Six evangelical Christians are marching into the Virginia political wars under the Republican banner this year, mixing conservative slogans and a call for a return to Christians principles.
Four fundamentalist ministers are running for the state Senate and a Christian Broadcasting Network executive and the owner of a religious bookstore are candidates for the House of Delegates.
Two of the Senate candidates are pastors from Chesapeake and Norfolk; the other two are a Bible professor and a minister from Virginia's far southwest.
All the evangelicals are to the political right of President Carter, another "born-again" Christian. Like Carter, they say evangelicals shouldn't hestitate to get involved in politics. They see their candidacies as a spearhead of a movement that will get more born-again Christains into politics.
"How can you divorce the Christian from the goverment?" said the Rev. Carlton Smith, pastor of Chesapeake's Faith Baptist Church, who is opposing Decocrat William T. Parker in the race for Chesapeake's state Senate seat.
"Why do we have opening prayers in Congress? Why do we pledge allegiance to 'one nation under God? Why do we sing 'God Bless America?" asked Smith.
The Rev. Bill Ralph, pastor of Norfolk's Ingleside Baptist Church, said his candidacy poses no threat to the separation of church and state, a tradition long prized by Baptists.
The Constitution, he said, does not prohibit politicians from acting according to their faith. "The separation of church and state does not mean the separation of God and state," Ralph said.
"Christians for a long time felt they didn't want any part of the constituted authority. But now Christians feel they should be more active in advocating Christian principles," he said.
Smith and Ralph are joined as GOP candidates for the Virginia Senate by two other ministers - Dr. Charles Tyer, professor of Biblical studies at Bluefield Baptist College, and the Rev. Charles D. Counts, pastor of Damascus Church of Christ in Smyth Countyy.
Tyer seeks the Senate seat now held by Daniel W. Bird Jr.; Counts opposes incumbent Democrat Frederick C. Boucher.
CBN executive Barry Matthews and religious supply store owner William H. Long Jr.are seeking seats in the House of Delegates in Tidewater.
All of the evangelicals say they were motivated to run by the erosion of morality among public officials.
"When you say the word 'politician' to the average person, they have a negative image," said Smith. "We need men who bring dignity, honesty and morality to their offices. They're there as the peoples' representatives and their office is a solemn trust accountable first of all to God."
While preaching Christian morality, the evangelicals support free enterprise, prayer in the schools, and the right of parents of parents to bring up their children as they see fit.
Robert L. Stern, professor emeritus of political science at Old Dominion University, said the entry of evangelicals into politics runs counter to some longstanding traditions.
Political scientists, he said, will be "concerned observers" of the new evangelical movement to see whether issues advocated by specific denominations become part of the campaigns.
Long dismissed the idea that evangelical denominations will end up running the government if fundamentalist candidates are elected.
"I'm a Christian and I have no apology for that," he said. "But my campaign will not be based on the fact that I am a Christian. I'm a responsible businessman who has moral views which need to be expressed."
Christians, said Long, should have the same right to influence the government as does anyone else.
"It seems to me that if Christians are told to live by the laws of the state, they should have some input on those laws," he said.
Ralph called the church "a sleeping giant." Political observers here agreed the evangelical vote could become a significant force in Virginia elections.
"It probably started last year when (Norfolk City Council member) Conoly Phillips sought the Democrat nomination for Senate," Stern said.
"There was no doubt that the Phillips group was very much in evidence at the party convention. They seemed to get great cooperation within the group."