Has the Influence of Evangelicals Waned? 4 Debaters Respond


Bottom Line Is to Beat Obama
Richard Land is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Even a glance at the Republican field shows evangelicals have not lost influence. All the major candidates for the nomination are pro-life, pro-family, social conservatives. Mitt Romney is controversial to evangelicals for two reasons. First, his Mormon faith gives approximately one-quarter of evangelicals pause about voting for him, particularly in a primary in which they have other pro-life choices. Many of those who would not vote for him in a primary would vote for him in a general election campaign against the adamantly and comprehensively pro-choice President Obama. Second, many evangelicals believe Romney is not Mormon enough when it comes to the pro-life and traditional marriage issues. If Romney had more consistently held the position that Mormonism espouses on the life issue and the marriage issue there would be fewer doubts about him. Nevertheless, many prominent evangelicals are supporting Romney as the best choice for president.
Newt Gingrich’s personal marital history has caused heartburn for many evangelicals. However, forgiveness, redemption, and second and third chances are part of the spiritual genetic code of evangelicals. And when Gingrich says he’s gone to God for forgiveness — and he assures an Iowa group of social conservatives that he will seek to enact all of the important planks of the social conservative agenda including a promise to “uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect to the marital bonds of others” — he goes a long way to applying Rolaids to the worried evangelicals’ heartburn.
The fact that Romney and Gingrich are leading the pack of Republican presidential contenders with a voting bloc dominated by evangelical and Catholic social conservatives shows not the weakening of the movement but rather its diversity and the pragmatism that comes with maturity. These social conservatives are going to coalesce around the person they believe has the best chance of making Obama a one-term president.
Lara M. Brown is an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review and a columnist for Bloomberg View.
David P. Gushee, the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, is the chairman of the board of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

SOURCE: The New York Times