Evangelicals Also in Political Spotlight

Guest post by Eric

Tim’s post a few months ago “Can an Evangelical Vote for a Mormon?” was a well-thought-out piece in which he concluded that, yes, an evangelical could back the right Mormon presidential candidate despite differing theologies. Of course, his article was written in response to the candidacy of Mitt Romney. I agree with Tim in saying that I have no qualms about backing candidates of different religions; I most often vote decide how to vote based on a candidate’s values and character, and I certainly don’t believe that my fellow Latter-day Saints or even Christians in general have a lock on the qualities I’m looking for.

While Romney, of course, has received plenty of attention for his Mormon faith, it’s been interesting to see in the past few weeks that some of the same arguments (or prejudices, take your pick) that have been used against Romney for being LDS have been used against at least two other candidates who are evangelicals.

The question asked of Michele Bachmann at the debate Thursday — Would you submit to your husband if you’re elected president? — isn’t all that much different than some of the questions that have been asked about Romney and his relationship with the LDS church. (I’m not sure how believable her egalitarian answer was, but that’s a whole other issue.)

And the left-wing media in recent weeks have had a flurry of stories (here’s one) about Rick Perry’s ties [1] to the New Apostolic Reformation — a movement on the fringes of evangelicalism [2] that not only recognizes its own apostles and prophets (although different than in the LDS sense) but that, at least according to the left-wingers, doesn’t take the usually-hands-off approach to politics that the LDS church does. And Perry certainly hasn’t been reticent about sharing his faith in the public square.

I actually believe that if Perry (or, less likely, Bachmann) were to get the GOP nomination, his religion would be more of an issue in the 2012 campaign than would Romney’s. Am I right? Or am I deceiving myself in thinking that evangelicals can seem just as strange to the general population as Mormons can?

Footnotes:

[1] I do not mean to suggest that Perry is a part of this movement or agrees with it theologically, and I see no indication that his church affiliates with it. But some of his most vocal supporters, including some of the co-organizers of a recent mega-prayer rally that Perry spearheaded, are part of the movement.

[2] Some of the movement’s leaders are enough “out there” on the fringes that they have been accused by a few “discernment ministries” (here’s an example) of denying Christian doctrine even though they use the words of Christianity. Sound familiar?

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13 thoughts on “Evangelicals Also in Political Spotlight

  1. I simply haven’t had the time to really look into Perry’s candidacy (or lead-up to it), so my comments are based on initial, uninformed reactions to what little I have seen:

    I’m less concerned with one’s religion than I am with one’s religiosity. Perry’s religiosity is much more of a problem for me than Romney’s because Perry’s religion seems to influence his governing more so than Romney; i.e., while Romney would be a President that was also Mormon, Perry would be a Christian President.

    (Bachmann comes across perhaps the same way as Perry, but I have so many other reasons to oppose her that I haven’t seen any need to pay attention to her religiosity.)

  2. Or am I deceiving myself in thinking that evangelicals can seem just as strange to the general population as Mormons can?

    The issue, as far as I can tell, has never been about seeming strange. The issue with Romney always seems to come down to two things: 1) How much will LDS hierarchy influence Romney’s decision making? and 2) To what extent does or did Romney agree with LDS doctrines that are considered evil/bad/not politically correct nowadays?

    Since Perry and Bachmann are both Protestants, #1 is a non issue I think. Protestants have no hierarchy to answer to.

    #2 could be an issue but I doubt it will. Bringing up headship issues with someone who is a sitting Congresswoman is laughably stupid. I don’t know much about Perry’s ties to lunatics (I live in Texas, but I have never heard about them), but again I doubt it will be an issue. Again, because the ties are much weaker in Protestant-land. Now if he supports crazy stuff, that will nab him as a pure policy position, regardless of how he came to the policy positions.

    The bottom line is that most issues for Romney always come back to the Mormon hierarchy and the culture of obedience in Mormonville.

