Some Evangelicals Losing Faith in GOP

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A number of conservative African-American and Latino evangelicals are questioning their alliances with the GOP. While some still support President Bush, others say the party has fallen short on key issues like immigration and faith-based initiatives. Tony Cox discusses the issue with Bishop John Gimenez, pastor of the 5,000-member Rock Church in Virginia Beach, Va., and Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor at the 3,000-member Hope Christian Church in College Park, Md.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

God, politics and questions. After supporting the Republican Party, some conservative African-American and Latino evangelicals are questioning their alliance with the GOP. They say the party has fallen short on key issues like immigration and faith-based initiatives.

Earlier, NPR's Tony Cox spoke by phone with two leading bishops, one black and one Hispanic.

Bishop John Gimenez is a pastor of the 5,000-member Rock Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

And Bishop Harry Jackson is senior pastor at the 3,000-member Hope Christian Church. That church is based in College Park, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C. Bishop Jackson told NPR's Tony Cox why the GOP has fallen out of favor with some conservative Christians.

Bishop HARRY JACKSON (Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church): Many of us are feeling as though the evangelical community has been taken for granted and that the issues that matter to us such as marriage and family are being ignored. And those issues need to be addressed. So it's a sense of abandonment after many of us have risked the ire of our communities in standing with the GOP, now the GOP does not deliver.

TONY COX: Are you of the same opinion, Bishop Gimenez?

Bishop JOHN GIMENEZ (Pastor, Rock Church): I certainly am. I was watching Congressman Ford yesterday, and it seems that the Democrats are beginning to come back to the center as he was declaring Jesus as the Lord of his life and there's no room for compromise on certain moral issues. And the more - or that we're hearing that - the more that we are saying, you know, if only all of them could come to the center, you know.

COX: Are the issues different with regard to the black evangelical clergy and the Latino evangelical clergy with regard to whether or not the GOP is stepping up to the plate in the way that you both feel that it should?

Bishop JACKSON: I think there may be a slight difference in this regard. Most blacks are concerned about the war in Iraq, whether they're Christians or not, because so many of us are going to the war. But I think the issue of immigration may be an issue that no one in the black community has addressed. And it seems as though there's been a crossing a line and coming back and forth on the conservative Republican side. And many blacks are concerned that they are losing jobs. They don't know why. And they have a skepticism about immigration, but there's not a clearly defined position.

COX: With regard to immigration, Bishop Gimenez, is that a - is that the primary and focal issue that concerns you?

Bishop GIMENEZ: I think it's because we are so diverse in the Latino community, being from Venezuela, Uruguay to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and we tend to sort of go in different directions on that. For instance, those of us who were born here -I was born in Spanish Harlem - don't have a big problem as far as immigration. We understand law is law, and what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

So while we may feel compassion and so forth, we still know that once you start breaking of any law, you either got to change it or it has no effect. One last thing is you've got more Catholics in the Latino ranks than you do within the African-American ranks. And they have been trained from the get-go, you know, in the Catholic doctrine of, you know, abortion, against abortion, against all those things.

So they're more, in a sense, are more aligned in that area. Whereas in the black community, African-American community, they've been brought up more in the evangelical type of setting - which I am one - in this area in America and so forth. And so I think that you have some diversity. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, we're going to join together in what's basic in the rule of God's law.

COX: Let me ask you, Bishop Jackson, you've been quoted as saying that evangelicals must ask themselves if we can work in harmony with a group that takes us for granted and comprises on major moral principles. What is the answer to that question?

Bishop JACKSON: I think there has to be a - as some people call it, come-to-Jesus meeting with the Republican Party. Meaning that if you have the Foley-type of situations and other disclosures that have come out, and on these issues of protecting the family and dealing with the rights that people are supposed to have concerning economics and even judicial justice, many blacks are saying to themselves, are we in a situation like we were when the Democrats were in charge of all black people, so to speak, and they promise, promise, promise but they never deliver.

So there's going to have to be a realignment that says we are either going to be for your moral agenda and we're going to try to govern in a moral way, or there need to be a parting of ways. I believe that there will be a meeting of the minds with black, Hispanic and the broader evangelical community with the GOP, but I think it's time that we also start talking to the Democrats.

As Bishop Gimenez said earlier, we really want to, as Christians first and Democrats or Republicans second, we want to see both parties come more toward the middle and build up our families, build up our communities and make America the great nation that it once was.

COX: Let me follow up with you, Bishop Jackson, on this point. Because much has been written about this, particularly in the book Testifying Faith by David Kuo, who, as you all know, was a former White House aide talking about reportedly that the president was critical of black evangelical support because, quote, the president allegedly said, “all they want is money." How much of this is a quid pro quo, money for support?

