This past week’s 2006 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., demonstrated one thing above all else: America’s conservative churches are fighting a moral War on Error as threatening as America’s War on Terror.
Nearly 2,000 mostly Christian conservative activists attended the conference in Washington, D.C., aimed at politically equipping and rallying pastors and strategists in the run-up to the 2006 midterm elections. Conference organizers included Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Gary Bauer of American Values and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association.
Leading prospects for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination auditioned, including Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. George Allen (Va.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Notably, two other leading contenders, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did not participate.
As Dr. Dobson openly confessed, Christian values voters have been disappointed at the congressional failure to enact legislation on their issues over the last two years despite electing a Republican House, Senate and President in 2004. By his own account, Dobson began the year “extremely disappointed” and dispirited. He even considered withdrawing from his “exhausting” practice of pre-election “crisscrossing the country trying to get people to turn out, because turnout is everything.”
Recently, though, the Republican-led Congress has been more attentive and more effective in passing legislation important to values voters. Now Dobson says he is “absolutely convinced there is no choice” but to be as active as possible “because the alternative is terrible.” He continued, “People must turn out.”
This is why issues such as gay marriage are so politically potent and why that issue was the dominant topic of the Values Voter Summit. Marriage protection amendments have been enacted in 20 states in recent years, and this year there are eight more states where the issue appears on the ballot. Two of these states are home to two of the most closely contested Senate races: Virginia and Tennessee.
Interviewed before he delivered his speech, Gary Bauer predicted, “If the previous election is any example, it will increase the voter turnout by more traditional voters. And I think that in what could be a very close election this November these amendments may make the difference for conservative candidates.”
One featured speaker who addressed the marriage issue with authority was Republican presidential hopeful Romney, who leads the only state to have legalized same-sex marriage.
Citing his own experience as governor of Massachusetts, Romney insisted, “We have to have a federal standard that says, ‘Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.’” Warning that his state’s laxity foreshadowed the nationwide threat to not only traditional singular husband-wife marriage but also to religious freedom and civic life in general, Romney adduced the example of Catholic Charities adoption services: “Catholic Charities, which has long placed many of our special-needs kids … has had to exit the adoption practice in Massachusetts. They are now told they cannot prefer adoption by traditional couples … but they must equally … place children in same-sex homes.”
The Catholic Charities case is just one small wave in what would be a giant tsunami of anti-Christian delegitimization and denial of rights. Dobson and Perkins both stated that gay marriage advocates are on a “collision course” with religious freedom. “And everything from tax exemptions for your schools, churches, right on down the line are in jeopardy if we fail to preserve [husband-wife] marriage in our society,” Dobson warned. Columnist Maggie Gallagher added that once courts legitimize same-sex marriage, anyone who opposes such unions will be labeled a “bigot” and marginalized. Bigots “don’t get thrown in prison. But they can’t have a radio broadcasting license … run an accredited school system … run a tax-exempt organization … be a teacher in a public school.”
The Rev. Barry Lynn, leader of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the dominant liberal group attempting to block conservative Christians, attended the meeting. In an interview with a reporter, Lynn issued a thinly veiled threat that political activism in or around churches as advocated by the meeting organizers may violate IRS guidelines and subject churches to loss of tax-exempt status. Lynn announced that he has sent warning letters to the pastors of 117,000 churches.
Dobson and Perkins view Lynn’s efforts as an attempt to intimidate Christian pastors. They argue that “there is nothing in the federal tax laws to prevent a pastor from directly telling the congregation to support [issues or] legislation that the church believes to be beneficial to the community.”
Alan Sears, head of the Alliance Defense Fund, the conservative Christian counterpart of the ACLU, contended, “The ACLU and its allies depend on a campaign of fear, intimidation, and disinformation to silence the church.” Sears continued: “We’ve said that we will defend pastors that follow the guidelines” and do not endorse particular candidates. Perkins reinforced the point, noting that “If you’re challenged in any way, the ADF will represent you for free.”
Commenting to a reporter, Lynn denied having any reservations about filing charges with the IRS against conservative churches, noting that “internecine warfare in Christendom, sadly, has occurred since the beginning of the Church.”