With the U.S. presidential election less than a month away, Church leaders have been rallying harder than ever to mobilize the Christian vote during this year’s election. With the help of campaigns such as the National Council of Churches’ “vote all your values” drive and the Southern Baptist Convention’s “I vote values” effort, faith has turned into one of the most decisive political factor in 2004.
The two candidates themselves, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, have also been spending time - and money - to rally the support of the powerful Christian vote. In the past several months, both candidates have spoken at over a dozen church-related events and settings. Bush’s mainstay seems to be the Christian conservatives; he spoke at the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s Concordia University graduation ceremony, the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual address and the National Association of Evangelicals’ biennial meeting. Kerry on the other hand has veered toward the moderate-liberal mainline Christian groups; he was the keynote speaker for the National Baptist Convention’s meeting this year.
While this partisan split has been widely visible across the full evangelical/ecumenical spectrum – conservatives for Bush and liberals for Kerry – Church leaders have consistently emphasized the need to vote values, not political affiliations.
“I don’t believe God chooses candidates for elected office in any country,” said Lois Dauway, a staff executive for Christian social responsibility at the United Methodist Women’s Division. We’re called to look at issues in light of the Gospel, and use our minds and our hearts as we decide how to vote.”
James Winkler, the top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, agreed, saying that God does not stand with any one political party.
“If we’re going to put trust in God and then assume a political party embodies God, we will be sorely disappointed,” he said. “Once you get into that mindset you can justify anything.”
Winkler thus advised Christian voters to remember social principles as they cast their vote this November.
“The question is, who is really talking about the last, the least and the lost, the widow, the orphan and the children?” he asks. “Who is going to carry out policies that adhere to Scripture?”
Similarly, the NCC’s “Vote all your values” campaign emphasizes the anti-poverty effort, justice for all people and health benefits for every community.
“As people of faith, we are here to call Americans to vote ALL their values, including truth at all times, justice for all people, and community among all nations and faiths,” the campaign wrote.
The conservative camp also stressed values, but with an emphasis on tradition and culture.
“There’s a growing concern across grassroots America about the fundamental values of our nation. A lot of people feel strongly that we’re ridding the public square of all things religious ... and a significant part of our heritage is being ignored,” said the Rev. James V. Heidinger II, president of Good News, an evangelical United Methodist ministry.
Heidinger, like millions of other Christian conservatives, said their main concern is over the secularization of American culture. Events such as the legalization of “same-sex marriages,” support of abortion rights, and the liberalization of the entertainment industry and schools, have stirred heavy concerns within the Christian right.
The “I vote values” campaign, led by the SBC, also listed “valuable information and statistics” to help voters understand the “hot issues of today.”
Such “hot issues” include: abortion, abstinence, America’s Christian Heritage, Homosexuality, Creation vs. Evolution, Anti-Christian Bigotry and Hate Crimes.
“Voters are desperate for a resource that is not tinged with campaign rhetoric but that clearly presents what the two parties themselves have to say on many critical issues,” said Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
“We are in the midst of a contentious and critically important presidential campaign,” Land explained. “It is difficult at times, even for the most seasoned political observer, to determine what is fact and what is fiction. That is why it is more important than ever that Americans ascertain what their own values and convictions are before they identify which candidates they should support.”
Beyond the outcome of election and the fierce debates preceding it, Christian leaders said they see a “healthy side” to the interaction of faith and politics.
“Faith is on the table now,” said Winkler “We’re coming out of a secular period in history. Candidates are being forced to talk about the moral dimension of their policy decisions. When we get away from that moral dimension, politics gets corrupted.”
Dauway agreed: “I’m glad religion is impacting people’s decision-making. We’re called to be involved and not stand outside.”