God-o-Meter caught up this week with Richard Cizik, chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, the nation’s largest evangelical organization. Cizik made news earlier in the week in Colorado Springs for questioning whether John McCain was a “principled person” and for “waffling on issue after issue.” Cizik told GOM that requests from him and other evangelicals to meet with John McCain have gone unanswered, that when it comes to voting “a lot of evangelical don’t think,” and spoke candidly about racism Barack Obama may face within the white church.
Despite all Barack Obama’s evangelical outreach efforts, polls show evangelical support for John McCain is approaching George W. Bush-like levels. That surprise you?
We do some of our own polling, so I had advance notice that there were some deep-seated suspicions of Obama. I wasn’t surprised. I was a little disappointed. Not that I’m an Obama supporter. But I am interested in broadening the agenda of [evangelical] concerns. And I’m of the opinion that some people are going to vote Republican no matter what…. Party line voting in my opinion is unbiblical. It says you don’t think. If you’re simply voting on same sex marriage and abortion, you’re not thinking. What I’m saying is that a lot of evangelical don’t think, sad to say. The same is true for African Americans who, no matter who the candidate is they’re just going to vote for the Democratic Party. So the African American left and the Religious Right is foolish.
So politically speaking, maybe the evangelical movement is changing less than the news media would have us believe.
There’s a demographic shift that’s occurring. Young [evangelicals] are less tied to the Republican Party. Those who are disaffected with the GOP are not becoming Democrats. They’re becoming Independents. It’s a slow moving earthquake that you don’t fully recognize. I’m not trying to move anyone to become a Democrat, but to a spiritual, moral, and religious awakening. If all I’m about is making someone a Democrat, that’s not real change, to quote Barack Obama. Real change occurs not when someone switches from one party to another but when people shift their way of thinking.
The McCain campaign has beefed up its religious outreach efforts recently. How is their evangelical outreach going?
We put in a request with the McCain campaign and it was never responded to. Many figures in the Republican Party have reached out to the campaign stating their concern that the candidate has not reached out to evangelical leaders, but it went nowhere. And since we’re so deep into the campaign, we can only assume that we’re not going to get an answer. We had some people, including a governor and a major party official, who said to the campaign, “I think you should meet with some of these evangelicals.” I have subsequently interpreted that they didn’t think they needed to because they had an idea of their own and that maybe that was Sarah Palin.
Has the Obama campaign reached out to the National Association of Evangelicals?
We put in a request and an answer came back rather quickly: They wanted us to come to a meeting in Chicago with some 25 other leaders. And I went. One is left to conclude that the McCain people have concluded that they don’t need such a meeting.
Given those polls showing overwhelming evangelical support for McCain, don’t they have a point?
Those polls are a snapshot that may not reflect other realities. The economy is becoming a big issue, and that was before the Wall Street meltdown. So it’s not over and this whole bailout picture is good evidence that the party of fiscal discipline and sanity, the Republicans, has become the party of socialized bailouts and fiscal liberalism.
Evangelicals are 50-percent conservative. There are 10 percent that are liberal, and you’ve got 40-percent that are swing voters. They’re the people that McCain has to worry about because if, for whatever reason–the economy, etc.–they go for Obama, then McCain is in trouble. If they decide to vote on economic reasons or the war, then McCain is in trouble. From what the Obama people have said to me, if they can just get the percentage of people that Clinton got, they’ll win this election. If I were a betting man, I would have to say the advantage goes to Obama.
But hasn’t Obama undermined a lot of his evangelical outreach with very liberal positions on issues like abortion?
As evidenced from Saddleback, where McCain did well by himself and Obama did not, Obama has got some work cut out for him. And there is there is the factor that we all know exists and that few people will talk about: the race factor. Some surveys show that 20-percent of the electorate will not vote for a black man for president, which exceeds the difference between Kerry and Bush in ’04…. Somebody’s going to vote for somebody not on the basis of the content of his character but on the color of his skin and that’ just called sin with a capital S because racism is a sin. And we all knew that racism has been in a lot of the white church.
Are you saying that racist anti-Obama sentiment is more prevalent within the church?
I certainly hope not. I hope and pray not, because if that happens it’s a terrible blot on the integrity of our church….. those people ought to be embarrassed, and held accountable in the church. We hold people accountable for sins of other kinds.
Do you still consider yourself a Republican?
After this election, I’d have to evaluate my party. I still consider myself a Republican–a somewhat dissatisfied Republican who’s presently disappointed in McCain in some respects. I think he’s shifting his position on some long-held issues. That doesn’t mean I won’t vote for him. If you’re evaluating them on environmental issues, Obama’s certainly a stronger candidate. There are a lot of people in the GOP who can’t stomach McCain’s view on the environment and he’s going to have to pay homage to those voices. On the other hand, the only person who could change the GOP on that issue is John McCain.