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Two Summits, Countless Agendas

Faith Leaders Summit urges G-8 to focus on poverty while Values Voter Summit targets domestic issues.

Editor's note: This is the second installment of our weekly roundup of what evangelical political groups on all sides of the political spectrum are talking about. And yes, we're already making changes. First, we're going to start running this on Friday so that we can make more clear what we mean by "this week." Second, we're changing the name to "Political Advocacy Tracker." ("God Politics," we decided too late, came across more as theft of Jim Wallis's book and blog, "God's Politics," rather than a nod to it.) But we're not overly thrilled with that rather straightforward title, so if you have a better idea, let us know in the comments below. If we end up using it we'll send you a free year of Christianity Today.

Along those lines, many comments on the first installment seemed confused about what this new feature is for. This isn't an exhaustive review of Christian opinion on pressing issues of the day (such as, for example, health care reform). Instead, it's a roundup of what Christian political advocacy organizations have been talking about over the last seven days. Yes, there are some great Christian political bloggers out there that don't have an organization behind them. And yes, rounding up organizations necessarily means we'll be quoting more from the right than from the left.

Still, within those parameters we know that there are improvements we can make. Do you find this helpful and informative? What would you like to read more of? Less of? Are there groups we should be paying closer attention to? Let us know in the comments section below.

The Big Story: Summit Week

This week's top news contains the words evangelical and summit — but not necessarily the words "Values Voter." Evangelicals participated in the Faith Leaders Summit, an interfaith event preceding the G-20 meetings. According to Bread for the World, which sponsored the summit, the stated purpose was to "remind [leaders] that any recovery must include the 1 billion people who now live in extreme poverty and hunger."

Galen Carey, the National Association of Evangelicals' director of government affairs, was among the summit participants. "The global economic crisis has pushed more than a hundred million people back into desperate poverty, erasing many of the economic gains of recent years," he said. "As our leaders continue guiding a process of economic recovery, we want to make sure that the needs of the poor and vulnerable are at the top of the agenda."

Haley Hathaway, writing on Sojourners' God's Politics blog, questioned the G-20 commitment to helping those in poverty: "What makes world leaders think the developing world isn't also too big to fail?"

The other summit in evangelical political news was the annual Values Voter Summit. Chiefly sponsored by Family Research Council Action, the event's cosponsors are a who's who of conservative Christian politics: Focus on the Family Action, American Values, American Family Association, and the Heritage Foundation. The event elicited a wide range of media attention. A webcast of the event is available on the VVS website.

According to the FRC, "Every general session was packed as over 1,800 people attended the premier event, while more than 175,000 unique visitors watched online." Speakers included Carrie Prejean (former Miss California USA), Bill O'Reilly (host of The O'Reilly Factor) and Bill Bennett (former Sec. of Education and host of Morning in America). Political leaders speaking at the event included former governors Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) and Mitt Romney (R-Mass.), Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and other Republican members of Congress.

The summit included a straw poll of possible presidential candidates (yes, for 2012). The winner was Huckabee with 29 percent. Romney, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Gov. Sarah Palin (who did not attend), and Pence tied for second with about 12 percent.

Beth Dahlman of Faith in Public Life questioned the overlap between the summit and Republican Party politics. She wrote that "While 'values voters' might connote a broad-based coalition, this was by and large an event for Christian Republicans. … I would hope that this level of purely partisan electoral calculus is something both sides would seek to avoid, for our faiths' sake as much as any political outcome."

The event concluded by awarding Phyllis Schlafly the James C. Dobson Vision and Leadership Award. Tony Perkins of the FRC said that "the work that Phyllis has done throughout her lifetime and continues to do is an inspiration for all. One night was not enough to be able to honor all of her accomplishments, but we did our best to pay tribute to this remarkable champion."

Perhaps the quickest way to grasp the zeitgeist of the summit is to skim the list of break-out sessions.

  • True Tolerance: Countering the Homosexual Agenda in Public Schools
  • The Threat of Illegal Immigration
  • Turning the Tide in Your Generation
  • Obamacare: Rationing Your Life Away
  • Marriage: Why It's Worth Defending and How Redefining It Threatens Religious Liberty
  • Global Warming Hysteria: The New Face of the "Pro-Death" Agenda
  • Speechless—Silencing the Christians
  • The New Masculinity (see clip and read about this session)
  • Thugocracy - Fighting the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
  • Defunding Planned Parenthood
  • Activism and Conservatism: Fit to a Tea (Party)
  • Faith, Politics, and the Internet: How to Contend for Truth in a Digital Age

Of the 1,800 attendees, a few were evangelicals with a more progressive politics. Evangelicals for Social Action's Rusty Pritchard attended the "Global Warming Hysteria" session. It was not what he expected. "I was delighted and surprised when Cal Beisner, a prominent global warming science skeptic, publicly distanced himself from over-the-top accusations aimed at Christian creation care activist," Pritchard wrote. "In fact Beisner went out of his way to mention us and welcome us publicly, to express his shock at discovering the ill-conceived workshop title and description, and to admit that some Christians come to opposite conclusions about the validity of climate science and the need for action. He was gracious and civil."

