Last week I was privileged to join a discussion about the changing face of faith in America will affect the presidential campaign. C-SPAN carried the discussion which featured a diverse panel of evangelicals who also came from widely divergent theological perspectives. As we interacted, I had a gnawing awareness that the nation is going through a spiritual “primary season” concurrent with the political one. Americans are not only examining their politics, they are examining how their faith will inform their political choices. During the next nine months, there will be numerous discussions and debates about whose faith will take center stage in the America of the future.
Conservative evangelicals are the most numerous segment of the “religious vote.” Historically they have not simply talked about faith - they have voted their faith. In 2004, only George W. Bush was able to claim faith as his foundation and God as His helper. Many folks, including myself who trusted the sincerity of his faith, were able to draw clear lines of delineation between Bush and the other candidates. Smarting from two close defeats in 2000 and 2004, political liberals decided to break the conservative, Christian voting block.
As a result, the 2008 faith and politics nexus will be different. Both Democrats and Republicans candidates are speaking of their faith. People of liberal theological backgrounds are attempting to lift their voices and develop a following as well. It seems to me that instead of substantively changing their political platforms, some politicians want to dethrone theologically conservative Christian leadership who oppose their social agenda. As farfetched as this may sound, it is actually occurring. How is this being fleshed out?
This week a group called the New Baptist Covenant will meet in Atlanta. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton originally gave vision for the event which is being coordinated by the North American Baptist Fellowship. The New Baptist Covenant consists of 30 different Baptist groups representing 20 million Baptists. It is important to note that the 16.3 million member Southern Baptist convention has boycotted the event.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.