RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Evangelical Christian leaders are thinking about how their constituents might vote this fall. Democrats hope to win back a slice of that heavily Republican group. Richard Land would rather they didn't, at least as long as Democrats support abortion rights.
Land holds an influential position in the Southern Baptist Convention, which claims more than 16 million churchgoers. And this morning he joins our conversations about the future of the conservative movement. He spoke with Steve Inskeep.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Richard Land came to a studio in Kansas City, where he was just about to give a speech.
Mr. RICHARD LAND (Southern Baptist Convention): I'm doing the Scutter(sp) lectures at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That's an annual lecture series on theology and ethics.
INSKEEP: And what slice of that are you going to take on this morning?
Mr. LAND: I'm going to address the issue of those who say that evangelicals and conservative Christians need to move beyond the issues of abortion and same sex marriage, and I'm going to say that the sanctity of human life is a foundational issue. And marriage is God's design for the basic building block of human society.
INSKEEP: It sounds like, in this speech you're preparing to give, you're addressing a major concern of evangelicals who are involved in politics right now. Evangelical voters, many of them, are telling pollsters that they are interested in a broader range of issues. They want something like poverty addressed or social justice or other issues.
Mr. LAND: Well, and I, it's not that I don't want those issues addressed, but I'm not going to address those issues at the expense of the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of marriage.
You know, it seems to me that when you say to someone, well, you know, you are too narrowly focused on abortion and same sex marriage, that's like telling Dr. King he was too narrowly focused on racial reconciliation and racial justice.
INSKEEP: The fact that you feel the need to make this argument publicly suggests to me that you do see people moving in another direction that you want to persuade and argue with to some degree, that you do see evangelicals rethinking their political positions.
Mr. LAND: I see people trying to get them to rethink their positions. I find that, you know, people ask the questions in polls, well, do you think the agenda ought to be broadened? I've never narrowed the agenda. There's a difference between narrowing the agenda and focus and emphasis.
And so I'm addressing the issue of talking to those who others are trying to persuade to abandon the prioritization of the sanctity of human life and to abandon the prioritization of the sanctity of marriage.
INSKEEP: The Pew Research Center asked evangelicals about their party affiliation. A few years ago, 55% said that they were Republicans, identified themselves as Republicans. Now it's gone 15% to 40%. What's happened in the last couple of years?
Mr. LAND: Well, I think there's frustration, when you have the corruption scandals that you've had with the Republican Congress. There's some disillusionment with the economy and with the war. But if you have a pro-life candidate running for the Republicans, and you do in John McCain, who has had a very reliable pro-life record, and he's running against someone who is pro-choice and who is running on a party platform that has never met an abortion they couldn't at least live with, that they didn't like, you're not going to see a lot of movement among evangelicals when it comes to presidential elections.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask for a forecast, if I can, about the evangelical vote. And let's assume that it's likely to go for the Republican candidate and the question is how many evangelicals decide to vote at all and how much, or whether Democrats capture a significant slice of that. Do you think evangelicals can and will vote for John McCain in the kind of numbers that they voted for George W. Bush?
Mr. LAND: That's going to depend on John McCain. It's going to depend on what John McCain does between now and the first Tuesday in November. It's going to be difficult, but I think McCain, there are things McCain can do.
He can talk about how Roberts and Alito are his idea of a template for the kind of judges that he would nominate.
INSKEEP: These are the judges that President Bush nominated.
Mr. LAND: Right. You know, he could help himself a lot by what he does in terms of a vice presidential nominee. There are lots of things he can do between now and November which will really determine how high the turnout is in the 2008 election.
INSKEEP: There's a Washington Post article over the weekend that quoted the magazine Relevant, which targets young evangelicals, and young evangelical readers of this magazine said in an unscientific survey when asked who would Jesus vote for, Obama was the winner.
Mr. LAND: Well, as you said, it's an unscientific survey. If you look at Southern Baptists, where Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination, and I find very few young evangelicals, and I'm around a lot of them, who would vote for Obama or any pro-choice candidate. But Obama, across the board, Senator Obama is a tougher candidate than Hillary Clinton.
I mean, you know, I really almost feel sorry for Senator Clinton. She's trying to conduct a job interview and Obama's on a date. I mean, it's unbelievable. He has an extraordinary appeal. I do think a campaign between McCain and Obama would be a much more positive campaign and much more a campaign about the future of the country. With Mrs. Clinton, especially versus someone like John McCain, who was a Vietnam War hero, there would be a lot of divisive debate about the past, and as Senator Obama once said, during his first Senate campaign, we've got to quit re-litigating the '60s. They're over. They're over.
INSKEEP: Richard Land, thanks very much.
Mr. LAND: Thank you.
INSKEEP: He heads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for Southern Baptists. And you can find other conversations with conservative David Keene, talk show host Glenn Beck, and activist Grover Norquest, at NPR.org.