The political buzz this week has focused on Mitt Romney’s victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, following his incredibly close win in last week’s Iowa caucuses. Romney is the first non-incumbent Republican candidate in modern history to win both Iowa and New Hampshire’s nominating contests, fueling widespread speculation that the GOP nomination is solidly within his grasp.
Evangelical voters, an oft-discussed constituency in the Iowa caucuses (who went largely for Rick Santorum last week), are also part of the mix in the New Hampshire primary. The overall New Hampshire voter base tends to be more moderate than in Iowa and Santorum fared significantly worse in New Hampshire, garnering just over 9% of the vote. Romney handily won in New Hampshire and even did well among evangelical voters, who have been perceived as less supportive of his candidacy either for theological or ideological reasons. (Romney’s performance among evangelical voters in New Hampshire was comparable to Santorum’s performance among evangelicals in Iowa.)
Santorum’s religious rhetoric is just as important in cultivating his evangelical appeal, and that is something new for Catholic politicians.
He has “an evangelical style,” [Deal] Hudson notes, which can be seen in his references to home-schooling his children, his support for teaching creationism in public schools, and his regular testimony about his personal relationship with Jesus. (Santorum adds that the U.S. needs to have “a Jesus candidate.”)
Santorum seems like an appealing choice to socially and theologically conservative evangelical voters who find Romney unpalatable. According to Elizabeth Dias at TIME and other reports, some evangelicals are rallying this weekend to try to come to a consensus about which candidate to back in an attempt to unseat Romney as the GOP front-runner, and Santorum is their most likely pick.
Because evangelicals made up only one-quarter of the primary voters in New Hampshire, their influence is smaller than in Iowa or in this Saturday’s primary in South Carolina. Still, if Romney had done as poorly with evangelicals as he did in Iowa, his margin of victory could have slipped into the single digits. This weekend, a strong showing among evangelicals could mean the difference between a win or a loss in South Carolina.
Romney is polling better in South Carolina than he ever has before, and having the endorsement of popular Tea Party governor Nikki Haley can’t hurt. The newest TIME/CNN/ORC poll has Romney leading but shows a significant surge from Santorum. If Romney wins by a significant margin, it seems very unlikely any other Republican candidates can continue to challenge him for the nomination. If Santorum manages to pull off an upset though, it could keep things interesting in the ongoing GOP primary fight. We’ll be watching!
According to the New Bottom Line blog, Rev. Ryan Bell, pastor at West Hollywood Adventist Church and a leader in PICO National Network, appeared on the radio program Interfaith Voices to talk about the movement to divest from Bank of America, which his church is involved in. (Rev. Bell’s church moved their annual $500,000 operating budget out of Bank of America after banking with them for over 40 years.)
Rev. Bell talks eloquently about the Scriptural basis for his support for the “Move your Money” effort, likening America’s bailed-out big banks to the unmerciful servant in the Book of Matthew who refuses to forgive a small debt that is owed him even after his master forgives the servant’s own large debt.
He goes into detail about the movement that’s pulled millions of dollars out of Bank of America and explains why faith leaders need to speak out with moral authority on this important issue. As too many Americans struggle with underwater mortgages and illegal foreclosures, Rev. Bell and leaders like him are issuing a nationwide clarion call to divest from these sinful banks and stand strong in opposition to their predatory practices.
A powerful piece in the Los Angeles Times last week tells the story of Riverside Heights Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Alabama, that welcomed Hispanic immigrants into their church, only to see their ministry jeopardized and their members leave town when the state passed a harsh anti-immigrant law
An accompanying video features the church’s Deacon Steven Schmitt, who summed up the issue with humanity and thoughtfulness:
“I don’t think that anybody who just wants to come to the United States should be given a free pass and a free opportunity. At the same time though, we need to deal humanely and compassionately with people who are here and want to stay.
If you hate them, if you have dislike for them, have you walked in their shoes? If you have, are they that much different than yours? For family, peace, and a way of life that’s conducive to bettering yourself and your children.”
The story and the video provide a moving example of churches living out their faith by welcoming and ministering to their community. Check them out here.
Marcia Pally, author of The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good, had a refreshing column in USA Today last week, with a clarion call for a different kind of rhetoric and approach to the issue of abortion. Instead of hunkering down in the culture war trenches, she makes a compelling case for the “nuanced ideas” evangelicals have been developing to find common ground approaches to the abortion debate.
Here’s the heart of her principled and pragmatic argument:
Because 73% of U.S. abortions are economically motivated (according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit that researches reproductive issues), abortion would drop significantly if medical, financial and emotional support were provided during pregnancy along with day care post-partum services. It would drop further if we re-thought our adoption policies and dealt with the values taught to our kids about the worth of others and of intimate relationships, and — especially for boys — about using others for one’s own pleasure.
Moreover, there’s no reason why evangelicals should not join with other faith groups, secular organizations and feminists in developing such programs.
In addition to supporting (economically, socially, and otherwise) women who become pregnant, we can also work together even amidst difference on the legality or morality of abortion to ensure that women and families have access to the health care and contraception they need.
In a November 2011 New York Times column, Nick Kristof called attention to one such effort, calling a statement in support of family planning organized by The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good a “ray of hope.” The draft statement says: “Family planning is morally laudable in Christian terms because of its contribution to family well-being, women’s health, and the prevention of abortion.”
Pally points out that the Republican Party’s stance on abortion has cemented the bond between the GOP and evangelical voters. But with evangelicals’ new approach to reducing the need for abortion and supporting women, that glue might start to come un-stuck:
As Richard Land, president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “If that issue (abortion) were taken off the table, then other issues get oxygen, issues where evangelicals are not nearly as certain that Republicans offer the best answer. Issues like economic justice, racial reconciliation, the environment.”
From my experience working with evangelical Christians across the country, there’s definitely truth to this: people of all religious and political stripes are anxious for a new approach to the issue of abortion and know that battles over legality don’t get at the root cause of why women decide to have abortions. And evangelicals, especially the younger generation, care deeply about America’s role in the world, global and domestic hunger and poverty, protecting the environment, economic opportunity, and a host of other issues.
Abortion is an incredibly important moral issue, but it’s not the only issue that matters to voters of faith. Increasingly, paying lip service to the pro-life cause without actively working to create solutions and alternatives won’t be enough for politicians to maintain their grasp on evangelical voters.
Joshua Brown at the blog The Reformed Broker recently posted an open letter to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorganChase, which is well worth a read. Dimon, whose annual compensation is over $20,000,000, recently dismissed the concerns of the 99% and defended his super-elite income bracket, saying:
“Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it… Sometimes there’s a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole.”
In his response, Brown takes Dimon to task for fundamentally misunderstanding the nation’s concern about economic inequality. Brown, after laying out the case for America’s obsession with the wealthy, goes on to say:
No, Jamie, it is not that Americans hate successful people or the wealthy. In fact, it is just the opposite. We love the success stories in our midst and it is a distinctly American trait to believe that we can all follow in the footsteps of the elite, even though so few of us ever actually do.
So, no, we don’t hate the rich. What we hate are the predators.
What we hate are the people who we view as having found their success as a consequence of the damage their activities have done to our country. What we hate are those who take and give nothing back in the form of innovation, convenience, entertainment or scientific progress. We hate those who’ve exploited political relationships and stupidity to rake in even more of the nation’s wealth while simultaneously driving the potential for success further away from the grasp of everyone else.
Brown hammers home the point that universally all Americans agree with: everyone who works hard ought to be rewarded for their industry… but you shouldn’t earn millions of dollars by exploiting the rest of the country or breaking the law. This is, apparently, a lesson Dimon still needs to learn.