As the Presidential primaries continue to roll along, with another 11 states set to hold contests this upcoming Tuesday, a new poll jointly sponsored by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal seems to suggest that the heavily contested primary season is damaging people’s perception of both the Republican Party and the candidates themselves. At present, when asked to describe the Republican primaries and candidates in a single word or phrase, nearly 70% of the poll’s respondents – including 60% of independents and more than 50% of Republicans – have offered a less than glowing evaluation of the candidates and their behaviors.
While this is not particularly unusual in a hotly contested primary season, what is potentially of concern for evangelical Christians, is our public identification with the Republican Party. According to a recent article on The Pew Forum, white evangelical Protestants seem to be trending towards a greater affiliation with the Republican Party. In 2008, 65% of this group identified (or leaned) Republican, while 28% identified (or leaned) Democratic. But three years into President Obama’s administration, this 37-point gap has swelled to 46 points as 70% of white evangelicals now lean Republican and only 24% lean Democratic.
While some may read this data in a positive light, I can’t help but wonder what this caustic season of Presidential primaries is doing to be people’s perception of the evangelical church and of Christ himself. When the public figures we either tacitly or openly support conduct themselves in such a caustic manner, people make assumptions about the values we hold to be true. And my question is: why are we, as evangelicals, not holding candidates to higher standards by openly challenging them on the manner in which they are conducting themselves in this race? While this conclusion may not be all that flattering to the evangelical community to which I belong, it would seem to me that we appear to be entering into a dangerous new era in Christian history, in which we seem to be willing to set aside character issues so long as our pastors and our candidates publicly advocate what we believe to be the right theology, methodology and/or policy.