month's Values Voter Summit in Washington, conservative
Christian power broker Gary Bauer sent an e-mail to
He listed the
issues important to activists in attendance. Opposition to
''abortion on demand'' and preservation of "traditional
marriage" led the way.
Then the onetime
presidential hopeful turned his attention to a different
threat, one U.S. social conservative leaders hope will shake
their constituents from their apathy about the 2008
''The war against
Islamofascism is in many respects a 'values issue,'''
Bauer wrote. ''That may seem like an odd statement at first
glance, but, as I have often said, losing Western
Civilization to this vicious enemy would be immoral.''
perspective, branding ''radical Islam'' as a family values
issue is yet another example of the broadening of the
evangelical agenda. But next November it also could
energize one of the Republican Party's key voting
blocs, much like anti-gay marriage measures did in 2004.
ultimate life issue,'' said Rick Scarborough, president of
the Texas-based conservative Christian group Vision
America. ''If radical Islam succeeds in its ultimate
goals, Christianity ceases to exist.''
That might sound
alarmist, but Scarborough's words illustrate how many
conservative Christian leaders view matters of national
security as a battle between good and evil -- nothing
short of a clash of civilizations.
With America at
war in Iraq and continued aftershocks from the September
11, 2001, terrorist attacks, national security is an issue
for all the campaigns. But disagreement exists about
how to frame the threat, with Republicans more likely
to blame radical Islam and Democrats speaking more
generally about terrorism.
The use of
''Islamofascism'' is another flashpoint. Proponents of the
term argue that Islamic radicals who embrace totalitarian
methods evoke European fascist movements of the early
20th century. Critics call it manufactured propaganda,
a 21st-century scare tactic that fails to capture the
complex causes of terrorism.
Several voices in
evangelical political circles have sounded alarms about
militant Islam recently:
Televangelist Pat Robertson, explaining his endorsement this
week of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, said
''the overriding issue before the American people is
the defense of our population from the bloodlust of
the most influential U.S. evangelical leader, James Dobson,
has spotlighted the issue a dozen times over the past
year on his Focus on the Family radio show. Dobson has
warned that both Republicans and Democrats need to
''wake up'' to the dangers of militant Islam.
- At the
annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June,
evangelical thinker Charles Colson spoke of a ''long war''
foreign policy is not a new thing for Christian
conservatives. When former president Ronald Reagan first
applied the words ''evil empire'' to the Soviet Union
in 1983, his audience was a receptive one -- a meeting
of the National Association of Evangelicals.
''It was not by
accident,'' said Bauer, who worked in the Reagan
administration. ''Reagan knew conservative Christians do
tend to look at these big clashes between the West and
our opponents in terms of morality and right and
evangelical Christianity and Islam are long-standing
too. Aside from major theological differences, the two
traditions work tirelessly to win new believers and
often compete. Evangelical missionary groups have long
protested restrictions on access to predominantly Muslim
nations in Africa and the Middle East
The September 11
attacks, carried out by Muslims who cited their religion
as a motivating factor, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
have further inflamed evangelical anxiety.
right activists are very concerned with order,'' said
John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion
and Public Life. ''And radical Islam, in the same way
that radical Communism was, is a threat that would
interfere with families, with good government, and
also the church and the spreading of the Gospel.''
U.S. Muslim leaders are critical of the pitched
rhetoric and warn of the consequences if evangelical leaders
fail to separate militants from the vast majority of
''If you look at
the global picture, what these groups are doing is
reinforcing the idea that America is in a crusade against
Islam, and that this not a war against a group of
extremists but a war between religions,'' said Salam
Al-Marayati, executive director of the Los
Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. ''In the
long run, it's to the detriment of America's interests
and it's pandering to a bloc of voters in a very
So what kind of
solutions do Christian conservative leaders propose for
battling what they see as a real threat?
One is staying in
Iraq. More than 40 conservative leaders, most of them
social conservatives, signed a declaration in September
warning against the ''catastrophic'' consequences of
withdrawing from Iraq. The statement said the war
''must be seen in the broader context of Islamo-fascism's
war on America and Western Civilization.''
If voter turnout
is a goal, linking radical Islam and Iraq might prove
risky. While white evangelicals remain among the strongest
supporters of the Iraq war, that support is waning:
56% said in October the U.S. was right to use military
force against Iraq, down from 67% in December 2004,
according to the Pew Research Center.
meetings with Republican presidential candidates, Christian
conservatives are most interested in hearing an
acknowledgment of the Islamic threat. The Republican
presidential hopefuls are obliging.
Giuliani -- whose
preferred term is ''Islamic terrorists'' -- has
denounced Democrats for failing to use the phrase. Christian
conservative leaders acknowledge their elevation of
the issue has contributed to an ironic twist at the
top of the polls: Giuliani, the candidate most
associated with the war on terrorism, not only won
Robertson's endorsement but is polling well among
evangelicals despite his two divorces and support for
abortion rights and gay rights.
Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is aggressively
courting evangelicals, produced a TV ad in Iowa titled
''Jihad,'' in which he says, ''It's this century's
nightmare, jihadism -- violent, radical Islamic
Those who fall
short get singled out. Tony Perkins of the Family Research
Council accused former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a
favorite of many Christian conservatives, for failing
to grasp the threat of radical Islam.
since tried to make amends. In a Republican debate in
Florida, the former Southern Baptist minister labeled
Islamofascism ''the greatest threat this country's
Green, of the Pew
Forum, said if radical Islam does become a major
campaign issue, it will help the Republican nominee because
voters tend to view Republicans as stronger on
national security. But he is not sure it will motivate
conservative Christian activists.
''If you get off
into issues of taxes or foreign policy, their eyes glaze
over,'' Green said. ''If politics is going to be about those
things, they'd rather be back at their churches saving
influential conservative activist, Paul Weyrich of the Free
Congress Foundation, said it is unclear whether conservative
Christian voters understand the threat of radical
Islam well enough for it to become a factor in the
''We've got a
year to make sure they know what's going on,'' said
Weyrich, a Romney supporter. ''If they do, probably this
will be the motivating issue. If they don't, you can
forget it. I think the election goes to
Hillary.'' (Eric Gorski, AP)