Define evangelical leader, give an example

Lahaye Ralph Z. Hallow of The Washington Times wrote an intriguing story about elite evangelical opposition to Mitt Romney, a prospective GOP vice-presidential running mate:

Prominent evangelical leaders are warning Sen. John McCain against picking former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his running mate, saying their troops will abandon the Republican ticket on Election Day if that happens.

They say Mr. Romney lacks trust on issues such as outlawing abortion and opposing same-sex marriage and because he is a Mormon. Opposition is particularly powerful among those who supported former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the Republican presidential primaries earlier this year.

“McCain and Romney would be like oil and water,” said evangelical novelist Tim LaHaye, who supported Mr. Huckabee. “We aren’t against Mormonism, but Romney is not a thoroughgoing evangelical and his flip-flopping on issues is understandable in a liberal state like Massachusetts, but our people won’t understand that.”

The Rev. Rob McCoy, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, Calif., who speaks at evangelical events across the country, told The Washington Times, “I will vote for McCain unless he does one thing. You know what that is? If he puts Romney on the ticket as veep.

“It will alienate the entire evangelical community – 62 million self-professing evangelicals in this country, half of them registered to vote, are going to be deeply saddened,” Mr. McCoy added.

Only LaHaye and McCoy are quoted directly saying that McCain would lose evangelical support if he chooses Romney as his running mate. Other evangelicals give ambiguous remarks about whether they would vote for a McCain-Romney ticket.

Here’s my main problem with Hallow’s story: It failed to define the term evangelical leader. I mean, is Tim LaHaye really a leader? A well-known novelist and supporter of Mike Huckabee — he is, yes; but someone whose views affect others — I don’t know. With the possible exception of Upton Sinclair, novelists are not conventional political leaders.

That’s OK. Maybe LaHaye is breaking the mold and plans to call evangelical pastors to not vote for the Republican ticket. But Hallow needed to give at least one example of LaHaye’s efforts.

Perhaps McCoy, too, is a leader. But Hallow does not cite any ways in which he is.

The term evangelical leader, as I noted months ago, has been used far too loosely this presidential campaign season. Sure, some evangelicals clearly are leaders. But for evangelicals whose political credentials are questionable, a little definition would go a long way.

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  • Kelly Warnick

    The trend I feel is that more and more of those who consider themselves as evangelicals or of a faith are standing up and saying that they want to be represented as objective and respectful of anothers’ beliefs. That was not the message promoted by some in this campaign.

    I feel that history will show that the Primary campaign waged by Mike Huckabee did more damage to evangelicals than service. The militant right he represented, heralding their version of Christianity, set back many sincere movements of faith with a stigma of zealot bigotry. How unfortunate for truly faithful individuals caught up in Huck’s desire to use his religious standing to elevate himself and use another candidates’ faith to try and discredit him.

    Huckabee did serve to “better divide the barley from the chaff” for people of sincere faith and truth-seeking by exposing ultra right-wing views that cross over the lines of tolerance and understanding into judgement and bigotry. This Washington Times article and any fray caused by such low-brow tactics is just ignorant behavior that was already employed in the Primaries. Voters should see right through it.

  • Peggy


    Thank you for so maturely yet accurately reflecting my views of the persistence of the “evangelical leaders” to demand their own brand of Christian belief in presidential candidates. I recall seeing one such minister (don’t recall the name at this point) on a cable show during the GOP primaries who said he could not vote for and would not endorse any one who did not accept Jesus Christ as his savior. So much for our Jewish brethren. Catholics don’t count with this line of thinking either. I had also thought I’d sensed some evangelical (rank and file) regret of sticking to their guns so much that they were stuck with McCain, and seemed to recognize Romney’s assets in retrospect.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Funny this topic comes up. I just started reading a book I received to review (my reviews appear on entitled Letters to a Young Evangelical by Tony Campolo. The author asserts that Evangelicals are often equated with the Religious Right Republican Retinue. But Mr. Campolo associates himself with a liberal branch of Evangelicalism. (I liked how he compared the “paltry” “less that 4-10s of 1 percent of the federal budget to help the poor worldwide” with the “billions on military and boondoggles.” SO, why not compare like units?)

