Three organizations in conjunction with The Family Research Council helped conduct the second annual, values voter conference called “The Washington Briefing” in mid October of this year. The events seems to have heightened the media’s interest in the conservative Christian, while setting the stage for an even greater influence of evangelical Christian voters on the political process. The Washington Briefing was a catalytic event that caused many different political suitors to think that they had a real chance to get a piece of the evangelical voting pie.
Before the event, there had been a general sense of malaise among conservatives. Many conservative incumbents in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are retiring from politics. Behind closed doors many conservative leaders have privately confessed that they do not expect to have a friendly House, Senate, or President after the 2008 election. Enter: The Washington Briefing. An unprecedented group of over 300 media representatives from around the world came to listen, record, film, and report their assessment of the event and the movement’s vitality. The reason the press had such interest in the event was that it was designed to attract the “navy seals” of the Christian right.
The Washington Briefing was set up to accomplish two goals. First, it sought to inform and inspire grass roots leaders on topics, policies, and initiatives of interest to them. The second objective was to give presidential candidates an opportunity to address this influential group of leaders. All the major presidential candidates from both parties were invited. Only Republican candidates showed up.
One of the highlights of the event was the straw poll that was conducted. Candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee were the leaders. After analyzing the results, the conference leadership took an unexpected approach - they called for a national day of prayer on Thanksgiving. This prayer vigil was targeted at reviving a sense of morality and faith in our nation. The leaders of the conference also believed that special prayer would help shift things in the presidential race as well.
After the conference, there were a great number of conservative pundits who claimed that the leadership of the conference and the religious right had some how failed the nation by not anointing a consensus candidate. It was projected by some that the leaders who gathered in Washington had thrown away the hard work of nearly 40 years of political involvement. This assertion was made even though there were five pro-life, pro-family candidates still in the race at that time. In the minds of these pundits the failure to endorse only one person was both unwise and cowardly.
Other pundits from the left had an entirely different take on the lack of a unanimous endorsement from The Washington Briefing. They saw the lack of a clear mandate on who to vote for as a form of political impotence. Therefore, they proclaimed the death of the Christian conservative movement for the thousandth time in the last 30 years or so. In addition hundreds of “insider” pieces have been written in the last few weeks attempting to put a new spin on the question of faith in politics. These articles asked questions like: Who is in the religious right today? Who will be the leaders of the movement for the next decade? What will the role of black and minority Christian leaders be in the post Bush years?
It is sufficient to say that in the six weeks since the values voter summit, the presidential race has in fact changed dramatically. I have observed three overarching changes. First, each endorsement of a presidential candidate by a conservative leader or Christian group has made the news. Second, there has been increased coverage by the media of how each candidate is viewed by the religious community. Third, both parties are presenting their pitch for the conservative Christian vote.
Democratic candidates like Edwards and Obama are also now making their pitch to this community. Although Obama’s appeals to churches have been frequent, Edwards’ attempt to enter this arena may show more than just campaign desperation. He is attempting to widen the “values debate” to include poverty, HIV/ AIDS prevention, and other social issues which are of concern to church goers. This approach is repeatedly attempting to entice doctrinally liberal Christians to give Edwards a shot at their vote. It seems that for the first time in recent history the values voter may help define who gets the Democratic nomination.
On the opposite side of the ballot, most of the Republican candidates have reached out to the conservative faith community. As a result, last week’s Republican debate was filled with questions about faith and public policy. At the same time, anti-Giuliani sentiments seem to be continuing strong among many Christians because of his stance on same-sex marriage and abortion.
Perhaps The Washington Briefing and the Thanksgiving Day Prayer were more important than most people realized originally. History makers, keep the faith!