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Evangelicals Opposing Nukes

Will the increasingly liberal views of the National Association of Evangelicals affect the next election?

2:29 PM, Nov 10, 2011 • By MARK TOOLEY
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During NAE’s October board meeting, Leith Anderson led several NAE officials to the White House to meet with President Obama, discussing immigration reform and also commending Obama for denouncing Iran’s potential death sentence for an evangelical pastor. Although they apparently discussed the threat of budget limits on social welfare spending, they did not discuss abortion. "Issues that relate to the poor we would address as pro-life issues, but it was not specifically a discussion on abortion," Anderson explained to Religion News Service (RNS). "It was not intentionally omitted. We had a limited amount of time." The same report said a "respectful disagreement" was admitted on same-sex marriage, with NAE officials defending military chaplains who disapprove of homosexual behavior. “Evangelicals have had good access to the Obama White House, at least that's my experience,” Anderson told RNS. “He clearly knows where we disagree on issues like marriage and abortion and he acknowledged that we have significant differences." Anderson was glad Obama said protecting persecuted Christians globally is a “priority.” Recalling Reagan’s 1983 “evil empire” speech to NAE, Anderson admitted that last week’s 30 minute White House meeting was not of that “magnitude.”

Some days later, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that a prominent NAE board member would become its religious outreach director. The Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, whose hiring was announced October 20, is senior pastor of the prestigious Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, one of the largest historic black congregations in Washington, DC. In addition to serving on the NAE board, Harkins serves on an advisory board for the pro-abortion rights Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). He also serves on the board of the liberal advocacy group Faith and Public Life, funded by leftist philanthropies such as George Soros and the Tides Foundation.

Harkins is almost certainly more liberal than most NAE board members. An NAE poll of its board early this Summer showed 45 percent preferring Tim Pawlenty among the Republican hopefuls. Only 14 percent favored Romney. There apparently have been no subsequent NAE polls since Pawlenty’s withdrawal. Nor has there evidently been a poll showing NAE board members’ preference between President Obama and a Republican.

Although most of NAE’s about 100 board members likely remain conservative, though few have openly dissented from NAE’s recent stances on the environment, enhanced interrogation, immigration, budget policy or nukes.  NAE’s policies are largely governed by a much smaller executive committee. Clearly NAE officials hope to retain allegiance of conservative evangelicals with traditional stances on marriage, abortion and religious persecution. Whether many evangelicals will heed NAE’s more liberal positions on other issues is an open question. As evangelicals are typically the Republican Party’s most reliable demographic, that answer potentially has implications for next year’s presidential election.

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy.

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