A Political Place For Evangelicals While many evangelicals did support the McCain-Palin ticket, their votes weren't enough to overcome those of independents and Republicans who came out for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. What's the political future for evangelicals?
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A Political Place For Evangelicals

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A Political Place For Evangelicals

A Political Place For Evangelicals

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate was meant in part to energize the Republican Party's conservative base, which in no small part includes evangelical Christians. While many evangelicals did support the McCain-Palin ticket, their votes weren't enough to overcome those of independents and Republicans who came out for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Joining us now to discuss the election results and the future of evangelicals in Republican politics are Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. And he's in the studio. Welcome back, Richard.

Mr. RICHARD CIZIK (Vice President of Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals): Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: And Reverend Luis Cortes, Jr., who's president of Esperanza, a Hispanic national network of 12,000 churches, ministries, and community-based organizations. Reverend Cortes joins us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Welcome back to you, sir.

Reverend LUIS CORTES, JR. (President, Esperanza): Thank you, Liane. It's great to be here.

HANSEN: Here's a question for both of you. And I think I'll begin with you, Richard. What have evangelicals been saying about the election?

Mr. CIZIK: It depends on who you speak to, Liane. I think most are excited in the sense that they are looking forward to a new future. Even among evangelicals, George Bush has really suffered.

HANSEN: And how about you Reverend Cortes?

Reverend CORTES, JR.: Well, among Hispanic folks, we are very excited. We did vote overwhelmingly for Obama. And we're hoping that he can address our major issues as we move forward.

HANSEN: And we'll talk about that in a moment. But let's stay with the Republicans for a moment. Do you think Republicans as a whole have moved toward the center, given the results of this election?

Mr. CIZIK: I'm not sure, Liane. There are those such as Senator DeMint. He's suggesting, well, it was John McCain's greening and these kinds of issues that, in fact, provoked the loss. So there are those who are conservatives who are urging the party to even go rightward. That's a mistake, but nonetheless there are those voices. There are even those within the evangelicals - you asked about them earlier - who, well, they say anyone who's willing to work with this new administration is a compromiser. And in their minds, a dogmatic belief is a virtue, and open-mindedness a weakness. So there are those faults. I think they're wrong. It's a bad attitude and a losing strategy. But nonetheless, there are those voices out there. I think the great bulk of evangelicals however see this as a new day and, wow, they're excited.

HANSEN: Mr. Cizik, you seem to indicate there might be a split among evangelicals themselves because Obama did indeed reach out to them during the campaign, so some ended up supporting him. Is this - does this indicate a split in your mind?

Mr. CIZIK: Well, there is a split, at least on the issues too, not just among those 75 percent or thereabouts who voted for Mr. McCain, but the younger evangelicals. And those frankly who want a broader pallet of issues, they voted for Obama. And there was a split polling done by public research on religion, indicates that a majority of evangelicals, 55 percent, want action on poverty, the environment, war and peace. But 21 percent, well, they still have the narrower agenda - same-sex marriage, abortion. And so there is a split, yes. How widely? How deeply? Well, it's an evolving question. And I happen to think that the broader agenda is going to win out, no doubt about that, in the long run.

HANSEN: Reverend Cortes?

Reverend CORTES, JR.: I have to be in agreement with Richard. We voted 60 percent for Bush, and this time around, 40 percent for McCain. We went from 7.8 million voters in 2004 to a record 10 million, or eight percent of the voting public. And Hispanics voted 66 percent for Obama. So we did make a switch. And a lot of it could be pinpointed to the Republican Party's rhetoric on immigration. McCain was very strong on immigration, but I believe he couldn't overcome his party's negativity.

HANSEN: I'll stay with you, Reverend Cortes. What are the main issues that evangelicals want the Obama administration to address?

Reverend CORTES, JR.: Well, if you ask Hispanic evangelicals as a whole, they are against - they don't want free abortion. And so we have some things in common with the greater evangelical family on abortion and the definition of marriage. By the same token, we disagree with the larger evangelical family on issues like immigration. And there is a new group that's biracial, I guess, if we want to use that terminology, that's dealing with the issues of the environment. So there is from my perspective a maturing on the issues and a more holistic approach on understanding what it means to be evangelical and what it even means to be pro-life. So for Hispanics, we're looking at the immigration issue as a place where we're hoping the white evangelical Church will join us in comprehensive immigration reform this coming year.

HANSEN: Mr. Cizik, same question.

Mr. CIZIK: Oh, I happen to think that there are growing percentages of evangelicals that do support what Luis is talking about, comprehensive immigration reform. Interestingly enough, in the voter guides distributed by the Christian Coalition, big surprise, two additions to the list of concerns: tax credits for investment; renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, and business; and lastly, not least, legislation to enact a cap and trade system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

This is an evidence you see of this broader pallet of concerns that, yes, evangelicals want to see some action not just on poverty and tax and budget policies that I think are more inclined to disco around to the Democrats, but they would like to see, yes, as Luis said, reducing abortions through common-ground policies. That's what Barack Obama talked about. He couldn't win over evangelicals because of his position on these issues. But in spite of them, he did.

HANSEN: So you're finding that there will be some common ground that the evangelicals will be able to find with the Obama administration.

Mr. CIZIK: Oh, most assuredly. In fact, one of the maxims of leadership is that it defines reality. And some of those who were defining reality are missing it. And they missed it before this election, and they've got to see it now, because a shift has occurred. It began a long time ago. And that shift is toward the bigger picture or vision for the world and a strategy for the common good.

HANSEN: And Reverend Cortes, you agree that there will be some common ground?

Reverend CORTES, JR.: Not only do I agree, I'm looking forward to working on the areas of common ground. There is a willingness to dialogue and, more importantly, to act on the dialogue. And I believe that the real issue becomes, as we look at the immigration issue, we will have to figure out how do we get around Democratic blue dogs or the more conservative Democrats who are opposed to immigration. And this coming election, two years from now, we'll begin to look at what does that mean, because there are going to have to be coalitions that will be different, historically different, where you are going to have some Republicans moving toward the center and some Democrats who we will have to avoid because they just want to have a conversation because they're too conservative.

Mr. CIZIK: One additional - I think that's a good point, Luis. One thing for evangelicals and everyone to remember: John Winthrop, the great Puritan preachers' admonition in mind, he said the eyes of the world will be upon us. And I happen to think that evangelicals should remind themselves and ask, what do we want the world to see?

HANSEN: Richard Cizik is vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. And the Reverend Luis Cortes is president of Esperanza, a national faith-based organization headquartered in Philadelphia. Thank you both.

Reverend CORTES, JR.: Thank you.

Mr. CIZIK: Thank you.

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