Two weeks ago, I quietly waited on the set of the Leher News for the satellite broadcast to begin live from Washington, D.C. I wondered how effective I would be at presenting the fact that the conservative Christian movement is growing stronger and deeper than ever before. Suddenly, the lights came on and the action started. My section of the program began with a video clip of Pat Robertson’s endorsement of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Gwen Ifil did a great job of teasing out the nuances of the changing landscape of this unprecedented, presidential campaign. I found out later that some of her sensitivity to the Christian right comes out of her background - she is a pastor’s daughter.
My emphasis in the lengthy segment with Ifil was that the conservative Christian movement’s values will remain constant during this next election cycle. Despite the fact that some factions of the movement have chosen different candidates in this early part of the campaign, there may yet be a congealing of the movement around one candidate.
After the appearance, I considered two advantages that the conservative Christian movement has today that it did not have a few years ago. First, we have more conservative candidates who are pro-family and pro-life from which to choose. These candidates are Huckabee, Hunter, Romney, and Tancredo. Second, Democrats are actually appealing to the religious community for votes. These appeals to Christians are being made because liberals can count - contrary to Ann Coulter’s opinions. Both Republicans and Democrats realize that up to 80 million potential voters claim to be evangelicals. This is the largest block of voters in the nation.
I remember how shocked I was in 2004 when I saw blacks, whites, and Hispanics sitting together, developing specific strategies to protect marriage. The new coalition and friendships that began in that era are still in place, yet today, these committed Christians are like bricks without connection mortar. Essentially the Christian right became united around its fears instead of its dreams.
Unfortunately, the fears that united the group publicly were not strong enough to help them sort out many differences privately. The same groups that blocked Kerry’s election found it impossible to draft a universally agreed upon marriage amendment before their superman (Bush) succumbed to “kryptonite.”
The religious right is still awaiting a new political champion.
To date, none of the current candidates has created a negative rallying cry or a compelling sense of moral or ethical danger. They also have not shared a clear positive view of where the nation can go from here. Christians have been exhorted to vote their values, but no one has presented a convincing dream that has captured the heart of the Bible believing community. This dream must embody their values, but it must be bigger than simply reciting a modern day “apostle’s creed.”
As a local church pastor, I have had to raise millions of dollars for building programs and special initiatives during the last ten years or so. As a result, I have learned two powerful things which parallel the dynamics of politics. First of all, clear dreams and well-articulated visions attract funds and volunteers. These dreams must really touch the hearts of the people served. Second, money given out of fear or as a response to a crisis will eventually dry up. Fear only unites people temporarily.
The conservative Christian movement was not initiated by a denomination or a college of bishops. It was a catalytic movement led by fiery voices that spoke a clear word. Leaders like Rev. Jerry Falwell and D.J. Kennedy did not impose ecclesiastical fiat. People followed them because their words struck deep chords within their listeners.
Surprisingly, many reporters and political pundits of our day have missed the fact that evangelical leadership is not a matter of directing an organization or institution. Prophetic leadership, as I like to call it, makes an impact far beyond its organizational base. They rally people because they hear something with which they resonate.
Where does that leave Christian conservatives?
We are waiting to hear a clear sound.
Like a forty-year old spinster who wants to have children, all we want is the right suitor to come along. In the absence of clear prophetic leadership among the Christian community or a candidate with a compelling national vision, there will not be a congealing of religious voters. Last week, in response to questions from the LA Times, Marvin Olasky (editor in chief of the Christian newsmagazine World) made the following statement:
"Anyone who talks about delivering the evangelical vote might as well apply for a job as a herder of cats."
Let’s hope things change before November 2008!
I’ll be listening for the sound.