Ministering to the Undocumented

January 6, 2012, 12:36 pm | Posted by

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.

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Breaking down Santorum’s Iowa Caucus Performance

January 5, 2012, 1:22 pm | Posted by

Rick Santorum’s virtual tie for first place in the Iowa caucuses has generated a great deal of commentary about the importance of his support from social conservatives. Let’s take a quick look at the entrance polling for a fuller picture of what happened.

Evangelical/born-again Christians comprised 57% of caucus-goers, and Santorum received a large plurality of support from them – garnering 38% 32% of the vote, as much as Ron Paul (18%) and Mitt Romney (14%) combined. By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, more than almost 1-in-5 participants in the caucus were evangelical Santorum supporters.

Issue-wise, Santorum won a whopping 58% of voters who listed abortion as the most important issue. Perry came in second among this group, earning the support of just 11%. Among caucus-goers who listed the economy as the top issue, Santorum got 19% of the vote, compared to Romney’s 33% and Ron Paul’s 20%. Santorum came in third among voters who said the budget deficit was most important, earning 19% of votes, compared to Ron Paul’s 28% and Romney’s 21%.

Ideologically, Santorum did best among the most conservative voters. He won a plurality of Tea Party supporters by a 10-point margin, a plurality of self-identified “very conservative” voters by a 20-point margin, and edged out Romney among registered Republicans. He did poorly among moderates (8%, compared to Romney’s 40%), opponents of the Tea Party (13%, compared to Romney’s 43% and Ron Paul’s 21%), and independents (13%, compared to Ron Paul’s 43% and Romney’s 19%).

Age-wise, his strongest support was among 30-44-year-olds and 45-64-year-olds, both of which he won. He came in second among 17-29-year-olds (23%), but because of their low overall turnout and Ron Paul’s dominance among these young voters (48%), just 3.45% of all caucus participants were under-30 Santorum supporters.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find crosstabs that would paint a clearer picture. But the story told by the data we do have is clear – Santorum was not only social conservatives’ favorite, he also won the overall race to the right. And he did very poorly among everyone else.

Photo credit: djwhelan/Flickr

UPDATE: Corrected Santorum’s percentage of the evangelical vote.

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Putting the Christ back in the Caucuses: Religion in the 2012 Election Update

December 26, 2011, 3:04 pm | Posted by

In a little over a week, Republicans in Iowa will caucus in support of their favorite candidate for 2012. Given the number of candidates in the race and the length of this campaign, we thought it’d be helpful to take note of a few recent developments with the various  campaigns.

In what initially was billed a major coup, Rick Santorum received the endorsement of conservative evangelical leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley. You might remember Vander Plaats from the controversial pledge his organization asked candidates to sign that was filled with extreme positions including the outrageous assertion that African-American children were better off under slavery. Vander Plaats is again at the center of controversy, as questions arise about whether he actually sold the endorsement to Santorum and urged other candidates to drop out of the race.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is also making a play for the Religious Right vote in Iowa, releasing an ad attacking President Obama’s faith and absurdly claiming the President is waging a war on religion.

Meanwhile, the rise of both Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul in the polls has led to increased media scrutiny for both men. Reuters broke the news that Paul sent out a direct mail solicitation asking for money to help prepare for a “coming race war” and expose the federal government’s “cover-up on AIDS.”

And Gingrich is receiving more media attention of his tumultuous personal and political past, stirring skepticism among conservative evangelicals about his commitment to their issues (though Ralph Reed, noted Religious Right politico has said that “these voters believe in forgiveness, they believe in redemption” as explanation for their potential support for Gingrich). The irony of this is that Gingrich is being lambasted for refusing to formally sign the – now revised – Vander Plaats pledge.

