Will the New Evangelicals Tip Florida?

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Republican primary voter enters a polling station in Columbia, South Carolina, January 21, 2012. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Newt Gingrich won more than 40 percent of the evangelical Christian vote in last week's South Carolina primary, easily besting Rick Santorum, long considered a social conservative favorite, in the early primary where bible-believing Christians hold the most sway.

But with attention now on Florida, evangelicals are still a major constituency. They make up 25 percent of the state. Even as they attempt to appeal to senior citizens and relocated northerners in the Sunshine state, the remaining candidates are working to convince evangelicals they will carry Christian values to the White House. But defining just what those values are is getting more complicated. 

A generation ago an evangelical Christian was – nearly by definition – a conservative Republican, someone who went to the voting booth almost exclusively over abortion or gay rights. But as the evangelical movement matures and diversifies beyond its rural Southern roots, a broader range of issues are motivating how adherents engage in political life, said Marcia Pally, author of The New Evangelicals, Expanding the Vision of the Common Good.  

While abortion and gay rights – described in evangelical terms as sanctity of life and family issues- still hold primary sway for millions, walk into an evangelical church today and you are just as likely meet the group working to green the church building and fund grassroots economic development in Uganda as to find the pro-life committee, Pally said.

“When I was doing my field work I couldn't find a church anywhere that was NOT doing environmental protection, racial reconciliation or an economic justice project,” said Pally, who spent the past seven years visiting everywhere from ex-urban mega churches in California to tiny rural congregations in the deep South.

Evangelicals might still pull the lever for whichever candidate is opposed to abortion, but between elections huge numbers are lobbying those officials to support immigration reform that keeps families together, expand child tax credits, ensure clean air and water and craft economic policies that are fair to church brethren in the third world.

The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 churches and millions of evangelical Christians, has dramatically broadened the range of issues it considers morally important. Its central public policy document, “For the Health of the Nation” includes opposition to abortion and gay marriage, but also serious commitment to ending poverty, protecting the environment and fostering peace. A recent document urges evangelicals to oppose nuclear weapons.

“When you look at those issues as a whole, that's a broad vision for what we think the common good requires,” said Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the association. He pointed out that while exit polling in 2008 found 60 to 70 percent of evangelicals voted Republican, “That means 30 to 40 percent didn't.”

A coalition of evangelical leaders endorsed Rick Santorum, but as his poor showing in evangelical-heavy South Carolina revealed, the 26 percent of Americans, in at least 14 different denominations who identify as evangelical Christians aren't controlled by such conferences of older ministers. Far from being locked into the furthest right of Republican candidates, 32 percent of white evangelical Christians under age 30 voted for Obama in 2008.

The latest Pew Forum on Religious Life, US Religious Landscape Survey found 54 percent of evangelicals agreed with the statement, “Stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost.” Thirty-five percent said they cost too many jobs and hurt the economy. And while 50 percent said the government needs to do more to protect morality, 40 percent said the government is too involved in morality. 

It's a movement that has been percolating through Christian colleges and seminaries for a generation, said Charles Dunn, an historian of American political and religious history and professor at Regent University, the school founded by Pat Robertson. “The thought processes change and these people go into the pulpits and the classrooms,” he said. But the shifting understanding of Christian responsibility in the public realm has brought with it bitter divides. “There are big fights and huge disagreements,” Dunn said.

Those loyal to the traditional evangelical understanding argue the eco-councils and fair trade committees are losing sight of Christianity's true mission, Dunn said.

“You are watering down the faith. That is exactly what they would say. It gets to this matter, what is more important, the regeneration of your soul or the reformation of society? The historical evangelical focuses on the regeneration of the soul, whereas the people interested in the social gospel believe the reformation of society is more important and in fact many believe you can usher in the kingdom of God on earth through the levers of government,” Dunn explained.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty convention is one of those tradition evangelicals, heading the lobbying wing of the staunchly conservative denomination, who would be expected to decry the watering down of evangelical fervor.

