Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist who ran John McCain’s presidential campaign, is worried about the future of the Republican Party. Speaking to the national convention of the Log Cabin Republicans, a GOP gay and lesbian organization, Schmidt expressed fear that the Republican Party was on the cusp of becoming a religious party. In particular, Schmidt is concerned that gay marriage has become the benchmark for conservative self-definition.
“If you sincerely believe God’s revealed truth objects to gay marriage, then it is perfectly reasonable to oppose it,” Schmidt told conventioneers. “But those are not the grounds that a political party should take. If you put public policy issues to religious tests, you risk becoming a religious party.”
It remains to be seen how much influence Schmidt may have among other Republican leaders. However, if his views represent a growing consensus among Republican regulars, it could spell disaster for Christian conservative activists.
There are indications that many Americans have grown weary of the moral monotone of the religious right. The Iowa Supreme Court recently struck down a gay marriage ban that had been adopted by the state legislature. And in Vermont the legislature, not the courts, adopted a gay marriage provision that later survived the governor’s attempt to veto the measure.
Perhaps most telling and certainly most surprising is the apparent conversion of megachurch pastor Rick Warren on this issue. Initially he seems to have supported California’s Proposition 8—a legislative ban on gay marriage. But recently he has been distancing himself from the measure saying he never in fact endorsed its adoption. He also claims to have called all his gay friends and apologized to them for any pain he may have caused them.
For Schmidt’s part, he believes Republicans should support gay marriage. After all, Schmidt argued, marriage is a conservative institution that fits with the party’s belief in personal responsibility.
Schmidt also cited the Republican Party’s longstanding record on civil rights as a reason to support gay marriage. “Our Republican Party should always be on the side of expanding equal rights; it is our heritage,” Schmidt said. “I believe—and think most Americans believe—you are born with your sexuality. It is not a choice. It should offend us as Republicans and Americans when gays are denigrated as un-American or undeserving of the government’s protection of their rights.”
If that becomes the official stance of the GOP, then for Christian conservatives, it will no longer be God’s Own Party. What they may do about it, however, is far from clear.
During the presidential campaign, conservative leaders such as James Dobson expressed deep disillusionment about John McCain. There were rumblings then of the possible formation of an independent party, a Christian party.
If a Christian political party came into existence, and the new party was able to gain the full support of evangelicals and conservative Catholics, they would be a force to be reckoned with. They would obviously never be a majority party, but they could certainly be a spoiler—though mostly for conservative candidates.
On the other hand, if Schmidt’s fears are realized, and Christian conservatives continue to hold sway in the Republican Party, we will witness a true historic irony. A political party will become overtly religious in its constitution while a religious movement will adopt a partisan political ideology as its core identity.
Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.