I'll never forget the Values Voters Conference held in Washington, DC in 2006. Jerry Falwell made the statement that a Hillary Clinton Presidential candidacy would rally the evangelical troops better than a campaign run by Satan himself. The audience, which consisted only of pastors, erupted in laughter.
The next morning after the statement I appeared on C-Span's The Washington Journal program. I was debating the president of a liberal Christian group. I had to take the time to explain that Falwell's seemingly unchristian comment was a statement made in jest. My opponent stated that this comment by Falwell was typical of the mean spirited nature of the religious right.
As I reflected further upon Falwell's comments, I realized that this master of grassroots mobilization had made a very powerful observation. He recognized that political mobilization requires a clear sense of either danger or opportunity. In mid 2006, conservatives faced an out of control war, growing internal accusations of racism, and insensitivity to the poor. In a turbulent cultural landscape, it seemed as though it would be easier to mobilize against a Clinton presidency than any other. Falwell believed that it would be easier to attack the Clintons, once again, instead of facing a "new Democratic champion."
It has been humorous to hear Rush Limbaugh, also in jest, encouraging his listeners to cross over into Democratic primaries and place a vote for Hillary Clinton. Rush's appeal is tantamount to saying, "Give me an opponent I think I can defeat!"
Only time will tell if the old folk parable, "Be careful what you wish for" will apply to this election. It may be that conservatives have given the nation such a strong negative message about Hillary Clinton that we have created the vacuum into which Barak Obama has emerged.
It says to me that conservatives have been marching around the same mountain too long. How do conservatives re-direct their energy to create a positive message and a clear vision of their values? A clear rallying cry must begin within conservative ranks and then reach beyond its walls. Huckabee and McCain should be using this time to re-tool their messages for their base. Next, that message should be expanded for the general election.
The liberal community has rallied around the fear of 4 more years of a Bush-like administration. Both Clinton and Obama have focused on five voting blocks during the last 18 months. They have created messaging and a rallying cries for each group. The groups are:
1. Evangelical Christians
3. African Americans
4. Economic Conservatives
The easiest groups for the GOP to access will be the economic conservatives, independents, and evangelical Christians. Interestingly, because of the importance of faith to both the Hispanic community and the African American community, a very strong message tailored to these communities may change the course of the national election.
Unfortunately, these communities may be in play politically because of GOP neglect. It is no secret that one of the mainstays of Obama's pivotal South Carolina victory was his success in black churches. Democratic Party operatives no longer see the faith community as the sole territory of the Republican Party. They have been going after Christians of every ethnicity for the last 4 years. If, the GOP does not make its case clearly and cogently to this community it may not keep one of the mainstays of its political power.
Chuck Colson, famed Washington insider-turned-minister, made several powerful declarations in an article released last week in Christianity Today. "Evangelicals find themselves in an unaccustomed role this marathon election season… there's a transition going on within the evangelical ranks…But polls show that evangelicals are as strongly pro-life as ever, and continue to support traditional values," he observed. Colson's overarching point is simply that the evangelical community is ready to be engaged in this election cycle.
If I was advising the elders of the GOP, I would tell them to kiss and make–up with the evangelical Christian movement. I would also tell them to do the research to create a clear GOP manifesto for Christian engagement in politics.
Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council and myself have written a new book that could aid either party in developing a set of policies that would be attractive to most evangelical Christians. The book is entitled Personal Faith, Public Policy - 7 Urgent Issues That We the People of Faith Can Come Together and Solve.
The subtitle gives you the crux of the book. We have explored seven areas that have been contested nationally and have made some policy recommendations that most Christians could support. We asked ourselves the following question, "What are the positions that a bi-partisan group agree upon that embrace evangelical faith as a foundation?" We also asked ourselves, "How can we tear down the race/ ethnicity barrier in Christian voting patterns?" It is obvious that black Christians vote differently than white Christians, but we do not think that it has to be that way.
The recommendations in this book have been thoroughly researched, but it is not a journal for policy wonks. It is readable and engaging, full of stories and enlightening information. If you have ever struggled with answering the question, "How would Jesus Vote?" or you have desired to engage in a practical discussion about how the faith community could end racism or poverty in our nation without compromising conservative principles, this book is a must-read.
Personal Faith, Public Policy is available at Amazon.com and will be released nationally this week.
Bishop Harry Jackson is the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in College Park, Maryland (www.thehopeconnection.org). He is also chairman of High Impact Leadership Coalition (www.himpactus.com), the nonprofit organization which drafted the Black Contract with America on Moral Values.