This year the famed October surprise was that John McCain failed to secure 100% of the evangelical vote. If this community were supporting McCain with the same ardor with which the black community has supported Obama, this election would simply be a repeat of the Kerry/Bush matchup. Although race relations headlined many articles and television specials, faith is where the rubber meets the road in 2008.
This election year has been trying for both the faithful and those who resent the modern role of evangelicals in the marketplace of ideas. The faithful have had consternation over the fact that a huge segment (as much as 25% of the faith community) has been apathetically silent. Studies show that there has not been a major shift of values, as some would love to project. The apathy they show is a signal that people are tired of the little boy who “cried wolf.” They have lost confidence in either party’s commitment to fix the severe moral problems we face.
Many believers have allowed themselves to be seen as just an appendage of the Republican Party, as opposed to impartial guardians of truth and ambassadors of Christ. The perceived hypocrisy of the GOP has lowered the value of the party’s brand nationally. Some of us have tolerated major breaches of character or competence within certain “pet” conservative groups. When glaring inconsistencies appear in the lifestyles of those who purport to be champions of the faith, and evangelicals say nothing about these leaders, it lessens the nation’s respect of the Church. Many in the evangelical movement have been guilty of preferring access over accountability. Because of these trends, evangelicals and social conservatives must become watchmen within party ranks instead of being perceived as hapless followers.
No matter what the outcome of the election this week, there is one constant that remains: the Church must remain engaged in the political process, not as a partisan player, but a voice of sobriety - a conscience to the nation. To operate in that role, we must remain faithful to the principles of the Scriptures and the character of Jesus Christ.
Some Americans paint us as passé moralists who are out of touch with the modern world. Therefore, we must help our nonreligious neighbors understand our desire to serve the nation and keep it from self-destruction. Our message will be received as we live with integrity of lifestyle, clarity of thought, and a sense of mission that restores our local, personal credibility.
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.