Evangelical voters putting values in perspective

March 14, 2007|By CAL THOMAS

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Conservative, evangelical Christian voters have come a long way in a short time. From their nearly unanimous condemnation of Bill Clinton for his extramarital affairs, a growing number of these "pro-family" voters appear ready to accept several Republican presidential candidates who do not share their ideal of marriage and faith.

Among those seriously under consideration by these churchgoing folks is former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has been married three times and who had an affair with the woman now his wife when he was married to wife No. 2. In recent days, we've learned from his son, Andrew, that he and his father are estranged, but that they're working on it.

Another of the thrice-married is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last week trod the Damascus Road to Colorado Springs, Colo. On the syndicated radio program of psychologist James Dobson, Mr. Gingrich confessed that he had an extramarital affair with the woman to whom he is now married while he was married to his second wife. Mr. Gingrich acknowledged not living up to his own standards, or God's.

A third Republican presidential candidate is Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has been married twice. He is disliked by many social conservatives more for his support of "campaign finance reform," which they regard as an attempt to limit their speech; his work on immigration with Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts; and past remarks that some evangelical leaders are "agents of intolerance."

Mitt Romney now has the right social conservative views, fairly recently bringing them into conformity with those of conservative Christians, but to some conservative evangelicals he has the "wrong" religion. Mr. Romney, a Mormon, is the poster boy for family values: one wife, handsome children and no apparent personal skeletons in his closet - but some evangelicals can't get over his religion.

That substantial numbers of evangelical voters are even considering these candidates as presidential prospects is a sign of their political maturation and of their more pragmatic view of what can be expected from politics and politicians. It is also evidence that many are awakening to at least two other realities: (1) They are not electing a church deacon; and (2) government has limited power to rebuild a crumbling social construct.

The Census Bureau recently noted that only 23.7 percent of the U.S. population fits the 1950s stereotype of heterosexual married couples with children. Even in the "golden age" of the 1950s, the figure was just under 50 percent. Until this election cycle, most social conservatives supported candidates and policies based on the married-with-children "ideal" family model.

It may be the ideal, but it is no longer widely practiced. Researchers have found many conservative Christians live in states where divorce rates are highest. These states overwhelmingly oppose same-sex marriage. Too bad they don't do a better job supporting opposite-sex marriage.

Politicians can't "fix" broken heterosexual marriages. If they could, some of those mentioned above would have fixed their own. The crumbling "traditional" family is the result of many social and cultural factors. The solution, like the fault, lies neither with government nor with politicians.

While "character issues" can overlap with other concerns when considering for whom to vote, conservative evangelicals are beginning to see them as less important than who can meet the multiple challenges faced by the nation.

Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail is calthomas@tribune.com.

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