Bishop JACKSON: I don't think it is that much simply because there hasn't been enough money to go into the black community through the faith-based initiatives that make it worth anything for us.

I think we feel used, though. When I, for example, am out pushing these issues which I believe in, I always get a backlash; you're an Uncle Tom, you're an Oreo, blah blah blah, and I've got to deal with that in my own community. So if there's not a delivery of these moral values or some substantive policies, then I will diminish my own constituency, my church, my power base within our organization.

Most black leaders - and I'm sure Hispanics as well - will have to deal with that kind of backlash to say, hmmm, are we really getting what we have bargained for out of this relationship?

COX: Bishop Gimenez, is that the situation that you face in terms of supporting an agenda that hasn't given back what you expected to receive?

Bishop GIMENEZ: Well, I've learned by now, when they come around, they want to vote. But once they get it, they forgot who you are. And that's correct, and that's on both sides. We have certain things that we cannot bend on, unless we throw the Bible away.

So it's good to see that on the other side they're understanding that issues that are really deeply rooted in the heart of the Christian. I tell my parishioners, could you take the Bible in the voting booth with you when you're going to pull that lever?

So I'm hoping that more and more of this trend that I heard from Mr. Ford comes forth in the Democratic ranks because basically you've got the left wing and the right wing, but neither one can fly without the other. The bird doesn't fly unless it has two wings. So I'm both Democrat and Republican, but above that I'm Christian. And that's the bird that I want to see fly.

COX: Bishop Jackson, how much of this is an issue that is specifically centered around the Republican Party platforms, or how much of this is really connected to George W. Bush as the head of the party? What I'm really getting at is are you still a supporter of the president but maybe not necessarily as supportive of the party?

Bishop JACKSON: Wow, that's a great question. I believe that President Bush is a good man. He means well. I do believe that there have been some problems of governance with the Republican Party. But as Bishop Gimenez said, my biggest concerns are the constitution of the family, of a fact that in the black community our families are absolutely falling apart. And there needs to be something done to bring stability - protecting traditional marriage, limiting abortions. Also, there need to be economic development as well.

So my big issues are on the fundamental thing like a marriage amendment, nobody showed up in Washington for us this past summer. Republicans did not do what they said on that issue, and that to me is a moral issue that trumps whether I like Bush or not.

So I think that he is a great man, but there needs to be a sense among his whole Cabinet that they are supporting us. The Kuo book, it was very clear that there was an anti-Christian environment in some places, and I think that probably has some truth to it.

COX: My final question is to you, Bishop Gimenez, and it is this, because the head of the Latino Coalition was quoted as saying that this fissure is one that will not be closed in this election, relating to of course the issues with regard to the GOP and the Latinos. In your view, how can the Bush administration and his party, the GOP, strengthen its outreach to Latino folks?

Bishop GIMENEZ: Well, I think that Bush has done more in reaching out than most people, of course. His brother Jeb is someone I've been with in a service, and a very fine man. But I think he has done more when you see the people he has put around him. There's an old Spanish proverb that says (speaking foreign language) or who - tell me who you walk with, I'll tell you who you are.

Mr. Bush has tried to bring forth, as much as he can, the attitude and the concerns that govern our hearts and our souls and our spirits as Christians. And it's Psalm One that tells us, don't sit with the wicked, don't hang out with them, you know, we minister to them and so forth.

So I think that if Bush, whoever it is that runs - and I'll tell you, '08 is going to be one of the most crucial times in our nation's history. When we go to the booth to vote, who is going to rule over us? Will it be the righteous that will bring joy to the heart of the people? Or will it be the wicked whose agenda is abortion, whose agenda is same-sex marriage - the anti-prayer, anti-Christian, anti - so we have to make up our minds in the Christian ranks.

Who do we follow? And I believe that Bishop Jackson and other men of integrity in the Christian leadership will take the stand for Jesus. And you know what? It's not farfetched that one day the Christian community might decide to have their own party. I don't know if that's going to happen in my time, but you never know.

COX: Bishop Harry Jackson, Bishop John Gimenez. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.

Bishop GIMENEZ: Thank you, Tony.

Bishop JACKSON: Thank you, Tony.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox speaking to Bishop John Gimenez of Rock Church in Virginia Beach and Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church based in College Park, Maryland.

We should mention that NEWS & NOTES did invite a member of the Republican National Committee to address these issues. We hope to bring you that response in the near future.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Coming up, a new book argues America is not a democracy, but a republic. And a check in on religion in the military. These topics and more on our Roundtable, next.

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