Monday, March 19, 2007

Angst and Anger as Evangelical Republicans Worry about an 08 Candidate

Perhaps you have never heard of the really hush hush private Council for National Policy. It has a bland enough name. Actually what this club is, is a strategy group of a few hundred members including James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and other Evangelical Republicans, as well as others with conservative leanings in politics. You can read about their meeting a month ago in Florida here--

There seems to be a lot of dismay amongst this group that they have found no obvious champion for their causes in the extant Republican candidates for the 08 general election. John McCain has been ruled out because he once called some of these Evangelical leaders "agents of intolerance". Rudolph Guliani has been ruled out because of his stance on marriage, gay rights, and abortion (not to mention his own marriage history). Mitt Romney causes worries because of his former views on stem cell research, abortion, and gay rights though he has worked to allay fears on those fronts. But his Mormonism itself causes even more angst for some. Lesser known candidates invited to the meeting were, well, lesser known, and not electable or delectable, so there is great concern on this conservative front. While this group was regularly courted and consulted by the Bush regime, the group now may be marginalized in the run up to the election since they have found no stalking horse for their causes.

A little history about this group is in order. It was founded by Timothy LaHaye (yes, the author of the Left Behind series!) 25 years ago to help conservative Christians gain more political clout and strategize. It has been influential in Republican politics out of all proportion to its size. In recent years it has reached out to and included other sorts of conservatives such as Wayne Lapierre the head of the N.R.A. I suppose this was a connection bound to happen since Moses himself (aka Charleton Heston) was long the poster boy for the N.R.A.

Of course the problem for this group is they are fighting on too many fronts, and they can't find a candidate that lines up with them on all their hot button issues. For example, many in this group are opposed to Bush's guest work program approach to illegal aliens, an approach adopted by various Republican presidential hopefuls. And not surprisingly, with folks like LaHaye and Falwell involved in this group there is a lot of focus on Islamic terrorism, even while in the general American public the enthusiasm for the war in Iraq continues to decline. It appears that conservative Evangelicals such as these will be the last to abandon that effort. But this in turn makes whatever candidate they endorse less electable if he comes out with a pro-war position.

However, as politics like religion continue to make strange bedfellows there is no telling what may be next for this group of planners. One of those interviewed for the article discussed the concept of -- "second virginity". That is, a candidate, if he would pledge not to raise taxes any more, or not to support a guest worker program any more, or not to inhibit the pro-business lobby any more, or to do an about face and support a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage, could regain favor with this group. The group likes Governor Huckabee from Arkansas, a former Southern Baptist minister, but he will have to reassure them about the recent tax referendums in his state, and in any case, he appears to be unelectable at this juncture. The situation has been compared to when Dole and Clinton were the candidates running, and many conservatives voted for third party candidates or no one at all. Whatever happens, at this juncture, this group seems to be on the downward slope of being influential within the Republican party insofar as the next Presidential candidate is concerned. But time will tell.


John said...

Hi Ben,

I am saddened that too often this group of evangelicals gets the most public face time. I am regularly associated with them and their political beliefs when talking with those outside the church, and I find myself having to clarify that not all christians think the way they do. I think their frustration with the candidate choices for '08 signifies, as you said, their increasing marginalization--they just don't carry as much political clout anymore. Fresh winds of political change are brewing in the evangelical camp!

At some point I would like to hear your opinion on how a Christian should interface with politics. Just generally speaking how involved should a Christian be in the political process beyond just voting. I found some of Greg Boyd's reasoning about this compelling (see Woodland Hills page). He basically argues about the inherent ambiguity of political issues and therefore the danger in labelling one political position as the 'one' christian position. Some have labeled his position a revisiting of pietistic withdrawal--and it might seem that way in contrast to the aforementioned groups political engagement. But I wonder if there isn't some middle ground between simply withdrawing from the process or choosing to focus all your efforts toward political change.

How much should we look to and lobby for the governement to change the world (and bring the kingdom) by helping the poor, bringing peace, etc., and how much should we seek to do that on local grass-roots levels from within the church?

Any thoughts?

Paul said...

This whole collection of "hot button issues" has always mystified me. There's a preoccupation with stuff involving sex and reproduction and a love of firearms.

The world faces so many problems. Plenty of them could be correlated with lines of scripture. I've never really understood why "conservatives" focus on their partcular set of issues. Why not be concerned about conserving the environment, conserving people's good health, conserving some modest relative degree of prosperity for the poor as the gulf separating rich and poor gets wider and wider around the world?

I don't get it.

Alex said...

For those interested, check out Jim Wallis' blog which specifically speaks to your comment, Paul. He has already debated Ralph Reed on what the great moral issues of our time should be, and now he has challenged James Dobson.

Alex said...

