The election of 2004 taught the Left in America an important lesson. A unified Christian conservative base means big wins for the political Right. To make sure they don't suffer the agony of defeat again the Left launched a campaign to confuse and divide Evangelicals by minimizing the core social issues that have long kept us unified. By elevating environmental issues and overplaying the plight of those who suffer from injustice, Leftist leaders hoped to cause division in the Christian conservative base and thus neutralize one of the largest conservative voting blocks in the country.
We can expect no less from the likes of MoveOn.org or People for the American Way. But we certainly should not be guilty of making it easier for them to reach their goal by doing their work for them. In football, one of the most frustrating events is when your team coughs up the ball at a critical moment giving possession to the other team. The frustration is multiplied if the fumble comes at a critical point in the game where a shift in momentum could lead to the defeat of your team.
Just last week, Dr. James Dobson, in an e-mail sent to supporters was critical of Republican hopeful Fred Thompson. Dr. Dobson is, without a doubt, the most influential leader in America of Christian conservatives. If the Evangelical Right has a quarterback he is the first string. If we have a field general it is Dr. Dobson and Focus on the Family who commands the most forces in the culture war. As the battle for the White House begins to rage in earnest, the last thing we should be guilty of is turning our guns on own leadership or fumbling the ball to the other team. And yet, that is exactly what some in the Evangelical community have foolishly decided to do.
Referring to Thompson Dr. Dobson said, "Isn't Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won't talk at all about what he believes, and can't speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?" Granted this is a pretty critical view of Thompson but it is Dr. Dobson's view and he should be entitled to it without every Evangelical who supports Thompson throwing a hissy fit.
There has been quite a bit of ink spilled in response to Dobson's comments. A good friend of mine who I respect very much wrote an op-ed piece which called his remarks a "cheap shot" and he went on to suggest that his the comments were "less than smart." With all due respect to my friend what is "less than smart" is for the Evangelical community to begin to turn on each other at the precise moment in history when unity is the only thing that will save us from the complete loss of our influence in the political arena. The culture war must be fought in the market place of ideas and the political arena is where we decide whose ideas will ultimately be backed by the force of law. There should be no energy spent venting our in- house disagreements in the public square.
I begged my friend to remove the combative language and simply deal with the points Dr. Dobson made in his email. Fred Thompson's stand on a constitutional amendment for marriage is not where I stand but I could live with his interpretation where I cannot live with either Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton's interpretation. South Carolina, along with 17 other states has passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as possible only between a man and a woman. I strongly believe that marriage is a foundational issue that is crucial to the welfare of our Republic. Just as Abraham Lincoln realized that the Union could not long endure half slave and half free, neither can it long endure with some states upholding marriage and some allowing it to exist in some perverted form.
But for me, the key issue is whether or not the states can be protected from being forced, by the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution to honor homosexual unions from other states. I believe Fred Thompson will definitely support an effort protect conservative states from radical states and I believe he will eventually agree with an amendment to protect marriage nationwide.
The bottom line is I disagree with Dr. Dobson's assessment of Fred Thompson but I will not attack Dobson for expressing his opinion. We must not squander our unity on the altar of our personal preferences for president during the primary. We must leave room for each other's passions knowing that soon we will need to come together if we hope to elect a true conservative as President. So for all who would speak publically about our differences I would join the Apostle Paul to "implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all gentleness, and with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3, NASV).
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.