Year Reign; Evangelicals And The US Election: A View From The Outside; The New Christian Abolition Movement; Voters Willing To See US Attack Iran Over Nuclear Weapons; For Some Black Women, Economy And Willingness To Aid Family Strains Finances; John McCain Slams Mitt Romney's 'Self-Deportation,' Advocates 'Humane Approach' To Immigration.
The need for Red Letter Christians to no longer be labeled "evangelicals" became abundantly clear this past Saturday following the South Carolina Republican Primary. Most Evangelicals claim to be politically non-partisan, and say they only identify with the Republican Party because the Republicans are committed to "family values."
The truthfulness of that claim became questionable this past Saturday when South Carolina Evangelicals voted in surprisingly large numbers for Newt Gingrich, in spite of the fact that he's hardly a model husband in their eyes. Not only is he on his third wife, having had divorce papers served to one of them while she was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a mastectomy for breast cancer, but, if his second wife is to believed, wanted an "open marriage" so that he could have a sexual affair on the side.
Now Mr. Gingrich has been converted to Catholicism, and has, as part of his conversion, confessed his sin and asked for God's forgiveness. Evangelicals will say that this being the case we should forgive, forget and move on "to other concerns." I have to ask, however, why they didn't do this when a Democratic president repented of his sin?
With the Iowa caucus, the "First in the Nation" New Hampshire primary, and South Carolina's primary now behind us, the field of contenders for the Republican nomination continues to shrink. I've watched with great interest as the spectacle rolls on and a parade of non-Romney's (Non-Roms, going forward) rhythmically rise and fall. What is perhaps most interesting about the current frontrunners is the lack of an obvious evangelical candidate. For all the talk that we hear about the importance of the evangelical vote, one would suspect at least one of the potential nominees to be, you know, an evangelical.
But Michele Bachmann is out of the race after a promising start in the Iowa straw poll. Perry, whose entrance into the race as a more "electable" evangelical candidate may have contributed to Bachmann's quick downfall, all but eliminated himself in a number of now infamous debate flops. That leaves one not particularly religious Baptist, two Roman Catholics, and a Mormon. Rick Santorum, a Catholic, is perhaps the most socially conservative and thus the most evangelical-looking of the Non-Roms, but many evangelicals have a deep mistrust of Catholics, so it is doubtful that, as they did in Iowa, evangelicals will support him despite his Catholicism.
So what happened here? Back in 2004, when talking about the evangelical vote was all the rage, one could presume that evangelicals were a unified political front—that denominations or non-denominations within evangelicalism didn't matter, theological differences were moot, and ending abortion was enough to tie them all together. The problem with this presumption is that it was never true. There was never one kind of evangelical. If there was, self-identified evangelicals wouldn't have to add a definition or disclaimer every time they identify as such.
It’s hard to remember the warm-up to the Iraq war now almost 10 years old. Following the devastating experience of 9/11 (Sept. 11, 2001), the United States experienced enormous national feelings of anger and sought a means to identify and punish those who were guilty of this horrendous act of terror. We now know that within days, the White House (in particular, the vice president’s office) was pointing a finger at Iraq and within 12 months, any observer could tell that we were on our way to war.
On March 19, 2003, when the invasion began I remember telling a class of students that they ought to remember this day well. It might be a war the U.S. would regret and it might lead to an involvement in the Middle East we don’t know how to end. Now ten years later we’re still mired over there.
What were the reasons for the war? Let’s make a list:
We’ve been watching the shifting evangelical vote in the primaries thus far, and NPR just took another look at it — from the King Makers on their way to Texas to try and find the Anti-Mitt. It’s not a question of if they can do it, but can they do it in time? S
outh Carolina is quickly approaching and their timetable is getting shorter and shorter.
And if they can, will it even make a difference for today’s evangelical voter?
Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum is a darling of the Christian right, and made a tremendous showing among evangelicals in the Iowa caucuses. But Santorum himself is a Catholic, and while many of his more socially conservative positions have endeared him to the evangelical community, they actually conflict with the teachings of his own church. The theological tensions in Santorum's record pose potential political problems for his candidacy: Can he bring Catholics into his camp despite advocating unorthodox positions? And can he maintain his reputation among conservative Christians as a principled man of religious integrity, despite taking political stances that violate the teachings of his own faith?
Santorum has often defended the role of religion in political affairs, stating that his own faith was a significant factor in his Senate career.
"The social teachings of my faith were a factor in my work as a senator," Santorum wrote in a 2007 opinion piece for the Philadelphia Enquirer, explaining his votes in favor of global AIDS relief as rooted in Christian teachings to "care for the poor."
But on two issues in particular, Santorum has broken with official Catholic doctrine to side with hardline evangelicals against accepted scientific conclusions. On several other matters, Santorum's political positions have sparked ire among Catholics concerned with social justice.
“Evangelical voters” have now been sized and squeezed into a homogeneous political block. These folks have views on the political right wing, trust in robust American military might, believe that wealth is a blessing to be protected by tax policy, want society to be inhospitable toward gays, oppose any form of abortion, feel that “big” government is always malevolent, and assert that American individualism is the divinely sanctioned cornerstone of the Republic. Apply the label “evangelical” to a voter and you can expect these political responses.
The problem is that it’s simply inaccurate. One size doesn’t fit all when in come to evangelicals. It distorts reality. But that’s just too inconvenient for pundits intent on predicting how various blocks will vote.