WASHINGTON – A pair of prominent evangelicals met at D.C.'s National Press Club Wednesday night and examined the part religion will play in next year's presidential election.
On the one hand was Dr. Richard Land, a proponent of traditional family values and president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. On the other was the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor and founder of Sojourners, a magazine that promotes Christian progressivism and social justice. Their talk highlighted the consensus among Christians about 2012's elections, while also showing how much remains contentious.
The duo began their discussion with the economy, an issue hitting both evangelical and secular pocketbooks across America. Both agreed it was an issue of major concern during the election, but each concluded the ongoing recession was related to different causes.
"This economy is unfair and inequality is more common than ever before," Wallis said. "Reckless, greedy, selfish behavior sparked this economic crisis. If you're worried about the concentration of power in Washington, you should be worried about the concentration of power in Wall Street."
"Countries that adopt capitalism produce wealth," Land responded. "When you obsess about redistribution of wealth rather than creation of it, all that's left is an equality of misery."
From there, accountability was a recurring theme for the evening. Talk soon turned to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and whether or not he was required to publicly explain his Mormon faith.
"If a candidate feels religion is something voters should know about him, he should be able to tell them," Land said. "It is inappropriate, and I believe un-American, to ask candidates to defend tenets of their religion in an American political election."
Wallis stated, "I know young evangelicals who won't vote for Romney not because he's a Mormon, but because he's a Wall Street candidate. We should focus on politicians' moral compasses and how it guides their policies. Romney's religion should not be a topic of discussion but it will be."
Talk next turned to the Tea Party movement and its focus on American fiscal policy. The two agreed that the grassroots effort was an important one, but differed on its origins and goals.
"The Tea Party is overwhelmingly conservative," Land argued. "I would see them as a previously inactive element of conservative voters. Its libertarian wing is very small."
"Extreme libertarian politics may be the least Christian option out there," Wallis said, citing some Tea Partiers' interest in Ayn Rand. "We are our brothers' keepers. Deficits are a moral issue and so is the way in which you reduce them."
The discussion closed with discourse on Herman Cain, another Republican presidential candidate. Cain is currently making headlines for allegations he sexually harassed employees as the National Restaurant Association's CEO in the 1990s. Wallis and Land each concluded that potential politicians like Cain should have strong moral backgrounds open for voter scrutiny.
"I'm amazed at the amateurish way Herman Cain has handled the sexual harassment issue," Land said. "He is going to have to deal with this and be completely transparent. When you're the traditional values folks you're judged by that standard."
Wallis meanwhile stressed that personal behavior and integrity in marriage and parenthood are important in politics.
"This could be the ugliest campaign in a long time. We have to model a civil discourse," he said.
Land described his talk with Wallis as a perfect example of such polite discussion about America's future. Though the two may disagree at times, he said, they shared the belief that God is important in making America great again.
"I'm an American exceptionalist," Land said. "Both parties are stuck in a broken political system that is often hyper-partisan. To whom much is given much is expected. The yearning for freedom and governments accountable to their people is a universal desire."