Belief Beat

Voting has begun in the New Hampshire primary, and I expect that Mitt Romney will continue to do well — especially since New Hampshire voters care a lot less about religious bonafides (aka Jesus talk) than their counterparts in Iowa and South Carolina.

As for last week’s Iowa caucus results, here’s an excerpt from my analysis at the USC Knight Chair in Media & Religion’s Trans/Missions blog:

Santorum’s surge to second place is credited to Iowa’s evangelical voters, who agree with the former Pennsylvania senator’s faith-based convictions against same-sex marriage, gay adoption and abortion in all cases, even rape and incest. But it remains to be seen how Santorum, Gingrich and Perry will do in states like New Hampshire and Florida, where primary voters tend to be less swayed by religious bonafides – that is, where it matters less whether a candidate is a Christian conservative or conservative Christian.

What’s the difference? It boils down to which c-word is the noun, the main object, and which is the adjective, or a mere descriptor. By all accounts, Santorum now claims the conservative Christian mantle, referring to himself as the campaign’s “Jesus guy” and proffering controversial statements about homosexuality that would seem more natural behind a pulpit than on the hustings. In contrast, Romney campaigns as a Christian conservative, although this strategy may simply reflect his having to play down his religious beliefs to avoid alienating voters who are wary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As for the rest? Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman: Christian conservatives. Rick Perry: conservative Christian. Newt Gingrich: a Christian conservative trying to reinvent himself as a conservative Christian, aided by his conversion to Catholicism and devoted third wife Callista. But these lines may blur depending on the time and place, and conservative Christian groups like Focus on the Family are struggling to decide whether electability (i.e., a candidate’s ability to oust President Obama) is ultimately more important than religious purity.

And once again, as every four years, I’m left wondering there’s any evidence in what progressive evangelicals keep arguing: that conservative Christians also care about where politicians stand on the environment, poverty, etc. I just don’t think it matters, if at the end of the day they only vote for the candidate they agree with on abortion and homosexuality. But perhaps I’m wrong, or the times are a’changing…?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.