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What does the future hold for Christians and coalitions of social conservatives? (Photo credit: Chron.com)

By Rick Plasterer

How Christians and social conservatives are to continue after a devastating election with demographic trends against them was the topic at an hour long session at the Family Research Council on Wednesday, February 6. Dr. Andrew Essig, Associate Professor of Political Science at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, and Eric Teetsel, Executive Director of the Manhattan Declaration spoke regarding the components of the electorate that affect social conservatives in politics, and how social conservatives may look to the future.

Dr. Essig spoke first. He indicated that the Catholic vote is “one of the best bellwethers out there” of the direction of the American electorate. Catholics, considered as all those baptized into the Catholic Church, are diverse, and “because of that diversity” tend to indicate the direction of the electorate. The Catholic vote may be broken down either by regularity of church attendance (with occasional attenders more liberal), or by ethnic group (white versus Hispanic, with Hispanics voting far more in line with liberals and against positions taken by the church leadership). Most Catholics “are not aware of the non-negotiable issues” of the church’s hierarchy, and these issues (abortion, traditional marriage, embryonic stem cell research, etc.) tend to be far down the list of priorities for Catholic voters, with the economy the number one issue, Essig said. But while he had expected a greater shift in the Catholic vote after four years of Obama’s presidency, there was only a relatively slight shift away from Obama (50% in 2012 versus 54% in 2008). Obama increased his Hispanic support (76% versus 72% in 2008), apparently due to the issue of immigration.

Key to winning the Catholic vote is appeal to the “Catholic moderate” (characterized by the attitude “I’m mostly Catholic”). This part of the Catholic electorate tends to be pro-abortion and pro-contraception but against “big government.” These voters are critical to winning the Catholic vote, and the Catholic vote is crucial to the large electoral states, most notably Ohio. They do not seem to have been affected by the fact that Obama broke his promises that faith-based organizations would be unaffected by health care reform, but need to have emphasized to them that the government assumption of responsibility for public welfare under Obama is destroying the civil society of private and religious associations which have attended to meeting human needs. It is in these organizations, rather than government programs, that Christians have the opportunity to obey Jesus’ command to “love thy neighbor.” Additionally, this voluntary action is more effective at actually bringing needy people up from misery than the government, and voluntary civil society is vital to democracy.  Essig proposed that this is a message that conservatives can use to reach out to “Catholic moderates” and Hispanics, noting that “as the Catholic vote goes, so goes the Presidency.”

Eric Teetsel spoke next, and said that a “style and substance” approach was as important in looking to the future as changing demographics. He noted that Ronald Reagan spent years honing his skills as a communicator, and he was characterized by an “unwavering belief in truth.” His leadership style was characterized by “storytelling, moral clarity, and statesmanship.” This gives a sense of authority, and “authority is an attractive quality.” Ultimately, Teetsel seemed to be advocating a commitment to an irreducible truth as the proper conservative approach to the current political situation. Conservatives have the task of selling conservative values to a generation believing in life’s futility, and conditioned by Hollywood. Like Essig, Teetsel pointed out that conservative values involve real love of neighbor, through direct action, rather than through the government. The Romney campaign did not succeed by its emphasis on the economy, and effort to avoid the social issues, such as marriage. Despite claims that social forces are trending against conservatives, the change of public opinion concerning abortion shows that “trends change in both directions,” Teetsel said. Additionally, while the 2012 election was devastating at the national level, at the state level it was “a banner year” for conservatives. Michigan becoming a right to work state and the victory of Scot Walker’s policies in taming Wisconsin’s public service unions were noted. Teetsel said we should not “quit on what’s true,” but instead take Churchill’s advice that “we ought never, never, never to give up.”

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5 Responses to Building a Winning Coalition

  1. Gus Ravenwheel says:

    Rick said…

    They do not seem to have been affected by the fact that Obama broke his promises that faith-based organizations would be unaffected by health care reform, but need to have emphasized to them that the government assumption of responsibility for public welfare under Obama is destroying the civil society of private and religious associations which have attended to meeting human needs.

    1. I’d suggest that this sort of language undermines your ability to reach out to moderates. Those who view issues as “our side vs the side that is ‘destroying the civil society…” makes you sound partisan and harshly opinionated. In the recent surveys about what is driving young people away from church, this sort of partisan judgmentalism, “our way or the highway” thinking is what is undermining church credibility (unfortunately, undermining church credibility across the board, even for those churches that don’t have that mindset).