The takeaway (and something reporters have noted) is that evangelical voters have yet to coalesce behind a candidate, making what happens on January 3 still very unpredictable.  And as Marcia Pally noted in USA Today earlier this week,  “While evangelical opposition to abortion is firm, the evangelical vote is not fixed.”  In the 2008 presidential election, the movement of evangelicals (especially younger evangelicals) towards more moderate or progressive stances or candidates was noteworthy.

At a time when the GOP candidates are more out-of-step with Americans’ (and evangelicals’) views on economic inequality, immigration, and other issues than ever before, their jockeying in Iowa and extreme rhetoric may be moving the field even further away from evangelical voters at large.

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Poll of the Week: Iowa GOP Voters Prioritize Economic over Social Issues

December 14, 2011, 4:35 pm | Posted by

A CBS News poll out last week garnered lots of attention for showing that Newt Gingrich led Mitt Romney by 14 points among likely Iowa caucus-goers, but the most interesting news from the survey is the finding that Iowa Republican voters don’t see social issues as a top priority this election cycle.

Iowa-caucus goers don’t see social issues as paramount: 71 percent overall say candidates should be judged on economic issues, while just 14 percent point to social issues. (13 percent said the two are equally important.) Just 25 percent of white evangelical Republican caucus-goers and 18 percent of Tea Party Republican caucus-goers say social issues matter the most in their vote, while 55 percent of white evangelical Republican caucus-goers and 65 percent of Tea Party caucus-goers cite economic issues as paramount.

As the payroll tax cut debate continues to take center stage in Congress and millions of Americans stand to go home with less money in their pockets next year, presidential candidates should take note that conservative voters are paying close attention to how candidates plan to handle these tough economic issues.

As a number of polls and actions show, voters across the religious and ideological spectrum are primarily concerned with ensuring that there is enough food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads. Clearly, slowing the passage of the payroll tax cut extension does nothing to help Americans weather these tough economic times, nor will it play well on either side of the aisle during this election season.

Photo Credit: League of Women Voters of California/Flickr

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Evangelical Leader Joins Five Secretaries of State Opposing Foreign Aid Cuts

November 17, 2011, 10:01 am | Posted by

richard-stearns.jpg

During last week’s CBS/National Journal foreign policy debate, several GOP candidates decried foreign development assistance as nothing more than wasteful spending. Ignoring years of evidence documenting its crucial role in protecting national interests and safeguarding millions of vulnerable people from hunger and disease, Governor Rick Perry said he would zero-out current levels of aid and require countries to “re-apply” for support.

As a response to the impending “supercommitee” deadline (and perhaps the GOP debate), five former Secretaries of State crossed party lines and called for the protection of the foreign aid budget while identifying it as “…the one area where leaders of both parties can find common ground and come together to ensure a better, safer world and a more prosperous future.”

Along with all the former Secretaries of State, Richard E. Stearns, head of World Vision USA, called on all Americans to stand up in support of human need programs around the world. As the head of the largest evangelical aid organization, Stearns asked that Americans and policymakers recognize both the moral value and economic importance that foreign assistance affords:

From The Wall Street Journal:

Americans should understand that foreign aid strengthens democracy. A 2006 report out of Vanderbilt University and the University of Pittsburgh found a direct connection between U.S. aid and increased democratization and good governance, as measured by the Freedom House index. Evangelicals generally support promoting democracy abroad not only because they support the values on which our country was founded, but also because they are strong advocates for the freedom of religion that accompanies democratic values.

Then there are the lives saved. Our aid programs don’t have an unblemished record, and waste and corruption need to be rooted out. But Pepfar, for example, is now providing lifesaving drugs to three million people living with AIDS, mostly in Africa. It also provides care and support to another 2.5 million orphans and vulnerable children. If Congress cuts that program 10%, my organization estimates, 400,000 people will lose their medicine and potentially lose their lives.

Hopefully the majority of evangelicals who believe the foreign assistance budget is too generous and should be cut will pay attention to Stearns argument. More importantly, it’s crucial that budget-crafting policymakers take heed before it is too late.

Photo: Richard Stearns

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