Thumbs up to Christianity Today editor David Neff’s analysis of the Religious Right macher meeting that resulted in an apparently meaningless endorsement of Rick Santorum. Excerpt:
The 150 evangelical leaders who met behind closed doors on January 14 to anoint a Republican candidate for President were wise not to have invited me.
I believe that Christians have an urgent duty to engage the social, economic, and moral threats to a healthy society. That requires a wide variety of political action. However, one thing it doesn’t call for is playing kingmaker and powerbroker.
By conspiring to throw their weight behind a single evangelical-friendly candidate, they fed the widespread perception that evangelicalism’s main identifying feature is right-wing political activism focused on abortion and homosexuality. In truth, it is hard to imagine the Religious Left in 2008 doing something similar: holding a conclave to decide whether they would throw their collective weight behind either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, unwilling to leave the Democratic primary results to the voters.
When evangelicals are confined to a partisan kennel, it is easy to think we are exercising real power. In fact we are, to use the old Soviet phrase, serving as “useful idiots.” Christianity Today founder Billy Graham discovered this had happened to him. Out of an abundance of enthusiasm and good will, he tried to aid Richard Nixon in his campaign. Later, when Watergate transcripts revealed the true Nixon, Graham realized he had been used.
We are tempted to think we can be kingmakers and powerbrokers, that we can deliver or withhold the support of a voting bloc. But if there is any lesson in the story of this year’s primary elections, it is this: evangelicals have not voted as a bloc and many are not following their leaders.
True. As I observed yesterday, in the heavily Evangelical state of South Carolina, Rick Santorum’s numbers have declined since the endorsement, as the anti-Romney vote moves toward Newt Gingrich. This is obviously a response to Gingrich’s debate performance, but the point is that it plainly means nothing to South Carolina Evangelical voters that their national leaders anointed Santorum. This will be noticed in Washington.
In the 2010 book “American Grace,” the political scientists Robert Putnam and David E. Campbell reported findings that not only do American Christians not vote the way their religious leaders tell them to, they actually choose their churches based on political orientation. Which is the tail and which is the dog here?