    2. I’ve long maintained that the best way for conservative folk to get rid of gov’t welfare-type assistance for meeting human needs is for those churches to step up and significantly deal with these problems themselves. IF you get rid of the need for gov’t welfare assistance investments, then those agencies will go out of business. Win at the Market level on this point would be a winning solution for conservative types. If you get rid of the demand, then you’ll put the gov’t out of the welfare business.

    There is not one thing stopping churches using their collective wealth in this manner (as opposed to building bigger and costlier buildings) and then you could remove that complaint from your list of complaints. Plus, you’d be doing what you describe as the work of the church. Win-win.

    ~Dan

  2. Gus Ravenwheel says:

    Consider, for a moment, this issue of how best to help the poor.

    1. It is a DEEP concern for many/most of us – religious left and right, conservative and liberal, urban and rural, religious and unreligious – we are ALL united in our concern for the poor and wanting to find workable, responsible ways of helping the needy.

    2. Rather than speak divisively in us vs them language (“we who support doing something to help the poor vs the GOP and the wealthy,” “we who want to actually help the poor vs those who just want to steal from the rich to give to the shiftless poor…”), what if we actively and respectfully worked to find common ground. No one wants gov’t programs that are ineffective, let’s not assume that this is what liberals want. Very few want to see the poor starving in the street, let’s not suggest that this is what the GOP wants.

    3. Both liberal and conservative sides support the notion of private non-profits, church groups, community groups, etc, getting out there with local, creative, effective, proven solutions. Let’s make up our mind to actively agree to support these programs. For instance, programs that help educate prisoners help reduce recidivism which in turn effectively decreases poverty – this is demonstrable/observable in study after study. These programs may cost $2 million (for instance) but the reduced recividism typically saves $3 million! It’s proven and effective. This should be a no-brainer. let’s fund these programs, because reducing poverty and (in this case, recidivism) is the point.

    4. So, let private groups step up and fund these programs and, if there isn’t enough private money stepping up to do that job, then let’s support gov’t (ie, all of us), filling in the gap. This should be an easy area of agreement between Left and Right, and yet it’s not.

    But rather than jump on bandwagons of us vs “those who wish to destroy,” let’s acknowledge a common goal and find ways to work together.

    Why is this so difficult?

    ~Dan

  3. cken says:

    I remember back in the day before there was welfare and social security was just starting; families, communities, churches, and charities took care of their elderly, sick and homeless. What has happened to cause us to abdicate those responsibilities to the government. We need to stop making abortion, birth control pills, and gay marriage political issues. Yes I understand at times,when they assault religious freedom, they can become justifiable political issues. I know many are against abortion and gay marriage etc., but that is between them and their God, not things we should fight in the political arena. Excepting when the issues become a political assault against religious freedom as with the ACA insurance, then we should fight vigorously.

    Our priorities should be getting back to more basic Christian even humanistic values if you will. Values like honor your father and mother, love your neighbor as your self, thou shall not kill, and do unto others. That is how we can restore society, and our government.

    We need to pick and choose our battles and how we fight them; so we are perceived for what we are, those who care, not those who hate. It’s the in-fighting and refusing to vote for someone who doesn’t conform to our exact individual moral standards which are hurting us.

    Finally we need to vote people with values and who support the constitution into political offices. It should not matter what race they are, or whether they are Buddhist, Catholic, Jew, Masons, Mormons, Nones, or Protestant.

    • dover1952 says:

      cken said:

      “Our priorities should be getting back to more basic Christian even humanistic values if you will. Values like honor your father and mother, love your neighbor as your self, thou shall not kill, and do unto others. That is how we can restore society, and our government.”

      You have obviously not had much experience posting here. You may think those are fine Christian values, but you will soon find that they are not valued very much by most of the so-called “Christians” who post here.

      • cken says:

        Not that I really care what others think of my posts, but it is a bit sad if the ten commandments aren’t considered both Christian and human values. I discovered several decades ago that most Christian religions had stopped teaching Christian values. Ironically you can find more spiritual discussion and so called Christian values among many Nones than in most churches. Nonetheless I appreciate your heads up.

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