  3. I think as Christianity fades from the cultural norm it won’t be at all surprising that Evangelicals will appear to be weird or are cast as weird. Using someone’s religion to make them look weird is foul play but that won’t stop people from doing it. That being said, if Obama could survive membership at Jeremiah Wright’s church, I’m sure Perry can survive a very loose affiliation with these “apostles”.

    I was not a fan of Perry holding a prayer rally as a precursor to a Presidential candidacy. I think that’s an instance of USING your religion for politics rather than being influenced by your religion in politics.

    As opposed to Brian, I expect people’s religion to influence how they govern. It’s impossible to not be influenced by the source of your worldview. Brian’s objection might be viewed as it’s own religious bias, that he thinks if someone takes their faith too seriously they should be disqualified. Everyone is devoted to their own worldview at exactly the same level regardless of the shade of secularism or theism.

  4. I think that Evangelicals need to be very careful in selecting a candidate. Just because “John Doe” belongs to a Christian Church doesn’t make them “the holy and anointed one.” George W. Bush was a professed member of the “Skull and Bones Club.” That’s not a good representation for a Christian. And look what he did to Iraq! Surprisingly, Barack Obama is a professed Christian, but because he has a (D) next to his name, most Evangelicals won’t even vote for him. I’m not saying he is following the Bible on many of policies either. So there you have it– 2 Presidents (one who is now a former President) who are professed Christians, but both stink. Now what happens?

  5. Romney has a religion problem in the primary. Perry has a religion problem in the general election. Based upon polling to date, it looks more likely than not that Romney can handle his problem in the primary. In contrast, Perry’s problem in the general election is insurmountable.

    Polls show that 18% of Republicans, 19% of Independents and 22% of Democrats have a problem with a Mormon President. Importantly, of a subset of Democrats, called “liberal Democrats” by the polling organization, 41% have a problem with a Mormon President.

    In the Republican primary, having 18% against you is not good but not terrible. Also, there is the question of how hard set is the 18%.For example, if Romney looks like the only Republican who could defeat President Obama in the general election, which is certainly the case in all polling to date, and might well be the case in later polls, then that 18% could be reduced in the primaries by the “electability” factor. Also, there is the question of the states in which the 18% is located. Romney would not beat Perry in Texas or Deep South states regardless of religion so, if the 18% is largely there, then it is largely irrelevant. Also, obviously, if the 18% is largely in Texas and the Deep South, then it is less of a factor in Midwestern states and border states where both Romney and Perry have a shot. In sum, with respect to Romney’s primary problem, the 18% is the worst possible scenario and quite possibly much worse than the actual situation.

    In the general election, Romney has only a slight religion problem.

    In the general election, the 18% of Republicans who have problems with a Mormon President are going to vote for Romney. They will neither vote for Obama nor just not vote. Of white Evangelicals, 31% have a problem with a Mormon President, and white Evangelicals are nearly all Republicans, so it is a sound inference that, of the 18% of Republicans who have a problem with a Mormon President, most are white Evangelicals. (1) White Evangelicals are almost all opposed to abortion and gay marriage. Romney has flipped flopped on those issues. However, Obama has always been a steadfast supporter of abortion and, based on his refusal to defend DOMA in the courts, he has moved decisively in favor of gay marriage. (2) The great majority of white Evangelicals are fiscal conservatives and, on that issue also, there is no contest between Romney and the President. Those first two points are enough, but here is a third. Many white Evangelicals, maybe most, are Southerners, and many white Southerners are racist. For them, a Mormon President is the lesser of two evils when compared to an African-American President. That is not fair to President Obama, but that is the way it is. I grew up in, went to college and law school in, and practiced law for 12 years in, Louisiana and Texas, so I know what I am talking about. Obama will not carry Texas or any Deep South states against any Republican nominee.

