Needed: Leadership for a nation adrift

Posted: Mar 20, 2006 12:05 AM

Latest polling from the Pew Research Center shows only 1 in 3 approving of the job that President Bush is doing. The Wall Street Journal notes that its poll, showing the president's approval at 37percent, shows the "longest sustained period below 40 percent of any president since (former President Jimmy) Carter."

What particularly caught my attention is the dramatic drop in approval ratings from so-called "values voters" that have provided the president strong and loyal support. Among white Evangelical Christians, approval has dropped from 72 percent in January 2005 to 54 percent today and among those that say they attend church weekly, approval dropped from 60 percent to 42 percent over the same period.

The Family Research Council reports similar sentiments among these "value voters." A just released FRC poll shows continued strong support for issues such as a Federal Marriage Amendment banning same sex marriages (69 percent support) and laws to protect the unborn (73 percent support). However, overall, 63 percent of these voters say they feel that Congress has let them down in carrying forth a pro-family agenda.

In the same sense, many black evangelical leaders feel left in the lurch. The marriage agenda has been a focal point for mobilizing this community over recent years. It certainly influenced the black vote in the 2004 elections.

The percentage of blacks voting for George Bush almost doubled to 13 percent. In the swing state of Ohio, where a marriage initiative was on the state ballot, the black vote for Bush doubled from 8 percent to 16 percent.

Yet after the elections a kind of amnesia seemed to sweep across Washington, with our elected officials having complete memory lapses regarding what motivated many who cast votes for them.

Americans, of course, have a lot on their minds these days. There's concern about protecting ourselves from future terrorist attacks (which so far we have managed to do), about what we're doing in Iraq (which seems less clear as each day passes) and about the economy (which is doing very well).

However, I think more and more Americans feel we are fundamentally adrift and sense an absence of leadership. In the just released Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, only 26 percent say the country is headed in the right direction.

As we spread freedom around the world, I think there is concern, judging from much of what we see going on at home, that we're losing a sense of what the pillars are that hold our own free society together. If we're losing our compass at home, can we really spread the word abroad?

This is a subject blacks know well. It's why the marriage issue struck as responsive chord as it did in this community.

We know from what we have seen in our own communities that when core traditional values collapse, when the integrity of families collapses, when life becomes cheap, when property has no meaning, there is no freedom.

Over recent years, I think the response to an overall erosion of the moral compass of the country has been a growing trend toward religiosity. This trend has been even more pronounced in the black community than in the white community.

According to a report by the Pew Center on religion in American life, the percentage of white Americans identifying themselves as evangelical Protestants increased from 23 percent in 1988 to 28 percent in 2003. However, over this same period, the percentage of blacks identifying themselves as evangelical Protestants increased from 36 percent to 50 percent.

Two clear developments are taking place.

One, blacks are taking the values agenda into their own hands and showing a new leadership important for all Americans. Four powerful conservative black Republicans with excellent prospects will be on ballots in upcoming elections _ Ken Blackwell running for governor in Ohio, Lynn Swann running for governor in Pennsylvania, Michael Steele running for the Senate in Maryland and Keith Butler running for the Senate in Michigan.

Second, white evangelicals and black evangelicals are working together like never before. I see it as the quintessence of Martin Luther King's dream. There is clarity that our traditional values are indeed the pillars of our free society and blacks and whites are sharing common ground fighting for those values.

It seems like common sense that a society where there is no longer clarity on the most basic things like what constitutes a family and what it means to be married is one lost and confused place.

This poses a threat to our country as much as any hostile force from abroad. However, problems cannot be solved without leadership, and I think the absence thereof is what is troubling many Americans.