    I also wonder (if maybe the reporter didn’t) about how serious the threaened boycott is. Are these “Evangelicals” saying they would rather have an Obama presidency that would enforce hiring of homosexuals for Faith Initiative funding rather than see a Mormon become VP? Remember, Rush Limbaugh once stated he would rather vote for Hillary than McCain. I suspect Rush has changed his outlook.

  • Jake

    I don’t quite know what Kelly and Peggy are talking about. The “Christian Right” (as their enemies term them) have played a major role in presidential elections since at least 1980. Anyone remember Jerry Falwell? ( He’s been gone barely a year.

    As a Christian, a social and economic conservative, what upset me about the Huckster was that he didn’t seem to have any core beliefs other than getting elected (not that he was the only one this year). For a onetime Baptist pastor, you would think he would have a strong moral grounding that would have guided his temporal worldview. He was not for personal freedom and liberty — unlike the the failed limited government candidates.

    Instead, he was more of a Southern populist on social and economic issues. Maybe Falwell was a border state pastor, but he certainly believed in limited government (with the expected exceptions around morality).

    Finally, the Huckster bombed with Catholics. ( If you were a strong pro-life Christian, would you expect to a significant fraction of the Catholic vote? It’s not like Romney or McCain had particularly compelling credentials for Catholic voters.

  • Peggy


    I’m a right of center Roman Catholic. I don’t have many, if any, policy disagreements with evangelicals, though I obviously have different approach to Christianity. The small-minded religious bigotry so plainly on display during the primaries by Huck and evangelical pastors was ridiculous. Though the bigotry was aimed at LDS, I took offense at it because that same small-mindedness is often aimed at Catholics. [In any case, I don't know how these pastors can appropriately involve themselves in politics by endorsing a candidate.]

    Post-boomer Catholics such as I are as likely to vote Dem as their predecessors, so it is important. Yes, McCain has ignored Catholics, as he has ignored the evangelicals. I preferred Romney. I don’t see why right of center Catholics would not like him. The only Catholics who wouldn’t like him are dissenters who would not vote GOP anyway.

  • Jerry

    “It will alienate the entire evangelical community

    When someone spouts such a claim, it’s too bad that the reporter does not challenge him for proof rather than just repeating what he said.

  • Mark Stricherz

    I am directing my comment to Kelly Warnick, Peggy, John L. Hoh, Jr., and Jake: Each of you needs to stick to my point about the term evangelical leader rather than discuss Mike Huckabee or evangelicals’ alleged intolerance. Further comments on those topics, as well as those not related to my post, will be deleted.

    Jerry writes,

    When someone spouts such a claim, it’s too bad that the reporter does not challenge him for proof rather than just repeating what he said.

    Jerry makes a good point, one that I should have raised.

  • FW Ken

    Complaints about the media anointing “leaders” is nothing new. We have heard complaints before of “black leaders” and probably leaders of other groups as well. As to LeHaye, given the number of books he’s sold, “leader” is probably applicable, although I would quibble as to whether “evangelical” is the best term. If I understand correctly (and I’m not a Left Behind fan), he’s a fundamentalist, which is rather different than an evangelical.

    This points to the probability that, as with Catholics, there is not a single “evangelical vote”. In fact, given the strong individualism inherent in evangelical theology, I would expect political diversity. Certainly not on significant moral issues or overarching goals, but somewhat on the relative weight given to various issues, and certainly on policy means to moral ends.

  • gfe

    I don’t have any real problem designating LaHaye as a “leader,” although I’d hardly classify McCoy as prominent (as far as I can tell, he doesn’t even have a page in the Wikipedia). The problem here is picking two evangelicals and making that sound like it’s a trend of some sort. To make that conclusion, at least in a what passes for a straight news story, is premature.

