Is the Future of the Christian Vote in Doubt?

Deal W. Hudson
June 8, 2009

June 1 was a lovely day in Northern Virginia when the staff of InsideCatholic gathered with friends for our annual Lazarus Golf Tournament at Bull Run Golf Club, nestled against the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Before playing, however, we hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “The Future of the Christian Vote: Is It in Decline?”

Around the table were more than two dozen nationally recognized Catholic and Evangelical leaders. During the two hours of discussion, several basic themes emerged with regard to the future of the Christian vote. Our moderator, Peter Boyer, a former reporter for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and an NPR commentator, has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1992. He began the discussion by listing the various reasons the influence of religious conservatives appears to be on the wane, adding that the murder of Dr. George Tiller has seriously undermined the public standing of the pro-life movement.

Still, by the end of the day, no one in the room thought the Christian vote was quite ready for a postmortem. Most nodded in agreement when Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, said religious conservatives are in “disarray but not decline.” “We need to rediscover what coalitions are about,” he added, and reminisced, “In the late 1970s we knew we needed to hang together, but we have fallen away from that.”

Manny Miranda, president of the Third Branch Conference, recalled that ten years ago the Catholic Left was in a similar position, thinking that their influence was defunct. Calling the present moment an “aberration,” Miranda castigated the “secular bishops” among conservatives who put their “institutional interests” ahead of all else. “The Bush administration is over,” Miranda said, insisting it is time to allow new leaders to emerge.

“If religious voters are in decline, why did Obama campaign so hard for their vote?” asked Jack St. Martin, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He cited polling showing that 21 percent voted for McCain in 2008 because he was pro-life, while only 8 percent voted for Obama because he was not. “Thirty-four percent of voters still care about abortion – there has not been a rupture,” he noted.

One commentator after another made the point that social conservatives and Christian voters never “warmed” to McCain. As Gary Marx, the head of the Judicial Confirmation Network, put it, “In 2008 we didn’t even go after our own vote.”

What must be done to recapture the vitality of Christian voters? Matt Smith, who worked with religious coalitions for the Bush White House, said, “We need to map out our strategy like we did in 2001; no one has done that.” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, argued that Christian voters should take lessons from the success of the National Rifle Association in defending the 2nd Amendment. “We will win better by playing defense,” Norquist said, recommending Christians rally behind the Parental Rights Amendment.

Several participants, like Ned Ryun, president of the American Majority, said it was essential that Christians put together a political machine “outside of the party structure.” Ryun maintained that the focus of such an effort should be widened to include fiscal and limited government issues to abortion and marriage. No one in the room disagreed.

As the discussion drew to an end, Boyer referred to the article by Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, about the “End of Christian America” that provided the subject for the roundtable. Jay Heiler, a political consultant from Phoenix, got a good laugh when he responded to Boyer: “It’s a matter of uncertainty whether the Christian vote is in decline, but it’s quite certain that Newsweek is in decline.”

Heiler then offered a comment that seemed to summarize the convictions of many in the room:

If one assumes that the truth wins out when it is given effective voice, the political picture for conservatives is actually far less gloomy than many assume. We have entered upon an age of new media in which all have a much greater opportunity to publish their viewpoints and make their case far and wide, as creatively and persuasively as their talents allow. We must, therefore, master the new media, and learn to make use of them to good effect, and rediscover ageless media in the arts as a means of seeking and honoring truth.

As InsideCatholic enters its third year as a Catholic voice in the new media, we couldn’t agree more that “the truth wins out when it is given effective voice.” It is what we strive to do every day. We thank all of those friends and supporters who came to our Lazarus Tournament and are helping to keep our voice strong.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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