Instead, he compared strict immigration laws like the one in Georgia to the Fugitive Slave Act and quoted the biblical admonition to welcome the stranger. “We have the mandate to give a cup of water to someone who is thirsty and you don't need to check their immigration status to do that,” he said.

Evangelicals as a voting force will continue to broaden their concerns, without abandoning abortion, he said. “What they are going to do is try to make the pro-life party more concerned about other issues,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the author's name. We regret the error.


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Comments [5]

Thanks for doing the math for me Evie Marie! I hope it is correct, because I'm going to post it on FB.

Jan. 30 2012 09:14 AM
Dave Francis from Indianapolis, IN

Outside of the radical manipulation of the Liberal press, read THE TRUE FACTUAL daily news columns at “American Patrol” Site.

Britain has finally wizened up to the poorly enforced immigration that has been fermenting for years? Same should by for America, as an the UK, the Immigration Minister Damian Green said, “those wishing to live in Britain will have to show "genuine serious usefulness to British society" and prove they are not totally dependent on benefits.” Dump all the Governors, Judges, Mayors and other elected official that are not pro-sovereignty and support illegal immigration.

Only the American people have the unique power of the vote, to descend on any given political representative and insist they co-sponsor these laws? If you think for one minute that either party without your pressing by voters that politicians are going to support either of these laws without you harassing them; nothing will happen, ever? One thing’s for sure that paying out over $113 billion dollars a year in pandering to 22 million plus illegal aliens is not going away and the cold facts is the dollar amount is not going to fade? The public assistance programs are going to accelerate under this administrations Socialist dependency? It’s just going to grow as well as the overpopulation of this nation. Are we to face shortages of everything in our future? Learn the absolute truths at NumbersUSA. The E-Verify program must be succeeding as 4 Democrats have now co-sponsored this bill and you too should contact your federal or local lawmaker’s at 202-224-3121 and demand it.


Jan. 29 2012 09:34 PM
Dave Francis from Indianapolis, IN

We have already seen the judicial torture that the stand-alone states have taken upon themselves, to fiscally survive under the unwavering costs illegal aliens have taken upon Arizona. Billions of dollars to support foreign nationals in this frontier border state of drug smugglers, people smugglers, kidnapping, home invasion robbery and homicides that are prevailing. But President Obama will do nothing about it; he has removed the small deployment of National Guard troops and even previously, they were only there to observe. No guns allowed? Americans are now barred from even entering certain regions, as drug cartels have forcibly commandeered this side of the border. Why military Special Op’s not gone in and wiped them out?

The Border Patrol has limited resources to curtail this impossible invasion, but our government have unlimited dollars to invest in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even Israel has a better border wall than we have, that could easily separate us from the violence and carnage happening south of the border. But now it’s beginning to spill over, with the prior criminal alien murderers who killed a lone rancher on his own land. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer offered President Obama a tour of the border, but he was not interested. Why was this man reluctant to go and see the daily nightmare scene, with the continence coming and going of different perpetrators and even terrorist groups from the Middle East? Even today the border remains a wide open expanse, with some areas only fenced with a few strands rusty barbed wire.

The Liberals, Unions and even the major churches still think America should absorb every foreign visitor or every illegal migrant, even though these entities would pay nothing towards their monetary support? Under their foolish direction this land could be overrun with even more abject poverty than what we have now. Then again, ObamaCare will treat anybody with the compliments of US taxpayers. We will all be forced by law to pay our fair-share of taxes into his massive healthcare pool in future years. Not only have to accept paying for our own low income, homeless people, but the absconders from other lands? We will become the United Nations of PPO's, HMO’s that will bankrupt this nation? We are already sliding into a giant mire, but we can at least take release some of the intense pressure by the example of Mitt Romney statement; that we can still exercise a citizen’s right in demanding the 'Legal Workforce Act' or Mandatory E-Verify (H.R. 2885).

