Evangelicals May Detach from Republican Party

Research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that while evangelical Christians remain conservative, many are identifying less and less as Republicans. Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, talks about "values voters," and where they are parting ways from the Republican mainstream.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And for another perspective on this issue, we're going to turn to Richard Cizik. He is vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals.

Nice to talk to you again.

Mr. RICHARD CIZIK (Vice President, Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals): Nice to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: And can we start with the story that - about the concern that some evangelicals have their disappointment with the current field that was an op-ed by evangelical leader and focused on family chairman James Dobson in the New York Times saying that if both parties nominate a pro-choice candidates, evangelicals may pursue a third party option. Is it that bad? Is there that much disenchantment with the current field?

Mr. CIZIK: Hard to say. There's a possibility that obviously the leaders that spoke out, as they did, have that concern. It's interesting, Michel, we asked the question, what are the top issues of concern to American evangelicals today of our leader just last week, and what did we find? Well, we found that their concerns are pretty diverse. A top was dealing with changes in American culture - consumerism, materialism, family finances and the preservation of traditional families. And yes, the sanctity of life and protection of that was there. But, the next likely issue of concern identified by these leaders was helping the hurting, including those with HIV/AIDS, poverty reduction, immigration reform. And so there you have it, a laundry list of concerns. It's pretty varied.

MARTIN: Richard, I'm glad you brought it up because that was going to be my next question. There is this sort of popular idea that the evangelical vote hinges primarily on issues like abortion and gay marriage. You heard these presidential advisers just describe their sense that the faith voters is interested about in other things - stewardship of the earth, caring for the least of us. They would also make the argument that peace is a faith issue. Do you agree with their analysis? Is that accurate in your view? And is this new - that this basket of issues is broader than perhaps it used to be?

Mr. CIZIK: I think it's new in this sense. For example, the NAE, our organization, in 2004 adopted a landmark document called "For The Health of The Nation and Evangelical Called to Civic Responsibility" in which we outline that all the issues must be of concern, not just sanctity of life and the preservation of traditional family, but even creation, care, (unintelligible), religious freedom, human rights. These are all concerns according to our leadership.

And so I do agree with the two representatives here, David Bonior and Joshua, that these are all concerns, but it's true, we do have an historic commitment to protecting human life, and that's reflected in the survey. But I would caution people to think that issues are everything. I say in many of our leaders say, look at issues of personal integrity and the values that the candidates represent, the personal integrity values, and second of all the philosophy of government they have. So issues may be third.

Martin: Mm-hmm. Interesting.

Mr. CIZIK: By the way, it may interest you to know as well as the listeners that the leadership found little concern centered on national politics or the war in Iraq.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CIZIK: What was the issue of concern?

MARTIN: What was it?

Mr. CIZIK: Well, dealing with these changes, these changes in American culture - the impact, for example, of the economy on family finances. And, yes, rounding out those top concerns were concerns about the environment and health care, racial reconciliation, the pressure on our young people to conform to, well, contemporary values. So our leaders have a laundry list of concerns that's pretty varied, and the candidates are going to have to recognize that and appeal to it. So…

MARTIN: So does that suggest that they might have a chance that (unintelligible) other candidates might have a chance to make an argument?

Mr. CIZIK: I would certainly think so. I personally lament the fact that we are considered, for example, as evangelicals the - or the proprietary property of one political party. I mean this is foolishness, and it doesn't help us in our advocacy for our spiritual values to be perceived by members of the public as the wholly owned property as evangelicals, that is the wholly owned property of the GOP. That doesn't help us.

MARTIN: But who do you think perceives evangelicals that way? Do you think the candidates…

Mr. CIZIK: I think…

MARTIN: …or do you think the Republicans already does?

Mr. CIZIK: No.

MARTIN: Or do you think the general public does, or the media?

Mr. CIZIK: Oh I think there's a stereotype out there, and it's because of that stereotype that in the survey evangelical leaders express concern about these misunderstandings, misrepresentations that were primarily political rather than spiritual. That came up quite often in the survey. And so where does it come from? Well, sometimes it's reflected by the leaders who simply want us to believe that we're a two-issue community because they are at most concerned about those select issues, and the conformity of political parties to sanctity of life commitment, for example. I understand it. I happened to be a conservative, but I know that the gospel is not just one concern, it's for the people as whole people who are concerned about their kids, their families, their finances, consumerism, materialism and even, yes, the care of creation because God owns it; we don't own it.

MARTIN: I only have just one minute left. I didn't want to ask you, and it's a complicated question to ask someone to answer in one minute, but I do want to talk for a minute about Mitt Romney and…

Mr. CIZIK: Yes.

MARTIN: …who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, which is, you know, the Mormon Church, do think and - I think there are some concern about whether he would be accepted as a presidential leader because of this, but do you think that personal faith or personal religious commitments are still a barrier to - for some people?

Mr. CIZIK: I think for some. I think it's up to Mr. Romney to explain how his faith impacts. And so, for those people who want to say, well, we don't believe it's a factor, we don't believe how he manifests his faith, or what he believes, they would - well, these are the same people that have historically said, well, these things do matter, and now to come around a few years later because they happen to like Mitt Romney specifically and say, well, that doesn't matter. Well, that's hypocritical and it's frankly false.

MARTIN: No (unintelligible).

Mr. CIZIK: It does matter. It certainly does matter, but I think he has to answer those questions in his own way. I don't think he's done it yet.

MARTIN: Oh and I sure appreciate you. Richard Cizik is the vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. He joined us from member station KPBX in Spokane, Washington.

Thank you so much for speaking with us. I hope you'll come back.

Mr. CIZIK: Thanks, Michel.

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