Whether by design or default, the evangelical vote will settle the question of who will be president. It is hard to say how the staunchest evangelicals will vote in this election season. They are looking for more than campaign speeches and slick affirmations of personal piety. Evangelicals, like many other groups in the country today, want to see substantive change in politics and real answers to our nation’s pressing problems of economics, security, and religious liberty.
Many analysts believe that it was concern about the unpredictable nature of this vote that led former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to cast the vision for the New Baptist Covenant which met in Atlanta last week. Comprised of 10,000 attendees representing over 20 million members, the 30-organization coalition actually eclipses the size of the Southern Baptist Convention by nearly 4 million members. One of the obvious goals of this meeting was to prepare moderate evangelicals to vote for a Democratically-led vision of America. It is sufficient to say that the religious wars have begun.
Clinton and Carter are aware that in four short years evangelicals have forgotten neither their Bible verses nor their values. Evangelicals have not lost their faith. They have simply lost their confidence in either party to truly speak for them. In 2004 the majority of evangelicals, including minorities, united and demonstrated their faith by electing George W. Bush. The non-institutional, grassroots movement has not lost the memory of their power at the ballot box. The former presidents understand that the faith community is asking itself a fundamental question, “Who do we have faith in?”
Four years before, liberals began to call for a new alignment of politics and race. Black and white preachers mobilized their congregations around biblical concepts in a war for the American culture. In 2004, a 21st century group of freedom riders defied stereotypes and voted their consciences. In the general election of 2008, I predict that these courageous people of faith will regain their bearings and make an unprecedented impact on the election. Please remember that major black conservative “cross over” votes came during George Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign. Similarly, 40% of Hispanic voters (mostly church goers) also defied stereotypes in 2004 by voting in record numbers for George Bush. In essence, George Bush was seen as the “faith” candidate of his day.
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.