"This new generation has the same convictions but without the edge," says Michael Cromartie, an evangelical scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. "They may believe all the same things, but they are not going to go on 'Larry King Live' and say all homosexuals should die. They've learned how to present themselves."
This is the old mood of the antiabortion movement, blunt and morose and uncompromising, a press conference held in a congressional meeting room by a group called Abortion Hurts Women.
Lyric Hassler, a political consultant, with husband Jeff, a Senate staffer, are evangelicals new to Washington.
(Juana Arias -- The Washington Post)
Rep. Mike Pence (D-Ind.) has promised to make a brief appearance at this antiabortion news conference. By the time he gets there it's mostly over, but the women holding it are eager to repeat their performance for him.
Jackie Bullard jumps right in to explain that an abortion left her unable to have children, so she adopted Arabella, a "child of rape whose birth mother is a drug addict," she says. "But she is highly intelligent and perfectly normal." Five-year-old Arabella is there, listening to this story she's no doubt heard many times, fidgeting at her mother's waist.
On a table at the back of the room someone has lined up dozens of pairs of tiny shoes to represent all the "murdered" children. In the corner a group of teenagers chat excitedly; they've just returned from the Supreme Court, where they stood with red masking tape across their mouths to represent the "silent screams of the unborn babies." All that's missing here is the graphic fetus pictures ubiquitous in the '90s.
Although Pence is low-key, he stands out in this crowd; he is neat and compact, with silvery hair and a pleasant face wasted on radio, the medium that made him famous in Indiana. When someone in the crowd talks to him about abortion doctors preying on vulnerable women for financial gain, Pence translates that sentiment into modern feminist terms.
"One of the fascinating things about the suffragette movement," he begins brightly, then describes how Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others recognized that they would be subjugated to the whims of men unless they could vote, translating the message of the dour news conference into progressive feminist terms.
Pence was raised Catholic, born again in college, but a political experience brought on his real "conversion." In 1990 Pence ran what he described as the nastiest race in Indiana history. He lost.
From then on he vowed that even while engaged in politics he would always be "true to his faith." Other Christian Republicans had had that revelation, of course, a decade earlier, but they were not his models: "They came in, boom, arms flailing, with lots of righteous indignation," he says of the Christian Coalition. "But that bombast and tone of the early movement is inconsistent with why we're here." What he means, really, was being nicer, or as he puts it, upholding "standards of integrity and civility."
Pence, 45, became a conservative radio talk show host who is stylistically the anti-Rush Limbaugh. "I'm a conservative, but I'm not in a bad mood about it," he'd say on air. Last year he ran for Congress again with the aim of rehabilitating himself; in ads he never mentioned his opponent.
After he got to Washington his colleagues voted him head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of powerful House conservatives once known as Newt Gingrich's henchmen. Their platform hasn't changed in 10 years, but under Pence's leadership it's a new day. "You do not demonize those who disagree with you," he says. "If you believe in a woman's right to choose, you're not a bad person, we just disagree."
His aim is to subtly "season" his sentences with references to God, not overwhelm them.
"I hope," he says, "I never make people uncomfortable."
Not too long ago relations between politics and evangelicals were defined by discomfort and tension.