For some reason, Republicans and Democrats rarely share their faith in common forums. Last fall Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC) joined three other organizations, including my own, to have a two day Washington Briefing Values Voter’s Summit. All of the Republican candidates joined us at the event while unfortunately none of the Democratic candidates showed up. This limited our discussion and political dialogue. In that setting both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton were no shows. I could not help wondering what they were afraid of. Were they really so mistrusting of conservative Christians that they felt they would be mistreated? Perhaps they feel that they can only speak of faith in a guarded, self protected environment. Regardless of how the Democrats lost their laryngitis, they rose to the challenge in the Compassion Forum.
Sunday night McCain lost by default. He could have pointed out his record of being pro-life for 25 years and shared the story of his experience as a prisoner of war. Ironically, McCain’s absence from the Compassion Forum played into the religious strategy of the Democratic Party. The Democrats have been on a four year march to call for a new alignment of politics and faith. I will not attempt to enumerate every step the Democratic Party has taken. I will highlight only one from earlier this year.
It was just this January that Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton cast the vision for the New Baptist Covenant which met in Atlanta. The organization’s first meeting was comprised of 15,000 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 that meeting was to prepare moderate evangelicals to vote for a Democratic led vision of America.
My greatest concern for theologically conservative Christians is that they do not miss the fact that America is poised to make major directional changes in 2008. The cry for change in the land today is born out of dissatisfaction with the political status quo. The faith community is also crying out for a change, but it has an opportunity to lead the way.
Perhaps McCain hoped that Obama and Clinton would turn the forum into a political Donny Brook, saving him the trouble of defeating them in verbal combat. Just the opposite was true. They both appealed marvelously to their bases and did not risk reaching out aggressively. Therefore, the real loser last night was Senator McCain who failed to answer the bell.
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.