Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community
We Can't Do It Without You!  
     
Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives | Search
   
 
   Headlines  
 

Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article
 
 
Some Evangelical Christians Reconsider Their Faith in GOP
Published on Monday, November 13, 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Some Evangelical Christians Reconsider Their Faith in GOP
by Matthai Chakko Kuruvila
 

Pastor Steve Madsen urged the 4,000 people worshiping at his Livermore evangelical church on the Sunday before the election to be sure to vote.

Madsen said he didn't push any issues or candidates, just made clear that parishioners should fulfill their moral duty. But exhortations like this have been a boon to Republican candidates and ballot measures, largely because evangelicals support the party's stances against abortion and same-sex marriage.

Evangelicals showed broad support Tuesday for President Bush and candidates aligned with him, bucking the nationwide trend that cost the GOP the House and Senate. But Republican and evangelical leaders said how the GOP reshapes its moral stances may determine the strength of their ties in the future. Two national Republican leaders said this fall that the party needs to soften some of its ideological positions in order to broaden its base.

Some Bay Area evangelical leaders also see the relationship weakening; they said they believe voting based solely on a party affiliation doesn't allow faith to enter into politics -- as it should.

"Jesus wasn't a Republican or a Democrat," said Madsen, speaking in between services Sunday at Cornerstone Fellowship. "I think the church needs to transcend party lines. The church needs to say, 'The Bible is my platform.' "

And worshipers at Cornerstone on Sunday were split over whether their faith required them to vote Republican, although many said they were disappointed by the GOP losses.

As evangelicals in a liberal stronghold, several Bay Area ministers and believers said they are forced to wrestle with opposing beliefs here that evangelicals elsewhere might ignore. Some enjoy the challenge of ministering to the full breadth of the region's residents.

"If I'm just going to act like a hard-nosed Republican, I'm not going to have credibility with a Democrat," said Madsen. "And what the church needs is credibility."

For other evangelicals, living amid the Bay Area's divergent politics means they must rely more on their faith for direction.

"A lot of Christians might try to be more political and change policy," said Mark Cox, an assistant pastor at Bethel Christian Church, an evangelical congregation in San Francisco's Mission District. "We vote and we're concerned about issues. But that's not our emphasis. We try to spread the gospel, and tell people about who Jesus Christ is, to trust in God to change hearts -- and not worry too much about a political agenda."

Evangelicals cut across a variety of Protestant denominations, here and nationally. They believe in a literal reading of the Bible as the word of God, that Jesus is the son of God, and that believing in him and his teachings is the only path to eternal salvation. They actively share their faith with others.

Exit polls in 2004 revealed that 74 percent of white evangelicals voted for Republicans and 25 percent for Democrats. On Tuesday, Republicans received 70 percent of the white evangelical vote and Democrats got 28 percent, only a slight change.

White evangelicals accounted for roughly 24 percent of the electorate, about the same as their proportion of the population.

"A great deal had been written about the discouragement of white evangelicals and how they might not turn out," said John Green, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "This important element of the Republican electoral base held firm. They showed up in large numbers and voted Republican."

It was with other Christians that Democrats made their largest gains. National exit polls showed that Democrats made inroads with weekly churchgoers, cutting the Republican advantage in this group from 18 percentage points in 2004 to 12 points on Tuesday. And Democrats won the Catholic vote, which they did not do in the last congressional election.

In part, this reflected the conservative leanings of some Democratic candidates such as Bob Casey, the Catholic, anti-abortion senator-elect from Pennsylvania. And Ohio's first Democratic governor in 16 years, Ted Strickland, is an ordained United Methodist minister who quoted biblical principles in his ads on Christian radio.

Many evangelicals believe these conservative Democrats' victories will help advance Christian conservative values.

"Social conservatives had a lot better night Tuesday than Republicans," said Richard Land, a top official in the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, whose 16 million members make up the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

The shifting of Christian voters toward the Democratic Party prompted some Republican leaders to question the alignment of evangelicals and Republicans. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Wednesday that the GOP needs to become "a lot more progressive and a lot less ideological."

Bay Area and national evangelical leaders, however, said that by straying from core conservative values, the GOP is in danger of losing their votes -- as well as those of less conservative Christians who already have crossed over to side with Democrats.

"It is true that evangelicals have strongly supported the Republican platform, but I also think they felt somewhat alienated by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress over the past six years," said Galen Call, the senior pastor at Los Gatos Christian Church, which draws 750 people on Sundays.

Like many evangelical leaders, Call said the deepening federal deficit and soaring federal spending are contrary to Christian values. Others also cited the Iraq war.

Call also said the Republican Party runs a risk by assuming that abortion and same-sex marriage are the only issues with which it can appeal to evangelicals. Social justice and caring for the poor are also essential issues for politicians to address, Call and others said.

At Cornerstone in Livermore on Sunday, worshipers said they were disappointed with many elements of Tuesday's election. Many were stung by the defeat of state Proposition 85, which would have required doctors to notify the parents of any girl younger than 18 who sought an abortion.

Oscar Teague said the election of anti-abortion Democrats to Congress meant little because they would still be dwarfed by their party's larger platform.

"I can't vote for someone who associates with that party," said Teague, 33, who drives an hour from Turlock so he can attend services in Livermore with his girlfriend.

Lori Sloan of Livermore said she felt no obligation to vote for one party. She said both Democrats and Republicans represent elements of Christian values.

"Christians have the ability to not align ourselves with any political party," she said. "Christians are given the discernment to decide issues because of their relationship with God."

©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

###

Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article

 
     
 
 

CommonDreams.org is an Internet-based progressive news and grassroots activism organization, founded in 1997.
We are a nonprofit, progressive, independent and nonpartisan organization.

Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives | Search

To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Copyrighted 1997-2011