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Evangelicals struggle to stay relevant in Republican politics

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 13, 2012

LAS VEGAS — A call by the head of one of America's top evangelical organizations for Christian conservatives to moderate their opposition to such issues as same-sex marriage, abortion and immigration reform in light of last week's electoral setbacks has ignited flames of protests that threaten all-out civil war.

The clout of evangelical voters, once a crucial part the Republican Party's winning electoral coalition, has come under question after what some say was their failure in the past two presidential elections to put the Republican candidate over the top against a Democrat who had made few friends among social conservatives.

Thanks apparently to a new generation of voters who tend to have a "live and let live" attitude on social issues, same-sex marriage won approval last week in three states — Maine, Maryland and Washington — despite virulent opposition by religious conservative organizations, while a constitutional amendment in favor of traditional marriage was narrowly defeated in Minnesota. Initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana use passed in Colorado and Washington, again despite the opposition of social conservatives.

Evangelicals are "fighting an uphill battle of demographics" on issues such as gay marriage, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly told the Los Angeles Times after the election.

The agonizing reappraisals of tactics, strategies and goals springing from the election results go beyond the Christian right, extending to the party's governors, lawmakers and conservative activists gathered this week for the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association.

Mr. Daly's comments built on arguments he made in a book published last month, in which he said evangelicals and social conservatives were "rowing against the tide" with their focus on traditional values issues such as abortion and gay marriage in their political messaging. While affirming opposition to same-sex unions and abortion puts evangelicals on God's side, Mr. Daly said, "given the obvious paradigm shift among the younger generation," evangelical political organization allied with the Republican Party are misreading where the country as a whole is heading.

"I think what we've got to do in the Christian community is be far more humble," he told the newspaper.

Mr. Daly's sentiments sit well with traditional Republicans and economic conservatives, some of whom have always felt that loud and uncompromising stands on social issues have cost the party support among a variety of constituencies, including women and a growing cadre of libertarian-minded younger voters.

But reflecting the views of many other conservative religious leaders, evangelical political organizer David Lane, founder of Pastor and Pews, said it was "an outrage" for Mr. Daly to call for Christians to stop engaging in culture wars. Mr. Lane said Mr. Daly was flying the "white flag of surrender" to political opponents of traditional values.

But Mr. Lane also said evangelicals should have been on the side of immigration reform a long time ago.

President Obama crushed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney among the nation's growing Hispanic voter bloc in large part because of Mr. Romney's perceived hard line on immigration issues.

"Reform" in the immigration context is taken by many on the right as code for "amnesty" for illegal immigrants — an issue perhaps more divisive than any other.

A group of mostly liberal evangelical leaders issued a letter Tuesday calling on Mr. Obama and leaders in Congress to achieve immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for illegals, within 92 days.

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