More than 90 evangelical leaders met in Denver Tuesday, July 1, and decided to support Sen. John McCain as the presidential candidate who most shares their values.
Attendees agreed that they are concerned about issues like immigration and gun rights, but determined that opposing abortion and gay marriage are so central that they have no choice but to support McCain.
"He would advance those values in a much more significant way than Sen. Barack Obama who, in our view, would decimate those values," said Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University's law school, who spearheaded the meeting.
Those in attendance also reached a consensus that they would send a letter to McCain, R-Ariz., encouraging him to consider former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as his choice for vice president.
"It's not a demand; it's a request," said Staver, who couldn't say when McCain would be contacted about Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor who resonated with some evangelical voters during the Republican primaries.
The meeting featured conservative Christians from various sectors of evangelicalism, including African-Americans, Hispanics and younger evangelicals. Tim and Beverly LaHaye, the couple known respectively for their roles in the Left Behind book series and Concerned Women for America, were there, as were Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, former Christian Coalition president Don Hodel, and Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, an Ohio organization affiliated with Focus on the Family.
But one person who was not invited was one of the movement's most prominent voices, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who recently blasted Obama's politics and his theology, and has previously said he would not vote for McCain.
"I didn't want this meeting to be centered on a personality," said Staver, who added that Dobson was working on a book.
Burress said there was agreement to support McCain, but there were differing views about strategy. "There's no question, everybody was on the same page that Obama was not an option," he said.
Burress, whose Ohio group is preparing two million bulletin inserts for 10,000 churches about the two candidates' stances, predicted Obama's efforts to reach evangelicals will fall flat.
"The only evangelicals that he's going to win over are those who have never read the Bible," said Burress, who was one of a handful of conservative leaders who met with McCain on June 26 in Cincinnati.
McCain, who met with evangelists Billy and Franklin Graham on Sunday, has been urged by some evangelical leaders to increase his outreach to them. But the sentiment at the meeting was that evangelicals must speak up for him.
Staver said the gathering did not create a new organization but he expects there will be follow-up meetings and conference calls.
Staver said evangelicals are trying to unify after a "fractious primary season" during which no consensus candidate emerged as an evangelical favorite. He was also concerned by Obama's recent meeting with Christian leaders and his plans to expand President Bush's faith-based office.
"We will not allow our values to be hijacked by any political party, and we will not allow politics to divide us," said Staver, founder of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm.
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