In D.C., the Values Voters Summit is in full swing. For those not familiar, the summit is a who’s-who gathering of the modern-day religious right, where Republican presidential candidates come to beg, plead, and pander for evangelical support.
This is of some interest to greens, because there’s been a ton of talk over the last year about how evangelicals may be the New Green Secret Weapon, a constituency that will shift the political dynamic and make green mainstream once and for all — safe, at last, for Real Americans.
Well, as it happens there was a panel at the summit, where a representative of the "new" evangelical perspective — engaged on broader issues like world poverty and global warming — faced off with a representative of the old one — focused squarely on abortion and homos. For the former, Jim Wallis. For the latter, Richard Land.
How’d it go? Ex-Gristie Kate Sheppard was there. She reports:
Wallis: 30,000 kids die each day from preventable disease. “That breaks the heart of God, it should break our hearts too.”
Land: Well, if women would just stop having abortions, have babies, and get hitched, we wouldn’t have this problem. “If mothers would marry the fathers of their children, that would eliminate more poverty than anything we could do.”
Wallis: It shouldn’t be a choice — both should matter to evangelicals. “We must not pit the unborn against the poorest children of the earth. They are both among the weak.”
There was almost no show of support for Wallis’ vision of a wider "pro-life" agenda that includes more than just abortion. He also brought up the environment and climate change, where his views were even less popular, eliciting several loud boos.
Wallis: "Climate change threatens human lives, and the environment is clearly on the mainstream of the evangelical agenda."
Land: "The bible says the earth is for human betterment."
Kate also shares the results of a straw poll in which the 3,000 or so attendees were asked to rate the issues important to them, which were, "from top to bottom: life, marriage, tax cuts, permanent tax relief for families."
Two things about this list. First, there’s nothing about the environment or climate change on it. Second, there’s a common thread. Force other women to carry their babies to term. Prohibit homosexuals from marrying. And give me tax cuts.
These "values" uniformly require sacrifice and pain from other people, and bring only benefit (tax cuts!) to those who hold them. Awfully convenient, isn’t it, when all God asks of you is to hate, condemn, and marginalize Others.
Almost like He’s just there as a hovering, ghostly justification for fear and tribalism. Almost like a certain kind of person is drawn to a religious perspective that offers maximum sanctimony and asks minimal sacrifice.
UPDATE: After I wrote this but before I published it, Kate wrote another update:
When they said that the top four issues for “values voters” were life, marriage, tax cuts, and permanent tax relief for families, what they actually meant was that those were the top four among the narrow range voters were allowed to pick from. Each voter got to pick one issue from a list of 12 selected by the FRC that they considered their biggest priority. Other issues they listed were things like stem cell research, public display of the 10 commandments, and school prayer. Conspicuously not included: the Iraq War, national security, poverty, or environmental stewardship or “creation care” as evangelicals have termed it. These are some of the issues that the recent CBS poll found to be top concerns for a number of evangelicals and social conservatives in general.
Here are two relevant questions from the CBS poll (PDF), which reveal something of a different picture:
ISSUE YOU MOST WANT THE CANDIDATES TO TALK ABOUT White Evangelicals All Health care 23% 25% War in Iraq 20 26 Immigration 8 6 Economy/jobs 7 11 … How important will the environment and global warming be in your vote for president next year – extremely important, very important, somewhat important or not too important? Total White Evangelicals Extremely important 23 12 Very important 32 31 Somewhat important 28 30 Not too important 16 27 DK/NA 1 0
I guess his should be no huge surprise — political gatherings always draw the hardest of the hard core. Average evangelicals probably have roughly the same priorities as average voters generally … i.e., climate change it toward the bottom. Sigh.