Robert Jeffress is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and has a daily radio program that is broadcast on 725 stations nationwide.
Just as the war between the states is playing out anew on movie screens across America, Republicans have commenced their own civil war in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s defeat. Some blame party “extremists” for pulling Romney so far to the right that he was unelectable. They attack evangelical Christians (personified by Senate candidates Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana) for clinging to pro-life and traditional-marriage positions that “turned off independent voters” and “cost Republicans the election.”
Unless evangelicals are willing to soften, they warn, Republicans may never win another presidential contest. And if evangelical Christians want to leave the party, so be it, they say — the GOP might be off, better given Americans’ general shift toward more liberal social views.
Ann Telnaes animation: Mitt Romney’s “gifts.”
Meanwhile, evangelical Christians, who overwhelmingly vote Republican (if they feel inspired to vote at all), blame the party establishment for once again selecting a nominee whose conservative credentials — especially on social issues — were questionable at best. They point out that three of the past four Republican presidential nominees were establishment picks who engendered little enthusiasm among evangelicals, had no genuine commitment to conservative social issues — and lost. By 2016, the only Republican presidential candidate to have won in the previous two decades will be an evangelical Christian (George W. Bush) who embraced the evangelical social agenda without equivocation or apology.
The lesson of history should be clear: Republicans cannot win without the enthusiastic support of evangelicals, and social moderates don’t generate the excitement necessary to win their votes.
So, should evangelicals cease fighting a culture war that many believe they have already lost — a war that threatens to send the GOP to the political ash heap occupied by the Whigs? Or should establishment Republicans concede their inability to win without evangelicals and swear off their addiction to social moderates who promise to deliver independents?
Establishment Republicans and evangelicals should realize they are incapable of electing a president without the enthusiastic support of the other. Both have to change their thinking if they hope to capture the White House again.
Here is what establishment Republicans need to understand about those of us with the evangelical Christian mind-set: Winning is not everything. Most of the time, we will choose principle over pragmatism, especially when it comes to issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Calls for evangelicals to moderate their views on these moral issues to attract more voters will always fall on deaf ears. To paraphrase Jesus: What does it profit us if we win an election and lose our souls?
While we would prefer to win elections and have elected officials who embrace our viewpoint, the success of our cause does not ultimately depend on it. Our worldview, shaped by the Bible and history, is that Christians will continue to be a minority that will further our message in spite of, rather than because of, government. In the end, our movement will prevail, which makes compromise on core issues unnecessary.