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Givens: Republicans take evangelical voters’ support for granted

POSTED: January 27, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Since the Dwight Eisenhower era, the white evangelical movement has been very close to the Republican Party. This partnership has worked out better for the Republican Party than for the evangelicals.

Republicans can count on evangelical support without actually accomplishing any of the group's objectives. The list of failed initiatives include the school prayer amendment, repeal of Roe v. Wade, a late-term abortion ban and the Defense of Marriage Amendment.

Republicans can't pass these bills because of Democratic opposition, right? There is truth to that, but let's look at the nature of politics.

A Republican, like Ronald Reagan, publicly supports legislation like the school prayer amendment. He knows there is little chance this amendment can pass, so he doesn't waste political capital supporting it, and it dies.

His evangelical constituents become frustrated and blame the media, California, homosexuals, atheists and college professors and donate yet more money to the Republican Party. This creates a cycle where the Republican Party actually has an incentive to fail. Why succeed when consistent failure brings donations and votes?

Republican strategists recognize the political power of white evangelical voters. All laws have moral implications, and it's fair that people seek for their nation's laws to mirrors their values. It's understandable that a political party would reach out to them to support those values or vice versa. When I think of Christian values, I think of kindness, charity and being good stewards of the earth.

Understandably, Christians might support low taxes because, they believe that will lead to a better economy and thereby help the poor. There is also an argument that Christian charity must be voluntary. However, it could also be argued that lower taxes have not resulted in a better quality of life for the least amongst us.

Therefore, funding a health care system may actually be a more efficient way of helping those in need and demonstrating we are society that values charity. Both options have merit and it follows that a Christian wanting to create a society supporting Christian values could reasonably vote either way.

In an act of political brilliance, the Republican propaganda machine has somehow managed to convince people that voting to create a more Christlike nation is not just voting pro-life or for school prayer but also voting to cut social programs. And, amazingly, voting Christian is voting to eliminate the EPA, deregulate Wall Street and for an oil pipeline.

This union of Republican corporatism with white evangelical Christianity has not boded well for how evangelicals are perceived. The Bible asks that humans be good stewards of the earth. My evangelical grandparents wasted little and sought to protect the land. Now it's the "godless" liberals who insist on recycling, and for their efforts at being good stewards they are accused of worshiping the earth.

My grandparents avoided frivolous purchases, seeing materialism as over attachment to things of this earth. Fox News promotes Christmas consumerism as a sacrament that will defeat the rise of secularism.

The Republican propaganda machine equates being a politically active Christian with supporting environmental degradation and professing that the health of the economy as measured by consumption is the greatest good.

Some evangelicals resent having their faith equated with such a message. A group of evangelical Christians called the Sojourners has been fighting the marriage of Republican corporatism with Christianity since 1971.

The Sojourners are up against powerful media forces aiming to keep evangelicals paranoid. Scared people can't think straight, but they do increase ratings.

A prime example of this came last November when Congress voted to reaffirm, "In God We Trust" as our national motto. A "Fox & Friends" host stated, in seriousness, that it was a shame that such a vote was even necessary.

It wasn't. No one suggested changing the motto. It was introduced during Congressional gridlock providing a distraction from the lack of progress Congress was making. Nothing threatens one's sense of security like an assault on God. As long as Republicans can keep people convinced they are protecting God they appear to be free to fail and, ironically, their failure is rewarded with loyalty, donations and votes.

It's an election year; do you know who's shepherding the flock? Is it Christ or Karl Rove?

Brandon Givens is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear occasionally and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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