I just returned from Washington and the Family Research Council Values Voter Summit 2008. The difference between this year and last year was startling.
Last year, all of the Republican candidates for the nomination lined up to tell us why they should be the one true choice of values voters. Mitt Romney won the straw poll by a nose but it was clear to everyone present former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee stole the show. Huckabee proved he was more than just a good speechmaker when he won Iowa and went on to win several more southern primaries, staying in the race longer than any other candidate before finally bowing to the inevitable nomination of John McCain. McCain, Thompson, Tancredo, Huckabee, Romney, even Giulianiand all the rest pushed their worldview as the most Christian, the most “value friendly.” Each one was going to change the world by the power of their ideas. They each claimed they held the key to victory over the Democrats because each one carried the mantel of Ronald Reagan.
What a difference a year makes. This year Newt Gingrich, Coach Joe Gibbs, Bill Bennett, Chuck Colson, Gary Bauer, Starr Parker, and Tony Perkins all stressed the power of values over the power of the ballot box. They all agreed that believers have a responsibility to take their values into the public arena by participating in the political process but each speaker, in his or her own way, called for a renewal of Christ-centered values as the foundation of political action.
There is no question the political catch phrase; the buzzword that flies from the mouth of every political commentator or pundit is “change.” Barack Obama emerged from the Democratic primary as the candidate of change when he uttered the now famous but somewhat dubious line, “You are the change you have been waiting for.” His mantra of change filled arenas and fired up the Democratic base. His fiery, yet eloquent, and somehow polished rhetoric drove his multitude of devoted followers into an almost ecstatic state. Change became the word of hope. Hope was inexorably linked to change and for awhile, for a long while, it looked as if change would become the political tsunami the Democrats would ride to crushing victory in November.
Then came the missteps by Obama. The public embarrassment of Jeremiah Wright; the “finally proud of my country” comment by Michelle Obama; the host of shadowy associations from Obama’s past; and his own verbal waterloo, his “clinging to God and guns” comment. Just as in the movie Rocky IV when Rocky finally drew blood from Ivan Drago, the seemingly invincible Russian champion, Obama looked like a prizefighter with the title in his pocket suddenly on the ropes.
Then came Sarah Palin...and the long suffering and up till now silent base of the Republican Party erupted with a new kind of change. Obama chose Biden as his running mate. It was a safe but uninspiring choice that left the media and the Democrat masses subdued. Obama’s soaring speech from pseudo-Mt. Olympus had barely ceased ringing in the ears of the faithful when hurricane Sarah blew in from the frozen north, swept up the Republican base, and the word “change” took on a whole new meaning. Now it appeared the Republican Party was the true party of change while the Democrats looked like the party of the same. Now, change is changing and Barack Obama no longer has exclusive dibs on change. Change is back up for grabs and whichever party changes the most to put their candidate in the best position to embrace real change will change the course of the election.
In the middle of all this meaningless change, Tony Perkins stepped up the podium (which became a pulpit) on Sunday morning and reminded all the “Values Voters” what real change is all about. He opened the Word of God and read just one verse, “From that time, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”’ Perkins then spent the next thirty minutes or so talking about how repentance, the change of the human heart by the power of Christ, is the only change that is real…the only change that lasts. He then reminded all of us that repentance comes when we “humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways.” He told us the story of the man who wanted to catch a mouse but was too cheap to buy cheese. He reasoned that the mouse he was trying to catch was stupid so he cut out a picture of a piece of cheese and put it in the trap. The next morning he hurried to the kitchen to see if the mouse had taken the bait. He found a picture of a mouse where the cheese picture had been.
We were still laughing when Perkins delivered the line of the summit. He said, “pseudo change will always bring about pseudo results” (my paraphrase). It hit everyone like a ton of truth that change is not a political slogan or a phrase to be won as a political prize. It is the power of God.
What a difference a year makes.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.