    I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult to fine two somewhat moderately prominent evangelicals who would support putting Romney on the ticket. (Although I’m not a Romney fan, I think he’s probably McCain’s best choice among the mainstream possibilities.) And it would probably be less difficult to find two moderately prominent evangelicals who would say that they would support anyone McCain would pick, because Obama would be such a dismal alternative.

    I just really don’t think there’s enough confirmed substance here to justify the lede.

  • Peggy

    Point taken, Mark. My apologies. As Jerry points out and you note, it would be interesting to know whether these claims by evangelical “leaders” have any teeth with the rank and file evangelical. And yes, I’ve not heard these leaders’ names before this election season. I guess the torch has to be passed with the death of Falwell and with Pat Robertson effectively having jumped the shark.

  • Citizen Grim

    I like Tim Lahaye and all, but seriously? We’re talking about Presidents and Vice Presidents here, people, not Pastors and Popes.

    City of Man, City of God. There’s a difference, and we are neglecting the latter when we worry so much about the former.

  • Brian L

    This story did an awful job describing evangelicals’ political concerns. It seems the real story is that some Huckabee supporters will be mad if Romney is the VP choice and a few of that some have a form of anti-Mormon bigotry.

    To extend these anti-Mormon political views to all of the “7 to 10 percent” of evangelicals who are expected not to vote for McCain as a result of a Romney pick, much less to all evangelicals in America is ridiculous. To do so on the word of one pastor of a Calvary Chapel (a very decentralized group of churches with a wide variety of beliefs and practices) in a state that is not exactly the epicenter of evangelical belief and thought is, well, why this blog exists.

  • rw

    –Reality Check–

    Without question, Tim LaHaye is a leader in the Evangelical community. Long before he was involved in writing books, he was founding lobbying organizations, encouraging folks like Falwell in creating the Moral Majority, and building organizations for his particular slice of the Evangelical world. The books are very popular, and may be what appears at the top of his obit, but his political activism has had a big impact on the Evangelical role in politics. If he had never thought of the Left Behind series, he would probably be labelled as a member of the Evangelical political and cultural elite.

  • Mark Stricherz

    Citizen Grim writes,

    City of Man, City of God. There’s a difference, and we are neglecting the latter when we worry so much about the former.

    This is a relevant point for another post, but not this one. I will remind CG and others: Please stick to the discussion at hand rather than give us your worldview. Again, I will delete non-relevant replies.

  • Twin1

    I think that the article is right on track. Those that would consider themselves part of the evangelical group understand the pulse of how this large group of people feel. As “so called evangelical Christians” there are certain core things that we feel the same about. We don’t agree on all things, but what we do agree on crosses age, race, socio-economic level, state lines to mention a few. We don’t all get together and say this is what we will do and we don’t won’t to place demands on a politician, but I will say that if you don’t consider yourself one it is hard to relate to the dynamics of it. I think Tim LaHaye is probably right, he may not have a problem with Romney but he understands how the group as a whole feels. I can also say as someone who would consider myself part of this group, that it is not about Romney being a Mormon. It is all about who I feel I can identify with, who I connect with. When it all comes down to it people vote for who they think would make decisions and handle things that would represent their own values. Everyone has something that they probably most identify with it maybe gender, it maybe age, it maybe religion, it may be race, or maybe area of the county. My point is that I think this evangelical block of people transend many of these areas which causes it to be a large number of people. I also think that if you don’t consider yourself to be part of this group it is hard to have your finger on the pulse of understanding it. I think Tim LaHaye, although I haven’t read his books and don’t keep up with him, probably has his finger on the pulse of this group because he is one of them. Thank you for letting me respond.

  • Dave

    While there are distinct theological differences among Mormons and Evangelicals, there are also a lot of similarities in terms of pro-family values. I find it disturbing that some evangelicals will not vote for McCain or will vote for Obama because of a Mormon on his ticket. This petty attitude will automatically result in a set back in terms of traditional marriage and anti-abortion legislation.

  • Dave

    The author of comment #16 is the (or some) other Dave.