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National Journal recognizes role of values voters, ERLC

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–More than a month after the election, Washington, D.C.-based politicos still are trying to understand the American citizens now christened as “values voters.”

It is worth noting when the National Journal magazine devotes its December 2004 cover story to deciphering the mystery of values voters and who their “advocates” are within the Capital beltway. Magazine staffers interviewed dozens of “evangelicals and religiously inspired voters who helped swing the election to George W. Bush” in an attempt to discover what these voters want in return for their highly sought-after support.

The National Journal featured the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission as one of the “influential and politically astute groups” involved in pushing the conservative Christian agenda in Washington, D.C., a mention ERLC President Richard Land relishes.

Land notes that the magazine is an “insiders’ journal” and is read by staffers in nearly every office in the U.S. capital. When the Southern Baptist Convention’s moral and ethical concerns entity is cited among other like-minded organizations, policy makers will be more likely to take notice of the group’s biblically informed perspective on the issues, Land said.

Now that the election is over, Land is comfortable saying he is glad the president won a second term:

“Bush doesn’t just understand our issues; he shares our worldview,” Land told the magazine.

The president has given social conservatives “unparalleled access” to the White House, the article reports. Land said both White House political guru Karl Rove and White House aide Tim Goeglein have had a real and regular interest in taking his and other evangelical leaders’ pulse of the Christian community.

The magazine reports that Bush benefited from a “surge in grassroots activity [that] was sparked by the convergence of several issues, such as ‘judicial activism’ and gay marriage.” Now is not the time for conservatives to let up, Land said, expressing his hope that in 2005 the president will be more “aggressive” in pushing pro-family legislation, such as the Marriage Protection Amendment.

James Guth, professor of religion and political science at Furman University, described Land, who the magazine noted has known the president since 1988, as having “political sagacity.”

In a related article, the ERLC’s Barrett Duke told the magazine “evangelicals want not just to be heard,” they want their perspectives seriously considered.

“We believe that certain moral values, supported by sound public policy, create more stable societies and communities,” Duke said. The values of voters who supported Bush are not simply private feelings or “faith traditions,” but are proven truths, he said in the interview with the National Journal.

Duke is vice president for public policy for the SBC entity and serves in the commission’s Washington, D.C., office.

These truths, Duke said, are “crucial to self-governance” in a culture where selfishness pulls individuals to focus on themselves instead of the greater good. Duke said conservative Christians don’t want special favors, just a “level playing field” when it comes to offering viewpoints on policy at the federal, state and local level.

It is a matter of parity, Carl Esbeck, a former Bush administration staffer and now a law professor at the University of Missouri, said in the magazine. Conservatives want “their worldview [to] be treated equally with other worldviews and philosophies.”

Duke said Christians are frustrated that in many U.S. courtrooms judges are doing more than interpreting the law; they are establishing law. While many judges may view personal freedom as the highest good, conservative Christians beg to differ, saying personal responsibility must be considered as well, he added.

Evangelicals are “really waking up to the need to be involved in the culture,” Duke said, noting they are “recognizing that part of the way to help address cultural issues is through public policy.”

“My religious convictions inform my moral values,” Land told the magazine, “and I have a right as a citizen to bring my moral values to bear on political matters.” He stressed the fact that conservative, Bible-believing Americans have the same right as all other Americans to encourage the government to support their values. To say otherwise, Land said, is to “express anti-religious bigotry.”

The National Journal article included comments that underscore Land’s assertion that there are some who aren’t particularly welcoming of conservative Christians to the public square.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that while he may “empathize with [conservatives’] desire to protect their community from values and ideas they find anathema … they cannot do it, and they make a great mistake by trying to do it.” Saperstein said he finds common ground with those on the right when it comes to the “promotion of religious and political freedom overseas,” but is at odds with evangelicals when they try to tamper with laws that allow abortion or restrict the display of religious symbols on public property.

Land admitted in the article that at times conservatives must accept compromise in pursuing their goals for society. “There’s been a maturing of the social conservatives” in the last two decades, Land told the magazine. “We understand a lot more about the game. You don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

Evangelicals are no longer shy about expressing their disdain for the state of the culture, particularly for that which comes out of the entertainment industry, Land said.

“Increasingly, American popular culture is a pigsty,” Land said, citing the Fox entertainment network as perhaps the worst example. Conservative Christians are motivated to “win this battle for the soul of the culture,” despite the fact that government rules frustrate their efforts.

According to conservatives, most of the primary threats to the family have their roots in the “sexual revolution,” the article said, referencing “divorce, pornography, out-of-wedlock birth, premarital sex, pornography, abortion, and homosexuality.” While all of these issues “undermine the vital sexual bond between husband and wife and the bond between parent and child,” the article said conservatives view same-sex “marriage” as the “more fundamental threat” because the social acceptance of homosexuality as a normative lifestyle will place all the other threats as part of a “smorgasbord of possible relationships” wherein the institution of marriage “loses its cultural and practical power.”

The magazine quoted Land as saying conservatives are “willing to tolerate consenting adults in private,” but that conservatives refuse to affirm their relationships “as equal to marriage or as a healthy option.” Conservatives will continue to push for a constitutional amendment that codifies the union of one man and one woman as marriage, Land said.

The article was clear that conservative Christians are not fixated on any one issue or any public policy issue, but that they exert the vast majority of their resources on “ministry.” The primary role of these churches is to “bear witness to Christ and his saving grace and power,” said D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries.

Land told the National Journal that his call for a “more assertive foreign policy” that focuses on broad issues such as religious liberty, human rights, sex trafficking and AIDS relief reflects the church’s primary mission.

The article incorrectly stated that the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s entire annual budget is dedicated to “political advocacy efforts.” While the ERLC does maintain an office in Washington, D.C., it is not accurate to describe the D.C. staffers’ efforts simply as “political advocacy,” Land told Baptist Press. The office, which receives only a fraction of the entity’s budget, serves to influence public policy and to keep Southern Baptists and the broader evangelical community informed on pending public policy.

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  • Dwayne Hastings