Joel Rosenberg writes in this NRO article that his company’s polling reveals that John McCain is in serious trouble with Christian voters. Among groups of Christians that George W. Bush won handily in 2004, McCain is currently running far behind both Clinton and Obama.
Some of this boils down to Christian leaders that openly oppose McCain. For example, Rosenberg quotes James Dobson as saying that he opposes McCain because McCain “did not support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, … voted for embryonic stem-cell research to kill nascent human beings, … opposed tax cuts that ended the marriage penalty, … has little regard for freedom of speech, … organized the ‘Gang of 14’ to preserve filibusters, and … has a legendary temper and … often uses foul and obscene language.”
There’s more going on here than Rosenberg suggests. For one thing, Christian support for George W. Bush was high because he was ‘one of them.’ Bush has openly supported many Christian ideals — both conservative and liberal Christian ideals. While he has been strong on abortion issues (the conservative side), he has also been keen on expanding social spending (the liberal side), even including churches in the mix to a certain degree.
Beyond this, it is important to note that Christians do not actually have a strong track record of reliably voting as a bloc. They didn’t prior to Reagan. They didn’t in 1992 or in 1996. To the extent that they have voted as a bloc, it has largely been in response to the culture wars of the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s. Now a new generation of Christians is coming to the fore. They didn’t battle on the front lines of the drug culture, abortion, or homosexual agenda wars. They have grown up with that stuff. It’s old hat.
This new generation is looking at traditional Christian concerns of addressing society’s less fortunate and striving for harmony in equality. That’s why a fiscally liberal/socially conservative Huckabee was popular with Evangelicals. Without a horse in the race at present, this new generation of Christians are more willing to look at alternatives that promise to address age-old Christian social issues.
Rosenberg says that McCain and the GOP need to act fast to regain the Christian vote. He says that the clarion issue that polls well with them is national security, especially if elements of Islamic extremism, alliance with Israel, and family safety are emphasized. Rosenberg suggests that McCain is the only candidate that can authoritatively make this king of appeal.
OK, so McCain’s best chance with Christian voters is to scare them into voting for him? Please pardon me if I suggest that this approach would be something less than strong (or worthy). Rosenberg doesn’t even question why Christians now seem so fickle. If political views among Christians are truly changing, as I suspect, this kind of scare tactic will seem like little more than a cheap sales gimmick.
The GOP alliance with religious conservatives has never been a comfortable fit. The newer generation of Christians does not feel as shackled to the GOP as their forebears. If they begin shifting to the Democrats is sufficient numbers, they are going to demand that their concerns — some of which are morally conservative issues — get some attention by that party. Some on the Left that have been highly critical of the religious Right might be surprised in the near future to find themselves yoked together with them. I imagine that will be a rocky relationship as well.
As Christians look for political answers to moral and spiritual issues, they would do well to remember what Jesus taught about his kingdom not being of this world (John 18:36). While Christians must do what they can to improve matters, politics is a troll’s garden, regardless of party affiliation. Don’t expect to harvest many white lilies from such a profane nursery.
Christians should also remember that in politics, to get anything you want, there must be a lot of compromise. This is often difficult for Christians, because the scriptures call for no compromise when it comes to gospel standards. But we must be realistic about politicians. Don't expect your next president (or governor, or whatever) to be a great Christian leader. Remember that in politics, rather than working with true disciples of Christ, you are usually making friends with mammon.