June 1 was a lovely day in Northern Virginia when the staff of InsideCatholic gathered with friends for our annual Lazarus Golf Tournament at Bull Run Golf Club, nestled against the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Before playing, however, we hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “The Future of the Christian Vote: Is It in Decline?”
Around the table were more than two dozen nationally recognized Catholic and Evangelical leaders. During the two hours of discussion, several basic themes emerged with regard to the future of the Christian vote. Our moderator, Peter Boyer, former reporter for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and an NPR commentator, has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1992. He began the discussion by listing the various reasons the influence of religious conservatives appears to be on the wane, adding that the murder of Dr. George Tiller has seriously undermined the public standing of the pro-life movement.
Still, by the end of the day, no one in the room thought the Christian vote was quite ready for a postmortem. Most nodded in agreement when Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, said religious conservatives are in “disarray but not decline.” “We need to rediscover what coalitions are about,” he added, and reminisced, “In the late 1970s we knew we needed to hang together, but we have fallen away from that.”
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Manny Miranda, president of the Third Branch Conference, recalled that ten years ago the Catholic Left was in a similar position, thinking that their influence was defunct. Calling the present moment an “aberration,” Miranda castigated the “secular bishops” among conservatives who put their “institutional interests” ahead of all else. “The Bush administration is over,” Miranda said, insisting it is time to allow new leaders to emerge.
“If religious voters are in decline, why did Obama campaign so hard for their vote?” asked Jack St. Martin, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He cited polling showing that 21 percent voted for McCain in 2008 because he was pro-life, while only 8 percent voted for Obama because he was not. “Thirty-four percent of voters still care about abortion — there has not been a rupture,” he noted.
One commentator after another made the point that social conservatives and Christian voters never “warmed” to McCain. As Gary Marx, the head of the Judicial Confirmation Network, put it, “In 2008 we didn’t even go after our own vote.”
What must be done to recapture the vitality of Christian voters? Matt Smith, who worked with religious coalitions for the Bush White House, said, “We need to map out our strategy like we did in 2001; no one has done that.” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, argued that Christian voters should take lessons from the success of the National Rifle Association in defending the 2nd Amendment. “We will win better by playing defense,” Norquist said, recommending Christians rally behind the Parental Rights Amendment.
Several participants, like Ned Ryun, president of the American Majority, said it was essential that Christians put together a political machine “outside of the party structure.” Ryun maintained that the focus of such an effort should be widened to include fiscal and limited government issues to abortion and marriage. No one in the room disagreed.
As the discussion drew to an end, Boyer referred to the article by Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, about the “End of Christian America” that provided the subject for the roundtable. Jay Heiler, a political consultant from Phoenix, got a good laugh when he responded to Boyer: “It’s a matter of uncertainty whether the Christian vote is in decline, but it’s quite certain that Newsweek is in decline.”
Heiler then offered a comment that seemed to summarize the convictions of many in the room:
If one assumes that the truth wins out when it is given effective voice, the political picture for conservatives is actually far less gloomy than many assume. We have entered upon an age of new media in which all have a much greater opportunity to publish their viewpoints and make their case far and wide, as creatively and persuasively as their talents allow. We must, therefore, master the new media, and learn to make use of them to good effect, and rediscover ageless media in the arts as a means of seeking and honoring truth.
As InsideCatholic enters its third year as a Catholic voice in the new media, we couldn’t agree more that “the truth wins out when it is given effective voice.” It is what we strive to do everyday. We thank all of those friends and supporters who came to our Lazarus Tournament and are helping to keep our voice strong.