Is There Still Room for Evangelicals in the GOP Big Tent?

Posted: Oct 09, 2006 10:04 AM
Is There Still Room for Evangelicals in the GOP Big Tent?

Four months ago I was a part of a very high level meeting with the evangelical community’s most influential leaders. We spent an entire day interacting with politicians on the Hill and the current administration’s most trusted advisors. Most of us were shocked that the president had not led the charge to protect marriage more aggressively---after all it was May, 2006. In our view, he had used up a great deal of political capital on social security reform, the unexpected Katrina debacle, the war, and other internal squabbles and fights. Frankly, we wondered if we had been pushed out of the “big tent.” Although our concern was universal, everyone sat quietly, hoping to be proven wrong.

Everything was going fine until one of the speakers said, “The values voters did not make the difference in the 2004 election.” The speaker failed to even thank the folks in the room for their efforts to get out the vote, to get the marriage amendment on the ballots of important swing states, and for their unwavering support of President Bush. I am not sure of the speaker’s true intent. Maybe he meant to say: “the three major issues on the minds of the average voter are: 1) the war in Iraq, 2) gas prices, and 3) the domestic economy.” Such a statement would have been understood by the leaders in the room. By contrast, what we heard in our heads was a condescending voice bellowing, “It’s nice that you supported us, but we could have done it ourselves. We admire your passion, but you don’t know how we play this game in D.C.”

As the chairman of the only black-led organization in the room, I tried to wait for someone else to talk first. When I could stand it no more, I spoke up in my most diplomatic tone of voice. “Sir, I am a part of this group because I grew weary of the Democratic Party taking blacks for granted,” I opined. Further, I explained that democrats treat blacks like we are in some kind of tawdry, adulterous affair with them. They show up at our house at midnight wanting us to meet their basest needs (votes-on-demand), yet they never publicly show us respect, romance, or courtship.

My homespun analogy incited the administration’s representative. He angrily became even more condescending. Later on, one of my colleagues said sympathetically, “He was having a bad day. He didn’t mean what he said.” I, however, left the meeting a little deflated. I had joined the evangelical Christian political movement feeling like Jamal Wallace, the bright African American kid in the movie “Finding Forester.” I left the building that day feeling more like “Forest Gump.”

The recent revelations concerning Congressman Mark Foley underscore the political quagmire in which we find ourselves. Evangelicals must ask themselves if we can work in harmony with a group that takes us for granted and compromises on major moral principles.

There are only three reasons that I can think of for the GOP’s failure to take action in the Foley situation. First, numbed by the hedonistic atmosphere of D.C., they may not have thought his personal excesses were very serious. Perhaps they forgot that pages are just wide-eyed kids filled with aspiration and naivety. Secondly, the GOP’s House leadership may have feared the wrath of the radical gay movement. They probably didn’t want to be labeled “anti-gay” or “bigoted” once again. Therefore, they steered clear of Foley’s follies. Thirdly, the GOP must have coveted Foley’s seat so much that their desire for political ascendance clouded their collective judgment.

If only half of my assumptions are correct, there has got to be a realignment of the evangelical community’s values with the GOP’s practices. Why is this important? It’s very simple. There are 60 million evangelicals in America today. In the 2000 election, 15 million of them voted for the conservative movement. In 2004, 27.1 million of them came out to the polls and made a tremendous difference. In addition, thousands of black evangelical voters crossed party loyalty lines and voted for Republican candidates in 2004.

My hope is that evangelicals will be more valued by the Republican Party than blacks have been by the Democratic Party. Finally, the Republican Party must keep its head in the game! If not, it may create a “values gap” that causes a “Morality-gate.” Additional moral or policy problems may keep evangelicals from showing up at the polls in 2006 and 2008. This is exactly what happened in 1974 when the Watergate scandal chased voters away.