    In the general election, Independent voters are key, so the 19% of them who have a problem with a Mormon President are significant. I suspect that, because almost all African-Americans are Democrats, almost all Independents are white. Also, because 31% of white Evangelicals have a problem with a Mormon President, it is a fair inference that much of this 19% of Independents consists of white Evangelicals. Independents, of course, are inherently less predictable than voters with a party affiliation, but Independent white Evangelicals are clearly less likely to vote for President Obama because of abortion, etc. In other words, many of those 19% are probably among the Independents who will not vote for President Obama regardless of the religion of the Republican nominee. Getting inside this 19% of independents is more guesswork than with respect to the 18% of Republicans, but Romney likely does not have a big religion problem with Independents. In polling so far, Romney is beating Obama among Independents.

    As to the 41% of “liberal Democrats” who have a problem with a Mormon President, they are not voting for any Republican regardless of religion. So, religion is irrelevant as to them. Of other Democrats (“moderate” Democrats), who are the only realistic candidates to cross over and vote for any Republican, mathematically, the percentage of them who have a problem with a Mormon President has got to be a lot less than 22%.

    For all of the above discussion, I am using a June 8, 2011 poll by Quinnipiac University and a June 20, 2011 poll by Gallup. Here are the two URLs to them:

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/148100/Hesitant-Support-Mormon-2012.aspx

    http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1284.xml?ReleaseID=1608

    We do not yet have as much survey data about voting for Evangelicals for President, but the Quinnipiac Poll shows that, while Evangelicals do much better than Mormons, they still have a significant disadvantage compared to Catholic or Jewish candidates for President.

    In any case, Perry is dead meat in an election against President Obama. It is not simply being an Evangelical. George W. Bush, when running for his first term, was pretty low key about his religion. He came off as devout, but not “enthusiastic”, much less frenzied. Saying in a debate that Jesus was the philosopher with the most influence upon him was the furthest that he went and, I believe, the furthest that it was politically safe to go.

    Evangelicals, the small number of Mormons, the small number of Orthodox Jews, and the indeterminate number of conservative Catholics, are going to vote Republican no matter what. Atheists and Reform Jews, and African Americans and Hispanics of any religion, are going to vote Democratic no matter what.

    The people who are swing voters, the people who will actually decide the presidential election, are going to be white lukewarm Protestants and white cafeteria Catholics. They might think that Mormons are weird, but they don’t see Mormons as scary. On the other hand, the Bible thumpers and snake handlers do scare them, and that is exactly how Perry comes off. Perry just had a religious rally of 30,000 people in a stadium in Houston. Have you SEEN the photo of him at that event snarling into the microphone with a giant jumbotron video of himself right behind him? Looks like the guy in the famous Apple Computer “1984” Superbowl TV ad. It is like a modern “Triumph of the Will.” The milquetoast swing voters who decide elections do not like religious “fundamentalists”, because that is who they think of as “intolerant” and as taking away other people’s “rights”, Rick Perry sure looks and sounds like a “fundamentalist”, and there is no way swing voters will vote for him in the general election.

    Bottom line: People think Mormons are weird but harmless. (Except gays, who hate Mormons.) People think that fundamentalists (Evangelicals) are mean and dangerous.

    Murdock

    P.S. The greatest image challenge for Mormons, aside from convincing people that we do not get our own planets when we die, is getting people to realize that, unlike you, we do not believe that they are all going to Hell.

  6. Murdock, I recognize that this is mostly your own speculation but could you source this?

    Many white Evangelicals, maybe most, are Southerners, and many white Southerners are racist.

    More Evangelicals live in the Los Angeles area than any other single place in the country. I could believe that most Evangelicals are Southerners but I think that’s just an assumption on your part.

    As far as getting your own planets. . . Three current manuals say that you will, so it’s a great task to convince people otherwise when your church is still actively teaching that you do.

    “Chapter 4: Teaching Children: from Four to Eleven Years,” A Parent’s Guide

    Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual – Introduction

    Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual – Chapter 10

    Look for this quote

    “Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people.”