Jan. 29 2012 08:58 PM
Dave Francis from Indianapolis, IN


It's really loathsome the way Liberal Progressives and the left oriented press twist the facts about the illegal immigration occupation. For every class of person who slips past the border fence illegally or just lies to the immigration and customs agent at airline terminals, fully aware that they are not going home to their foreign home. These are not IMMIGRANTS; these are illegal immigrants or aliens who are disrespectful to America's laws. On entry they are not initially placed in any category, that is until their visa period runs out; they are not here unlawfully. However those who climb fences, or mislead agents with fraudulent documents are illegal. Yet so far the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) have been redundant in not making over-stays or border entry an illegal act--thanks to a Congress that have abused our enforcement laws for years; it is still a simple civil matter.

Entry without permission should be a felony, as it is in Mexico or any other foreign country. So entry is not a criminal conviction, but stealing an innocent victims ID is, so those persons have committed a felony. So how can Obama with presidential discretion release the majority of illegal aliens back into mainstream America? To get work and exist here, they must have a verifiable Social Security number for taxes. Cannot American taxpayers see that we are being played as idiots? It's a felony when you steal somebody’s SSN, gain a job, and build a credit profile in some other individual’s name? There are two ways of collecting on public entitlements and that is through forged or stolen personal identification.

How do you think illegal aliens can acquire welfare entitlements, other than smuggling in a fetus by a pregnant mother and then demanding instant recognition for the baby as a U.S. citizen? Once inside the U.S jurisdiction Americans weighed down with huge debts from wars, the stimulus package and other controversial financial accounting are forced by unfunded court mandates to support the Mother and baby through k-12 education. U.S. citizens or lawful residents cannot escape it? Certain influences within the judiciary said you must give sustenance to every impoverished person, who gains illegal entrance to this country. Americans have no say in their future, as it’s already been ordained by the wealthy elites in both political parties. Both GOP and Dems are equally to blame, for this nation being on the edge of financial ruin. We have only one measure to express ourselves and escape from the greedy hands of those perpetually in power and that is through the TEA PARTY movement. Is Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum true measures of a TEA PARTY advocate? Ron Paul is the nearest we that has been accepted, but all the political obstacles are there to crush this man’s chance of passing the final furlong to the presidency?


Jan. 29 2012 08:57 PM
Eve Marie from Houston, TX

I honestly believe that Santorum and Gingrich are only in the race to pull "anti-Romney votes from Ron Paul. It's impossible for either of them to win. Here's why-

No matter what the media wants you to believe, It’s already a two-man race. Of the 2,286 total Republican delegates, 1,144 are needed to win nomination. In five (5) States: Virginia, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Illinois, Gingrich and Santorum are not even on the ballot. That’s 564 delegates that they cannot get. After South Carolina, only 59 delegates have been allocated to the 4 candidates. Mitt Romney has 39 of those. This means Santorum or Gingrich has to pick up 1,144 delegates from the remaining 1,683. Let’s say that Paul only picks up 20% of the total number of delegates–I happen to believe he will do much better–but let’s pick 20%. That’s 457 delegates for Paul. Add that to the 564 that Newt and Santorum won’t have a shot at and now there are 1,021 delegates that Santorum and Gingrich have no chance of getting. Subtract that 1,021 from the total 2,286 and you’re left with 1,265 delegates. That means that Gingrich and Santorum, one or the other, have to pick up over 90% of the available delegates to get the nomination. So, essentially, we’re down to Paul and Romney. A vote for Gingrich and Santorum is a wasted vote! A vote for Paul is not a wasted vote and may well mean that the next President of the United States will be a man that, for the last 30 years, has never broken a promise, compromised his principles or waffled his position on an issue. A man that still believes that the Constitution of the United States is THE law of the land and that the protection of our individual liberties is the primary reason for the Federal government.

Jan. 29 2012 12:59 AM

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