The Values Voters Summit, a convention of social and religious conservatives sponsored by the Family Research Council and similar groups, conducted a straw-poll vote among attendees in Washington over the weekend. After hearing speeches by Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and other notables, the voters ranked the potential GOP field this way:
1.) Ted Cruz
2.) Ben Carson
3.) Mike Huckabee
4.) Rick Santorum
5.) Bobby Jindal, tied with
5.) Rand Paul
I do not believe that any of those six will ever see the title of “President” before their name, at least not of the United States. And with the occasional exception of Rand Paul, they have something else in common as well. All believe themselves and their Christian faith to be under attack to the point of persecution by the government, the liberals, the media and a variety of other antagonists. In comments to “values voters” over the weekend, several of the potential candidates made that sense of persecution a central part of their message.
That’s smart marketing if nothing else. According to new research by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, that growing sense of persecution coincides with a growing belief among conservatives that it’s time for religious faith — most likely meaning their own — to play a much prominent role in our political debate.
As the chart above documents, 53 percent of Republicans and those leaning Republican now believe that there is too little talk of religion in our political debate, up nine percentage points in just four years. The percentage of Republicans who believe that church leaders should express political views is up 11 points in that same time frame.
In addition, the percentage of Republican-oriented voters who believe that the Obama administration is unfriendly to religion has jumped by 22 points since 2009, from 32 to 54 percent. That has become the GOP’s equivalent to the Democrats’ “war on women,” a way to bolster partisan loyalty among a critical part of its coalition.
But some things haven’t changed much. As Pew points out, “large majorities of black Protestants, Jews and religiously unaffiliated voters continue to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. At the other end of the spectrum, white evangelical Protestant voters continue to be staunchly supportive of the GOP. Nearly three-quarters of white evangelicals identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, and a similar share say they would vote for the Republican congressional candidate in their (districts.)”
In one sense, I can understand why white evangelicals might be frustrated. There’s no doubt that on many social issues, the culture is moving away from the precepts of that faith community. Indeed, 72 percent of Americans agree that religion in general is losing influence, while only 22 percent believe its influence is increasing.
However, I don’t think that can be attributed to an unfriendly administration in Washington, but rather to what’s happening in pews and pulpits around the country. Church membership and attendance is declining. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, acknowledged this summer that it had lost 137,000 members in 2013 alone. in addition, it found that a quarter of Southern Baptist churches had conducted no baptisms in 2013 and 60 percent had baptized no youth ages 12-17.
That’s not a political problem, which means it can’t be solved through politics either.