  7. “Brian’s objection might be viewed as it’s own religious bias, that he thinks if someone takes their faith too seriously they should be disqualified.”

    Alternatively, you may have simply misunderstood my point.

  8. “Atheists and Reform Jews, and African Americans and Hispanics of any religion, are going to vote Democratic no matter what.”

    “Many white Evangelicals, maybe most, are Southerners, and many white Southerners are racist.”

    Seriously?

  9. BrianJ — I understood your comments about religiosity the same way Tim did at first, and then I realized that didn’t sound like something you’d say.

    You did suggest something I considered putting in the original post: Romney comes across as a candidate who happens to be Mormon, but Perry (Bachmann too) comes across as an evangelical who happens to be a candidate. I’m not sure that’s an entirely fair assessment, but that perception is out there. This is a tiny sample, but when I see what my non-Christianity-affiliated Facebook “friends” are saying about Perry’s application of religion it’s not the same as what they’re saying about Romney’s. They see Perry as one who would blur the lines between church and state and try to impose his religious views on America; that’s not something they’re saying about Romney (except on gay issues, but any Republican except Huntsman or Paul will have that problem). Although they wouldn’t vote for Romney, they don’t see him as out to try to convert everyone to his religion (kind of ironic considering what Mormons are known for), but they do see that in Perry. They’re not fond of Romney, but they’re not scared of him either. (And they’re even more frightened by Bachmann, although that probably has more to do with the extreme political positions she has taken than with her religion per se.) To that particular crowd, Perry’s prayer meeting was not a positive.

    Of course, they may be more negative about Perry these days because he’s a new face in the political mix. I also think that Huntsman’s entry into the race defused a bit of the all-Mormons-think-alike feeling that lefties may have.

    Murdock said:

    Romney has a religion problem in the primary. Perry has a religion problem in the general election. Based upon polling to date, it looks more likely than not that Romney can handle his problem in the primary. In contrast, Perry’s problem in the general election is insurmountable.

    I agree with that, except for the last sentence. If you’re running against someone with a 39 percent popularity rating, obstacles are a lot easier to overcome.

  10. Murdock said:

    Many white Evangelicals, maybe most, are Southerners

    You’re right. I was surprised to find out the numbers, but according to the Pew Forum, 50 percent of Americans who are members of evangelical Protestant churches are from the South, a region that includes 36 percent of the U.S. population: http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/table-region-by-denomination.pdf. The region also includes 60 percent of the members of historically black Protestant churches, many of which are theologically evangelical as well.

  11. If the latest Rasumussen poll is correct, Mitt Romney is out of the race and we can all end the incessant “Can a Mormon Win?/Can an X for for a Mormon?” questions.

    Romney has been campaigning for four years straight by this point, yet he’s polling 11 points behind a guy who has been in the race for about a week. His problem is that he is a lackluster and opportunistic candidate who has the personality of dry toast. Of course politics is the art of the possible, so he could always come surging back and win the nomination. But this kind of poll shows an amazingly weak campaigner who cannot generate any excitement or passion.

  12. Eric: “They see Perry as one who would blur the lines between church and state and try to impose his religious views on America”

    Yes, that’s what I was getting at. But I might go further: rather than trying to blur the lines, he may not even see the lines—or he may believe that the lines are artificial constructs imposed by the atheist Left in direct opposition to the Founding Fathers (and by extension, in opposition to How Things Should Be).

    So I worry not only that a candidate like this would, as you say, try to convert everyone to his faith, but that this candidate would also be unable to think about or defend legislation (or the execution thereof) in anything but Christian terms:

    – Why shouldn’t gays be allowed to marry/adopt? Because homosexuality is a sin.

    – Can scientists use human embryos that scheduled for destruction at fertility clinics? No, because the Bible says that would be like murder.

    – What should we do about the wildfires raging in our state? Pray that God will extinguish them.

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