Thursday, November 16, 2006

If God is on the side of conservative Christians and conservative Christians are on the side of the Republican Party, shouldn’t Republicans have done better in the recent election? It’s difficult to keep a coalition together — Christian or not — if 12 percent of your base votes for Democrats.

But defeat offers conservative Christians a good opportunity to take stock. They should ask themselves whether their short list of “moral issues” and “family values” has any hope of being imposed on Washington, as the broader culture continues to resist the approach many of them have taken. Could conservative Christians withstand another approach, one that reflects a more biblical strategy?

Jim Wallis thinks so. He’s the editor of the left-of-center evangelical magazine, “Sojourners.” On his “Hearts and Minds” blog on election night, Mr. Wallis headlined his essay “A defeat for the religious right and secular left.”

Mr. Wallis wrote, “A significant number of candidates elected are social conservatives on issues of life and family, economic populists, and committed to a new direction in Iraq. This is the way forward: a grand new alliance between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, one that can end partisan gridlock and involves working together for real solutions to pressing problems.”

Mr. Wallis argues election results showed him “moderate and even some conservative Christians — especially evangelicals and Catholics — want a moral agenda that is broader than only abortion and same-sex ‘marriage.’ ” Exit polls showed a shift of 6 percent to 16 percent fewer evangelicals and Catholics supporting Republican candidates than in the 2004 election.

One does not have to agree with all of Mr. Wallis’ agenda — and I don’t, especially on Iraq — to consider his arguments. Politics often dulls the senses to morality and “values.” That’s because of an unholy alliance between people of faith and politicians that often ends in compromise on the part of the faithful and the cynical harvesting of their votes with little offered in return. So, when someone like Rep. Don Sherwood, Pennsylvania Republican, is exposed for cheating on his wife and allegedly abusing his mistress, Cynthia Ore, he still gets an 85 percent approval rating from the Focus on the Family Action organization. The delicious irony is he might have earned a 100 percent rating had he voted for the Marriage Protection amendment, which he supported. Mr. Sherwood lost his seat to a Democrat.

One might reasonably argue that a very good way to protect marriage is to remain faithful to one’s spouse, but in politics that sort of behavior won’t raise money for the interest groups or votes for the Republicans. In this case, “family values” wasn’t about Mr. Sherwood’s personal example, but his record of keeping homosexuals from marrying. Wouldn’t it do more for the family to strengthen heterosexual marriage before telling others how to live their lives? Why have we seen so many politicians (and some clergy) who talk about “family values” turn out to be the worst practitioners of them?

Jim Wallis also writes that voters recognized that while the economy may be good and the stock market sets records, “There are still too many being left out, especially working families. It is significant that in all six states where an initiative to raise the minimum wage was on the ballot, it passed, in most cases by overwhelming margins.”

President Bush has indicated he might agree with the incoming Democratic congressional majority to raise the minimum wage as an act of compromise and to demonstrate his willingness to work with Democrats.

Conservative Christians are fond of quoting God: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). Could it be that the way of politics is man’s way and, thus, not God’s way?

What is God’s way? Isn’t it helping the poor through transformation and assisting them to do for themselves? Isn’t it feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison and caring for widows and orphans? Would such behavior, rather than partisan politics, recommend their faith more highly to those who do not currently share it, or who do share it, but apply it differently?

With a change in focus, more people might want to hear why conservative Christians are faithful and, having heard, perhaps embrace that faithfulness. The culture might then reflect real “family values” from the bottom up, possibly even touching politicians in Washington.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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