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FIRST-PERSON: We’re not as dumb as they think

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–“Religious Right-style ‘values voters'” should not be so quick to crow about having delivered another four years in the White House to George W. Bush.

So said an editorial published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) less than two weeks after one of the most heartily contested presidential elections in history.

Americans United author Rob Boston, through the overwhelming evidence of two polls and the wit of a few columnists — one of them published in that trusted bastion of journalistic integrity, The New York Times — said that when many citizens told pollsters that “moral values” had been a motivating factor in how they cast their votes, those people seldom meant specifically Christian values. Or perhaps they didn’t understand the question.

In other words, the phrase “moral values” was sufficiently vague as to encompass a number of issues unrelated to same-sex marriage and abortion. Never mind that 11 states passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex “marriage,” a process that turned out Christian and social conservatives en masse.

Social and economic justice, greed and war were, according to AU’s Boston, the most pressing concerns for voters who answered the “moral values” question.

So now, just one month after the election, the idea of evangelical voting power is under attack by the media and others out of touch with a large portion of American society; that is, churchgoing America.

The fact that the process of marginalizing evangelical, conservative Christians in America has begun again in earnest is not surprising. You can rest assured that it will continue — proof that the media and self-described “liberal Christians” learned nothing about those who made up the Republican core in 2004.

Regardless of percentages and claims of having in concert seated the most powerful man in the world in his presidential office, evangelicals were energized in this election — a fact that even Americans United recognizes.

The leaders of the Democratic Party are at least making an effort to understand conservative Christians. Democratic strategist James Carville recently said that the Democratic Party had to be “born again” in order to reclaim the White House in four years. By that, he meant that the Democrats had to be comfortable discussing faith and values, and uniting values and their vision for the future of America.

Whether or not the Democrats will suddenly develop values that “Middle America” accepts remains to be seen. And if the party chooses conservative stances on moral and social issues for political gain, conservative, evangelical Christians will see through the ploy and vote against them.

Because I enjoy observing and participating in the political process, I have decided to provide for the leaders of the Democratic Party some assistance. Mind you, I scarce can see myself voting for a Democratic ticket, but in the spirit of fair play, I offer the following insights into how many of us Right-minded simpletons think:

1. We, as evangelical Christians, are not ignorant of the world in which we live. Many of us are versed in foreign policy, economics, ethics and social policy. Faith in Jesus Christ does not lower intelligence, nor does it embitter and turn otherwise gentle people into ravenous bigots. Never confuse our unwillingness to compromise biblical truth with intolerance.

Southern Baptists, for example, have forever been and always will be a “people of the Book.” While we cling to God’s Word as the only true authority for faith and practice, we affirm wholeheartedly the right of every man and woman to pursue his or her religious practices. Deeply held convictions and tolerance of others’ views can coexist.

2. The leaders of the homosexual agenda, which have for years utilized the Democratic Party as a tool for change, cannot manufacture any sociological, philosophical or political “truth” that outweighs the truthfulness of Scripture, which declares that God’s design for marriage is a monogamous, one-flesh relationship between a man and a woman for a lifetime.

3. With freedom comes responsibility to future generations of Americans. I speak here not of fiscal policy. Instead, I reference the clear wish of most Americans to establish moral parameters to ensure the long-term viability of American society.

Children taught by God-fearing parents to respect authority and practice morality as members of a stable, nuclear family are much less likely to become repugnant members of society. Love for God, if properly modeled by parents, breeds responsibility toward others and protects others.

4. Elections cannot be purchased with the capital of fear. The Democratic Party frequently launched attacks against the president that attempted to drum up the ghosts of Jim Crowe and the dark days of the Great Depression.

Conservative black pastors and many elderly voters rejected the overtures. The real issue in the election was not the economy, immigration or either candidates’ service, or lack thereof, in Vietnam. Terrorism and the potential for activist judges to subvert family values played a larger role than Kerry or the Democrats expected.

5. Never assume that Hollywood is capable of making appropriate foreign policy decisions or charting America’s course in social policy. Indeed, it is ironic that the Hollywood elite, with their multi-million-dollar mansions, should lecture Americans and the Bush administration about poverty. When the nation needs the advice of the jet-setters in Hollywood — those more concerned with acceptance and validation than with doing right — middle-class America will let them know they should take the lead.

6. The mainstream news networks are your worst allies. I marveled that NBC’s “Today Show” would provide filmmaker Michael Moore three consecutive guest segments to espouse his anti-war bilge. I marveled that Kitty Kelly was granted the same opportunity to churn the Bush rumor mill. I found it incredible that Dan Rather would endorse as truth documents about the president’s National Guard service that were, at best, questionable sources and, at worst, outright forgeries.

Democratic leaders should encourage the media to be even-handed, responsible and cautious in reporting.

7. Lastly, most Americans have a good grasp of history. Certainly, they may not be able to tell you the names of battles in World War II, Korea or Vietnam, but they know that America has always been the vanguard of democracy and freedom abroad. They recognize that liberty is costly, and that an altruistic desire to see the American people protected and 50 million people freed from tyranny motivated the battles for Afghanistan and Iraq.

If Democrats realize how far they have drifted from the American people, they may stand a chance of regaining prominence on the national political scene. In so doing, however, they must be genuine.

What Carville and other Dems should hope for is not that the party is “born again,” but that born again men and women ascend through its ranks to champion causes because their beliefs are motivated by allegiance to God first and humanity second. With leadership that is at least sensitive to Christian values, the party may recover from its near-lethal election blow. Some conservative Christians, like my parents, may return to the fold. Others, such as I, will likely always be a Republican-at-heart.

Lest anyone misunderstand and hear me say that the Republican Party is the Christian party, I will say forthright that it is not. At the moment, however, it is the party in which most conservative, evangelical Christians such as I find the least conflict with their beliefs drawn from Scripture.

But as a final word of caution, Republicans, too, should learn these lessons. A large number of Christians assisted in voting Republicans into office. If they fail the values test, we might just as easily help in voting them out.
Gregory Tomlin is director of communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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  • Gregory Tomlin