Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about over the last week.
"A Pledge to America"
In a move reminiscent of the 1994 "Contract with America," Republican leaders revealed their legislative agenda for the next congress. "A Pledge to America" is heavy on economic and fiscal policies, but it gives scant attention to issues that are a priority for social conservatives, including sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom.
The only policy proposal that addresses a social issue is a pledge to ban funding of abortion. This proposal would codify President Obama's executive order issued as part of a health care reform compromise with pro-life Democrats. The Republicans are not proposing stronger restrictions, but they would make the policy more permanent by making it a law.
The only other nod to social conservatives is the following statement in the preamble:
"We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values."
Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins said the statement was strong but could be stronger.
"While it could have played a bigger role in the Pledge, the Republicans' commitment to life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty is a major step in the right direction," Perkins said. "While I'm disappointed that popular policies like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were not more clearly defined in the document, the Pledge is still a significant improvement over the 1994 Contract with America. At least now, Republicans are acknowledging that values issues should be a key part of the conservative agenda."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), agreed.
"Some have criticized the document for not being more specific about many of the issues that deeply concern social conservatives. However, when you compare this pledge with the 1994 'Contract with America,' which was deafeningly silent on moral issues, one can see that social conservatives are clearly a more important part of any potential conservative governing coalition than they were in 1994," said Land. "There could have been stronger language concerning the defense of traditional marriage, but the language affirming no government funding for abortion is welcomed … It should not be read as an abandonment of the social conservatives' moral agenda."
The 1994 Contract with America did not discuss abortion policy or same-sex marriage. However, it did prioritize policies including tax incentives for adoption and elder care, the death penalty, child tax credits, parental rights, stronger child pornography laws, and changes to welfare reform (which was presented as a means to "discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy").
Citizenlink's Tom Minnery spoke in advance of the Pledge to America. He said "the emerging leadership of the Republican Party" may not be social conservatives. He said there was a fight underway to include life, marriage, and other social issues in the GOP agenda.
Still, Minnery expected the election in November to be historic.
"For the first time, Americans have seen unchecked, unbridled, left-wing liberalism at play in Washington, D.C. And people are saying, 'We don't like it. It's too expensive. It's not getting done for us what government needs to do for us. We reject it,'" said Minnery.
The new GOP agenda is also light on other values: there is no discussion of poverty, hunger, or inequality. American Family Association's (AFA) Matt Friedeman said that any statement of values should include a discussion on the poor.
Why, he asked, did not Christian speakers at last week's Values Voters Summit address poverty? "Did Jesus value the poor? Were the disenfranchised high on His list of priorities? Did He not just talk about them, but spend a huge proportion of His ministry on these downtrodden?" asked Friedeman. "Yes, yes, and yes. But this obvious priority in the concern of God didn't register very substantially with the speakers and seminars at the conservative gathering. Mores the pity."
Sojourners president Jim Wallis took up a similar theme, noting recent census numbers that indicate that one in five children live in poverty.
"These new numbers should be offensive to all of us, but especially to the faith community since the Bible says that a nation's 'righteousness' will be judged by how the poorest and most vulnerable are doing. Ouch! The new census numbers should make politicians uncomfortable. The word 'poverty' should be on the lips of every White House or Congressional staffer and should unabashedly be repeated at the press conferences of both parties until these numbers are turned around," said Wallis.
DADT Repeal Blocked
The unveiling of the GOP agenda came on the heels of a conservative victory in the Senate. On Tuesday, the Senate failed to bring the defense authorization bill to the floor for consideration. All of the Republicans and a few Democrats blocked the bill because it would have repealed the military's ban on homosexuality and would have allowed elective abortions on military bases.
FRC president Tony Perkins said, "This is a victory for the men and women who serve our nation in uniform. At least for now they will not be used to advance a radical social agenda." Perkins also noted the lobbying efforts by pop star Lady Gaga, who campaigned for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT): "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apparently doesn't realize that if everyone with traditional values leaves the military, virtually no one will be left to defend our country. Certainly not Lady Gaga. It's a sad commentary on our congressional leadership when they pay more attention to an entertainer with a flair for the bizarre than they do to the leaders of all four service branches."
Doug Carlson of the ERLC said the defense authorization filibuster was a victory, but one that may be short-lived.
"The defeat suffered by liberals Tuesday sucks much of the oxygen out of their hopes to reverse the policies on homosexuals and abortion this year. But no victory for socially conservative ideals, this one included, should be considered final," he said. "In recent times, backroom deals have all but become par for the legislative course. Think health care reform. But for now there is great cause for celebration."
Traditional Values Coalition executive director Andrea Lafferty warned that repealing DADT would result in "a zero tolerance program" in which "no one who criticizes homosexual conduct will be welcome in the military and many will be driven out or denied promotion because of their religious or moral objections to homosexual conduct."
The AFA's Bryan Fischer agreed. He said a repeal of DADT would also harm the military because it would "normalize sexual perversion."
"Homosexual conduct is deviant sexual conduct. Homosexuals are defined by one characteristic and one characteristic only: they want to use the anal cavity for sex. This kind of sexual conduct is aberrant and carries enormous health risks," he said. "Had this vote gone through, it would have meant the end of military careers for every service member, every officer and every chaplain who believes that homosexual behavior is fundamentally unnatural and should be discouraged rather than endorsed."
Odds & Ends
• The AFA was one of many groups to take notice that President Obama omitted "by their Creator" when he quoted from the Declaration of Independence during a recent speech. AFA president Tim Wildmon said he believed the omission was intentional. "This kind of action would be in step with modern secular liberalism which is hostile to the Christian faith and hates the historical fact that America's founders revered and acknowledged God in so many ways that are indisputable," he said. Wildmon urged Christians to "work and pray for changes in Washington, D.C."
• Sojourners president Jim Wallis defended former President George W. Bush as he urged President Obama to do more to fight AIDS and global poverty. "President Bush's legacy in the fight against global AIDS is strong, but much more needs to be done. Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to continue that leadership. But today, his promise has yet to be kept" said Wallis on CNN. "For those of us in this country, it's a matter of Obama fulfilling a campaign promise. For the world's poorest, it's a matter of life and death."
• Alliance Defense Fund president Alan Sears lamented New York City's designation of September 15 as American Civil Liberties Union Day. "[The ACLU] is leading America back to many of the totalitarian tyrannies we founded this nation to escape," he said. "Hardly a reason to celebrate, in New York or anywhere else. But it's abundant reason to pray for those who lead this terrible organization—and for all the souls they are helping to lead astray."
• Evangelicals for Social Action's Heidi Unruh wrote about recent misunderstandings, such as beliefs that President Obama is a Muslim. She said it was insufficient to simply have facts. "I think two other traveling companions are even more important as we wade through these muddy waters," said Unruh.
"The first is courage. The resolve to 'speak the truth in love' (Ephesians 4:15), to stand for one's convictions of truth against the waves of political or professional opposition, can be costly. … The second valuable quality is ears to hear. To speak into our time we have to first listen."
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