Okiepug, your comment frustrates me, but in the spirit of iron sharpening iron, I strongly recommend you read two books in order to be fair and balanced with your strong opinions. The first is "Amazing Grace" by Jonathan Kozol. The second is "The End of Poverty' by Jeffrey Sachs. Fantastic books, and I'd love to hear your recommendations from the other side. Thanks!

Derek said...

Right now I'm living in Austria. Austria has a very functional and efficient socialist system of health care, unemployment, public trans., etc. The taxes are very high, but no one I know here would say they are being "forced" to help other people. Instead, everyone I know simply shrugs their shoulders and says that's what it takes to help other people on a national scale. The system is set up in such a way that it enables people to work harder and better, and not be hindranced by their lack of car, ability to go to the doctor, money to feed their kids, etc. If you take the position that more extensive health care would be someone "forcing" you to help motivate the poor or sick, why are you not angered that you're also forced to helped someone drive to work (via tax-funded highways and byways)?

The gospel does not advocate a notion of "our people" versus "their people." Rather, its interest is in people in general. If I am moved to help an orphaned baby, why am I automatically suspect if I help an orphan from another country? Neither has the United States ever in its history taken an "our people" approach, at least when it comes to immigration. Doesn't the Statue of Liberty read "give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breath free..." Before we adopt an "our people" approach, we should consider taking down that statue.

Another helpful book is The Politics of Jesus by Stanley Hauerwas.

Ben Witherington said...

I would take the discussion of Christian involvement in politics as one form of the larger discussion of Christian involvement in secular culture. Traditionally there have been 3-4 approaches to this under the headings: 1) Christ beside and largely separate from culture (the Amish approach); 2) Christ against culture (the counter cultural approach); 3) Christ transforms culture.

It seems to me that one can make a case for 2) or 3) rather more easily than you can for 1) on the basis of the Bible. The question then becomes at what level does one engage with society in general. If you are a person who takes an all or nothing approach to social policy or politics, then of course you are going to be far more comfortable with approach 1). If however you believe that at least incrementally positive change can be achieved through the process of debate, dialogue, compromise and conclusion leading to legislation or public policy then you will probably take approach 2) or 3) as a means to the ends.

The problem however at this stage of American politics is that it has been hijacked by the rich and powerful, the lobbyists and the major industries they work for, and even to be a candidate for a high office such as President requires either you or someone you depend on to be rich. Far too few people have far too much control of the process of national elections, and the end result is the sort of cynicism we have where barely half the electorate even votes in a normal national election.

I have no problems with Christians airing their views in public and in political processes--- this is supposed to be a democracy, and the original idea of separation of church and state was not meant to protect the state from the church, but rather vice versa.

In my experience however, much more tends to be accomplished by direct action. For example, all the churches going and helping rebuild the Gulf Coast has been a good thing, all the while waiting for FEMA to get its act together. Of course we could have rebuilt the whole Gulf Coast by taking only one weeks worth of what we are spending in Iraq and reallocating it to something more productive!


Matt said...

'the politics of jesus' is actually by john howard yoder, not stanley hauerwas.

just a clarification.

also, the documentary 'jesus camp' is fascinating viewing for anyone, christian or otherwise, interested in the intersection between evangelicalism and politics in this country.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

What really scares them I think is that someone 'like' Guliani could get through the primaries and then put that group in a tight spot. Yes I'd like to see Guliani a bit more to the right, but the GOP really needs some fresh blood and a new look, especially considering the stomping they took in 06 and are likely to take in 08. If we try to find the perfect canidate we'll just frustrate ourselves, and personally the thought of President Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama really scares me. Do we take half a loaf or none?

Alex said...

Vegas Art Guy,

For why I refuse to vote for a half-loaf, see my post at


The Vegas Art Guy said...

Alex I will do that, thanks for the link. What I meant by that is if in November and you can choose between Hillary and Rudy which way are you going to go? Half a loaf on the right or crumbs on the left? Obviously we're a long way from 11/2008 so who knows who's going to get nominated by both parties between now and then.

Dave said...

"The Group" will soon be salivating at the prospect of Fred Thompson running I would think. He has indicated he's mulling it over. I think he will run...he would quickly become the front runner after he announces. Just my 2 cents.

Bill said...

The separation of church and state is not for the benefit of the state. Greg Boyd doesn't say that you should not participate in politics, he says that you should recognize that the Kingdom is not of this earth. Our, or any, political system is an imperfect way of trying to regulate the human condition in a fallen world. It's not necessarily 'good' or 'bad' - but it is certainly imperfect. To equate any political position, party or candidate with Christianity is to characterize Christianity with the imperfections of that position, party or candidate.

Another thing that Greg Boyd points out is that we are not advised by Jesus that we can 'delegate' our responsibility to take care of each other to the government or "charities". We are just supposed to share our stuff with other people. It's supposed to be an act of love, and I also agree that we should not be forced to do so. If the Spirit leads you to not share with lazy, over-fertile, alien hypochondriacs, you should pray to be shown someone more deserving.