Pritchard also argued that criticism of Obama's policies are not racist, and lauded the inclusion of black leaders at the summit. "A big theme repeatedly emerged, which the rest of the Christian church needs to admit. Conservatism and racism do not go hand-in-hand. … Some of the charges leveled against our most conservative brothers and sisters are frankly ridiculous, and we all should do what we can to stop them."

Health care reform

The debate on health care has expanded beyond the issue of funding for abortions (though that is still important) to include taxation and funding of Planned Parenthood.

Traditional Values Coalition's Andrea Lafferty compared President Obama and King George: "Tyrants are always the same—and their slavish worshipers like Baucus are willing to do their bidding to help tax their subjects into oblivion." American Center for Law and Justice chief counsel Jay Sekulow discussed healthcare on The 700 Club.

Focus Action spokesperson Tom Minnery summed up opposition to the bill succinctly in a fundraising e-mail: "The likely consequences of this so-called reform—higher abortion rates, pressure on our elderly, more debt for our kids and grandkids—must be stopped before they begin."

Richard Land explained his disagreement with the claim that the Bible gives us a moral imperative to provide government funded health care to illegal immigrants. While supportive of private charities funding such insurance, he said that government funding crosses the line:

We have a right to our money. I think that this argument that if we're going to be charitable that we need to have the government subsidize health insurance for illegal immigrants is nonsense. And it's dangerous nonsense. And it's expensive nonsense. And of course it would lead to a massive new wave of immigration. I mean, you live Mexico or you live in El Salvador and you're told that if you can make it to the United States you can get free health care. Oh please. It would take the entire U.S. Army to close off the southern border.

Evangelicals for Social Action's Heidi Unruh, meanwhile, advocated building a coalition around the problem of child poverty: "Children should not go hungry, go without health care or be homeless — period." She also addressed what she considered the underlying issue on health care: political power and the role of government.

Sexual ethics

Two other bills on the radar screen of conservative groups address gay rights:

1. The "Employment Non-Discrimination Act" (H.R. 3017) was the subject of House committee hearings. According to Focus CitizenLink, ENDA, which "purports to offer employment protection for gays and lesbians, as well as 'transgender' individuals, would also trump the rights of religious employers." Focus Action opposed ENDA, noting what it sees as an irony: Supporters of ENDA use a moral argument but opposed moral arguments in the promotion of anti-sodomy laws and other restrictions against homosexual behavior. If ENDA passes, TVC warns, "the LGBT agenda will be imposed on businesses, local, state and federal governments, including public schools, Christian day care centers and camps, plus many other Christian entities, including religious broadcasters."

2. Congress is considering expanded hate crimes legislation. FRC Action said, "The hate crimes legislation is a power grab from the federal government that will give special, not equal, protections to homosexuals."

And "under so-called hate-crimes laws, pastors who preach a biblical sermon on homosexuality could face prosecution if they are found to have 'induced' a hate crime against a self-identified homosexual or 'transgendered' individual," said CitizenLink.

Pro-Life Protests

Democrats for Life have responded to President Obama's health care address to Congress. Previously skeptical of health care legislation, DFL stated this week their support: "We appreciate that the President has made a commitment to removing abortion from the health care bill. We look forward to working with the President to support the language that Congressman Bart Stupak will offer to ensure abortion will be explicitly excluded from the Public Plan."

National Right to Life Committee's Dave Andrusko, however, took aim at the actions of Senator Baucus in an e-mail. The issue wasn't abortion funding. Baucus had been accused of trying to silence opposition by some insurance groups who opposed changes to Medicare funding. Andrusko found this to be "part and parcel of something much larger and more 1984-esque: The unrelenting determination by the Congressional Democratic leadership to squelch opposing viewpoints by hook or by crook. That runs the gamut from verbally assaulting people as swastika-carrying 'evil-mongers' to labeling them 'racists' for daring to question the agenda of Obama and his cohorts running Congress."

Church and State

The American Family Association encouraged its members to let President Obama know that they do not support a Muslim day of prayer, which it called anti-Semitic and anti-American. It said Obama has "barely acknowledged the Christian heritage of the United States, refusing to participate in the National Day of Prayer and issuing only a perfunctory proclamation which he was required to do by law. Yet he has hosted a dinner celebrating what he called 'the Holy Month of Ramadan' in the White House, and recently issued a proclamation at the end of Ramadan which concluded with an Arabic blessing."

But most advocacy groups were less focused on the Muslim Day of Prayer than on Iran. The American Center for Law and Justice and its European counterpart called for Iran to be "held accountable for its serious and repeated violations of human rights and international law." A few days later, leaders including representatives of Prison Fellowship, Southern Baptists, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, and other groups sent a letter advocating sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program. Meanwhile, Christian Broadcasting Network reported Voice of the Martyrs is urging the Obama administration to discuss religious persecution when they meet with Iranian delegates next month. It also asked Christians to write letters to Iranian president Ahmadinejad protesting Iran's human rights violations.

Tobin Grant is an associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and director of the Tracking American Evangelical Politics project.

Related Elsewhere:

See our first installment of this feature, "Where the Health Care Debate Lies."

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