Unless evangelical Christians learn from their 1986 political mistakes, 1988 could be their electoral Armageddon. And instead of blaming the press or other outside forces for the string of political election defeats, Christians need to examine their own propensity toward self-inflicted wounds. Christians lose at the polls for the same reason other candidates lose: They do not campaign intelligently.
Part of the problem, ironically, comes from our success. In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter would never have been elected President had he not garnered 56 percent of the evangelical vote. But once we discovered our power, we began to think an evangelical on the ballot would automatically bring out the born-again voting bloc. It just doesn’t work that way, as we learned in the ill-fated 1986 elections.
It does not help much when Christian candidates seldom reach beyond the pew during their campaigns, framing issues in language that the broader constituency cannot understand. For example, in 1986 incumbent Congressman Mark Siljander of Michigan sent a tape to evangelical pastors in his district urging them to “break the back of Satan” and to repel the attacks against him. Predictably, Siljander’s opponent strongly objected to being compared with Satan, which, of course, was not Siljander’s intent. Nonetheless, the die was cast. Siljander himself conceded “… the tape did it.”
In that same election year, North Carolina incumbent Congressman Bill Cobey mailed a campaign letter exhorting fellow Christians to send him back to Congress “so our voice will not be silenced and then replaced by someone who is not willing to take a strong stand for the principles outlined ...1
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