Commenting on the recent Illinois primary, Santorum summed up: “We won the areas that conservatives and Republicans populate”--the rural and western regions, where he led evangelicals and Republicans overall. In the more urban, prosperous, and educated regions, Romney ran ahead and won the state with a 22-point lead among college grads, a 27-point lead among those with incomes above $100,000.
In sum, evangelicals, when voting, rely on religious and other factors to choose the people they think best at the jobs governments do. And about that, evangelicals, like other people, differ.
Is this a violation of faith? Fewer evangelicals seem to think so than those unfamiliar with evangelical belief and history. “Evangelicals for Mitt” write on their website, “We don’t have to choose between someone with our moral values or someone with economic expertise.” The lack of concern over political variation emerges from the evangelical distinction between politics and Gospel. The Bible says, love your enemy, for instance; states fight enemies and protect citizens militarily, economically, etc. So the jobs governments do and the job of furthering Jesus’ vision are different. When engaged in the narrowly circumscribed business of choosing who’s best for the jobs governments do, one may be motivated by belief as well as income, education, business or populist interests. One’s religious efforts will have different standards.
Joel Hunter, pastor at a central Florida church and a member of Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (2009-2010), has noted that while governments are needed (Rom. 7: 1-13), their job--to maintain order and protect the nation, sometimes with force--is far from that of the church, which is to follow Jesus’ teachings never with force but through faith and service. Or as Greg Boyd, pastor in St. Paul, put it, “America, like every other fallen, demonically-oppressed nation (see Lk. 4:5-7; 2 Cor. 4:4; I Jn. 5:19; Rev. 13), is incapable of loving its enemies, doing good to those who mistreat it or blessing those who persecute it (Lk. 6:27-35)… The sooner the label ‘Christian’ gets divorced from this country, the better. It provides hope that someday the word ‘Christian’ might actually mean ‘Christ-like’ once again.”
Evangelicals like Hunter and Boyd do not think Christians should avoid politics or sequester their religious values when they vote. As we’ve seen, religious values are among those that bear on evangelical voting. Yet, maintaining the politics–Gospel distinction allows believers to follow one—Gospel--precisely because it has not gotten gummed up by the other. It allows evangelicals the “prophetic” role, to stand outside government and “speak truth to power” when government is corrupt or unjust. Churches, like other civil society groups, are in a position to advise or critique government if they are extra-state, their perspectives and constraints not those of sitting power.
Both shielding religious efforts from the worldly limitations of politics and the prophetic role of outsider-critique require political independence. “A voice of Biblical values,” Hunter has said, “cannot be in the pocket of one party” so that, David Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, writes, “they [Christians] can retain their moral compass when they do venture into the political arena.”
Frank Page, then president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, took up this idea in 2006, “I have cautioned our denomination to be very careful not to be seen as in lock step with any political party.” That year, Randall Balmer, Professor of religion at Barnard College and an editor at Christianity Today, wrote, “The early followers of Jesus were a counterculture because they stood apart from the prevailing order. A counterculture can provide a critique of the powerful because it is utterly disinterested—it has no investment in the power structure itself.” Though evangelicals have been a bulwark of the Republican party for 40 years, over the last decade, organizations like the Evangelical Environmental Network, Evangelicals for Human Rights, The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, and Partners Worldwide (a Christian economic development organization), have formed with aims that sometimes conflict with Republican policies. In 2007, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), against the Bush administration, issued its “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture.”
That year Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, "If that issue [abortion] were taken off the table, then other issues get oxygen, issues where evangelicals are not nearly as certain that Republicans offer the best answer. Issues like economic justice, racial reconciliation, the environment." The 2008 Evangelical Manifesto was bolder still. Signed by over 70 evangelical leaders including NAE president, Leith Anderson, and Mark Bailey, president of the Theological Seminary in Dallas, it warned evangelicals not to “become ‘useful idiots’ for one political party or another.” In the fractious budget debates of 2010-2011, the NAE joined the protest against Republican budget cuts in programs for the needy. At the end of 2011, it protested again, calling this “the wrong place to cut.”