Lines in the Sand

In a much-discussed Op-Ed  in the New York Times last week (yes, that paper, of all places), James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and a leading player in Evangelicalism, laid it on the line. He warned his political soulmates in the GOP that if they don't deliver a candidate whose first priority is "a recommitment to traditional moral values and beliefs" then Evangelicals may create a third party--effectively fragging the Republican nominee--or stay home. Either way, it would ensure the election of a Democrat. Dobson defined those non-negotiable priorities as "the sanctity of human life, the institution of marriage, and other inviolable pro-family principles."  

Dobson's threat was striking, as much as anything for the fact that if he can't follow through, then he will have lost in a big way.

What also struck me was how some Evangelical leaders have come to use the power of the vote to influence politics in much the way that some Catholic leaders use their power to distribute communion. As Evangelicals don't really have excommunication (and witch-burnings are passe) perhaps that is their best recourse for influencing public policy. Evangelicals have proven to be the true swing vote, although that may be changing.

Conversely, now that the Catholic hierarchy has no voting bloc to deliver, are some bishops--perhaps a reflex driven by frustration--quicker to look to ecclesial sanctions to get their point across?

And will both tactics backfire?

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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