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.
Just one week before Super Tuesday 10,000 Baptist participants will gather for a three day event which will include former Vice President Al Gore, the former Presidents mentioned earlier, and Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Senator Charles Grassley (Iowa). This is a very obvious political ploy to blur the lines of the faith voting block. Organizers of the event have set forth goals to discuss evangelism, fighting poverty, and reforming the criminal justice system and other “social issues.” Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission publicly denounced the meeting’s motives and overtly political agenda.
My greatest concern for theologically conservative Christians is that they do not miss the fact that American will be making major directional choices in 2008 in terms of both politics and faith. The cry for change in the land today is born out of dissatisfaction with the political status quo, yet in some ways the choices that are being presented as change and progressive action are nothing more than “changing the face” of old arguments. In many cases the same old time choices are simply being dressed up in new clothes. We may actually be in danger of going backwards in the name of “progress.”
The evangelical movement was incensed four years ago when the foundational values of the value of life and family were being overtly challenged. We were mobilized by the fear of radical destruction of western society. It is sometimes easier to unify a group on the basis of fear of a visible enemy than it is to create a positive dream. Christians must remember that David’s statement in Ps 11:3 can be directly applied to our culture today. He wrote, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”(KJV).
Although America has never been a perfect union, we are in danger of losing the very foundations of our greatness. In the name of change and progress we may dangerously swallow the poisonous doctrines of self destruction. Conservatives and evangelical Christians must address the challenges of the economy, terrorism, and the war without allowing religious liberty, the value of human life, and the protection of the biblical concepts of family to be thrown under the bus.
More any other time in recent history, the nation needs evangelicals to fight for the soul of the nation. We must fight for the nation in three ways: 1.) on our knees in prayer 2.) developing ministries that solve real social problems 3.) voting against political machines which violate our biblically-based values. I am praying more than ever before for the political process in America and that “Super Tuesday” will be a day in which freedom, faith, and foundations win instead of personalities, platforms, and pretense. How about you?
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.