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Missing the Point: 'God Talk' and Politics

  • Mark Earley BreakPoint
  • 2007 6 Aug
Missing the Point: 'God Talk' and Politics

For the past several months, the media have been full of stories about outreach efforts to evangelical voters by candidates from the major political parties. The candidates have had faith forums, websites, as well as simply talking a lot about God.

There’s a place for religion in the public square, and any effort to make that bipartisan is welcome from me. But if Democrats—or Republicans—think that wooing evangelical voters is about “God talk,” they are mistaken. ­

At a recent event sponsored by Sojourners magazine, the Democratic presidential candidates described what the New York Times called their “journeys of faith.” They answered questions about “the biggest sin you’ve ever committed” and how their own faith has sustained them in difficult times. Questions I consider somewhat irrelevant to a political campaign, but clearly aimed at wooing faith voters.

In addition, in a much-commented-upon New York Times interview, Senator Clinton talked about the importance of forgiveness and how her faith was “crucial to the challenges [she] faced.”

Similar things have been said by and written about senators Obama and Edwards, as well as the major Republican candidates.

I appreciate that the candidates are taking a risk when they talk about their faith: As the Times noted, there are “liberals who object to any injection of religion into politics,” and they are part of the Democratic Party’s base. As for Republicans, when they do it, it gives the media a clear shot to label them as right wing extremists.

The problem is that all of this “God talk” misses the point: what Christians want—or should want—is a candidate who shares their moral and cultural concerns, not just their religious vocabulary. A candidate may address a Hispanic audience in Spanish, but that says nothing about where he aligns with them on issues.

An example of this missing the point is a recent story in the Chicago Tribune, whose headline read “Democrats Pledge Support for Wide Access to Abortion.”

The very same candidates who had been appealing to evangelical voters a few days before went before Planned Parenthood and promised to appoint judges that would uphold Roe v. Wade and promised to mandate public financing in their universal health care plans.

It’s difficult to imagine positions more at odds with the motivations of the very evangelical voters they’re trying to court. Protecting the lives of unborn children has been the cornerstone of politically active Christians for the past thirty years.

It’s hard to know which is worse: that candidates think that talking about religion will make evangelical Christians forget why they care about politics—or that they might be right.

Democrats and Republicans are suggesting that Christians set aside their concerns about the sanctity of life and preservation of the family: Indeed, the same period that saw all the stories about Democrats and religion saw stories about a “maturing” of the evangelical vote on the Republican side.

By “maturing,” the commentators meant that Christians are willing to overlook where GOP hopefuls stand on abortion and same-sex marriage.

But if we do that, we will have forgotten why we got involved in the first place. Like the candidates, we’ll be missing the point. As the country song says, “How about a little less talk, and a lot more action?”

Mark Earley, former State Senator (1988-1998) and Attorney General of Virginia (1998-2001), became president of Prison Fellowship on February 1, 2002. As President and CEO of Prison Fellowship USA, Earley oversees the national ministry founded by Charles Colson in 1976, which has since spread to 108 countries in addition to the United States. Prison Fellowship’s core commitments are Fellowshipping with Jesus, Visiting Prisoners, and Welcoming Their Children. Earley is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he received a B.A. in Religion.  He earned a juris doctor degree from Marshall-Wythe School of Law.  He resides in Lansdowne, Virginia, with his wife, the former Cynthia Breithaupt, and their six children.