Why aren’t Christian Right leaders endorsing Fred Thompson? They are certainly backing his competitors for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, even those who are alien to their moral and doctrinal orthodoxy.
TV evangelist and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president at the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday.
Defense against the “blood lust of Islamic terrorists” was the primary reason that Robertson gave for backing Giuliani, ignoring the former mayor’s positions in favor of gay and abortion rights, positions that Robertson has preached against for decades.
Robertson said in an interview after the press conference that he wanted to demonstrate that Giuliani was acceptable to people of faith.
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said Monday that he supported Mike Huckabee as the best person for the job. Akin discounted Huckabee’s standing in the polls as a reason for supporting other candidates.
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and former Southern Baptist Convention president, told the 7,000 worshippers at his church on Sunday that Huckabee was “one of us” and “God’s man.”
“It’s very important that we vote our values, that we select folks and nominate folks who stand by principle and who live and proclaim and legislate according to the values we cherish,” said Graham, according to the Dallas Morning News. “Here’s a man who comes and says: ‘I’m not looking for your endorsement. I endorse what you believe. I endorse your values.'”
Vision America founder Rick Scarborough blessed Huckabee a week ago.
“I suggest that God may be sending us a lifeline,” said Scarborough, a former Southern Baptist pastor. “Who better to lead a nation nearing moral collapse and perhaps World War III than a president who is also a pastor with 10 years of senior executive experience as a governor?”
A few weeks ago, James Robison, a Christian TV talk-show host, placed his spiritual hands on Huckabee.
One of Huckabee’s earliest religious endorsements came from Michael Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Romney, too, has received religious endorsements.
The chancellor of Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist school in South Carolina, said he was opposed to Mormon doctrines.
“But I’m not voting for a preacher. I’m voting for a president. It boils down to who can best represent conservative American beliefs, not religious beliefs,” said Bob Jones III.
Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg and the immediate past president of the South Carolina Baptist State Convention, endorsed Romney and then retracted his endorsement. His retraction was not a withdrawal of support from Romney, however. Rather, it was a prudent recognition of the risk involved in sanctifying a candidate who many within the SBC perceive as outside the Christian faith.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a Pat Robertson-birthed organization, threw his support much earlier to Romney.
Unlike Romney, Giuliani and Huckabee campaigns, Thompson’s effort feels like there is a wall of separation between church and campaign.
In the spring, SBC agency head Richard Land crowed about Thompson’s appeal.
“Fred Thompson reminds me of a Southern-fried Reagan,” he said. “To see Fred work a crowd must be what it was like to watch Rembrandt paint.”
Then Land said in July: “I have never seen anything like this grassroots swell for Thompson. I’m not speaking for Southern Baptists but I do believe I have my hand on the pulse of Southern Baptists and I think I know where the consensus is.”
Land obviously overstated his ability to detect the SBC’s pulse, especially given the endorsement of fundamentalist leaders for Giuliani, Huckabee and Romney.
Other than the singular non-endorsement endorsement of Land, what explains Thompson’s lack of sanctification by Christian Right leaders who have real influence?
His lack of authentic churchmanship and confusing position on abortion are problems for many conservative evangelicals. Yet those factors have not proven to be deal-breakers for either Romney or Giuliani. If evangelicals can negotiate around Giuliani’s playboy past, then the same should be true for Thompson.
Thompson and Christian Right leaders may be disconnected for reasonsÂÂ that first surfaced during Thompson’s 1994 Senate run.
A campaign staffer, who had met with Tennessee’s Christian Coalition president John Hanna, warned in a memo about Thompson’s problem with conservative evangelicals. The memo said that Christian Right leaders felt that Thompson had taken them for granted. He had neither visited nor had a relationship with them. The memo said that the problem was curable, if Thompson would talk with and his campaign would regularly call them.
Could Thompson’s lack of endorsements today stem from his history of inattention to Christian Right clergy? Are his political skills so meager today that he doesn’t understand that he needs to flatter conservative preachers to get their support?
His failure to curry clergy collaboration may explain why his campaign is mostly a religion-free zone.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.