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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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