Conservative Religious Leaders Run Risk of Isolating Themselves

June 12, 2007 posted an article on June 11 entitled, “Conservatives Would Bolt GOP Over Rudy.” The title is a bit misleading as the article is about a few prominent religious conservative leaders, not religious conservatives as a whole, and not conservatives in general. The article would have been better titled “Religious Conservative Leaders Poised to Run Head Long into Political Oblivion.”

From the article:

“A growing number of influential social conservatives are speaking out against Rudy Giuliani, with some threatening that they will take flight from the Republican Party in 2008 if the former New York mayor is the GOP nominee…”

While the article cites the views of James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, their opinions are virtually identical to those of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who said, “Speaking as a private citizen, no, no, I could not support (Giuliani). The 20 years I’ve been involved in politics, the life issue has been at the very top. How could I turn my back on that?”

Rather than prophets of doom delivering their message to the Giuliani campaign, Messrs. Perkins, Dobson, Sheldon, and Land may be on a collision course with irrelevancy.

I’m as pro-life as any of these four, but the question becomes one of strategy and tactics, not sincerity and commitment to the issue. As I stated in an earlier blog entry, 34 years of pro-life advocacy have produced exactly what in terms of eroding the Roe v. Wade decision? The partial-birth abortion bill signed by Pres. Bush is the only substantive thing in 34 years, but that was challenged in the courts, and while the swing vote for the majority was supposedly Justice Anthony Kennedy, the real swing vote was actually Justice Samuel Alito, the most recent addition to the court, and the one who replaced Sandra Day O’Connor on the court. This fact shows the importance of the courts in moving the pro-life position further down-field. Since Rudy Giuliani is committed to appointing strict constructionists to the judiciary, I see this as the best and only way a President can potentially chip away at Roe.

When Perkins says he’s been at this for 20-some-odd years, therein may be the real motivation for opposing Rudy. While I hesitate to assume to read minds or peer into the heart of an individual and divine their motives, Messrs. Perkins, Dobson, Sheldon, and Land have made a career out of being recognized as “leaders” among social conservatives, and a Rudy candidacy no doubt threatens their king-maker role within the GOP. If Rudy gets elected, it may mean reduced influence for these four — no more pandering to them for their support, no more special lunches at the White House with the President, and so forth.

And that fear is well-founded. The Politico article also cites the fact that a plurality of self-identified rank-and-file social conservatives supports Giuliani for the nomination. “Giuliani’s support for abortion rights and gay rights has not to date prevented him from winning the support of a sizable number of socially conservative voters, according to polls. But the continued strength of his candidacy is causing alarm among leaders of conservative advocacy groups, many of which have been major players in Republican politics.” Therein may be their real fear – not that Rudy Giuliani may become President, but that most social conservatives will be deaf to their political opinions.

I wish to repeat something I stated in an earlier post: How does being personally pro-life make this nation more secure, keep our economy strong, reform and reduce the size of government, grant parents greater choice in the education of their children, defend and expand freedom around the world, and win the war on terror? Messrs. Dobson, Land, Sheldon, and Perkins may hold the view that they will refuse to vote for someone who is not personally pro-life, and that’s their right. But speaking as a pro-life conservative Christian who believes that social issues are important, I refuse to hold issues such as national security, a prosperous economy, the need to reduce the size of government, America’s interests in the world, and the war on terror, hostage to the one issue of abortion (despite my pro-life position). If Mayor Giuliani maintained a personal position in support of personal choice on abortion, and hadn’t pledged to appoint conservative strict constructionists to the courts, these self-appointed spokesmen for social conservatives might have a point. But he has, and they don’t.

While these “leaders” are saying they will not follow a candidate who isn’t personally pro-life, I think it’s time many of us social conservatives tell these “leaders” that we will not follow their leadership if they sacrifice every other issue of importance to America on the abortion altar. Let them quit politics, if that’s their choice, and get off the public stage.

So, Messrs. Dobson, Land, Perkins, and Sheldon…how about getting back to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and stop looking to politics as the way to redeem society? Abortion is a black and white issue. Politics is always various shades of gray. There is power in the gospel to change lives and hearts. Maybe it’s time you four moved out of politics and got back to what’s really important in improving the character of the nation.

Greg Alterton

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