War Support Among Evangelicals

War Support Among Evangelicals Collapses
Bush Incompetence Said to Delay Second Coming

In the past 30 days, support for the Iraq War among white evangelicals has fallen from 70 percent to 58 percent.

These numbers matter because evangelicals are a quarter of the people who actually bother to vote, and 78 percent of them voted Republican 2 years ago. Only 58 percent say they are satisfied with the party now, and Iraq and the Foley scandal are driving the discontent.

Of course, evangelicals like other Americans are seeing articles like this one in which Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blames the US military for things going wrong in Iraq, denies that he has accepted the benchmarks set by the US ambassador, maintains he could do a better job with his own army if the US would just get out of the way, and downplays the role of Shiite militias in the country’s violence. The tirades came in response to al-Maliki’s perception that Bush is playing politics with Iraq for the election season, and is doing and saying things that could cause Maliki’s government to fall. The tiff is not an edifying spectacle for the American public, which is paying $336 billion to watch it and has seen 24,000 of its troops dead and wounded.

On Wednesday, Sunni Arab guerrillas killed 4 Marines and a sailor.

A more colorful manifestation of the evangelicals disillusionment than the poll is the sermons of Houston-based evangelical preacher K.A. Paul. Here are some of the things he is running around the country saying about Iraq:

‘ The Houston-based preacher said he believes that the Bush administration has delayed the second coming because U.S. foreign policy has blocked Christian missionaries from working in Iraq, Iran and Syria. . . “Somebody needs to say enough is enough,” he said to worshippers who stood, waved and called out in support. . . Paul, who claimed to support conservative political leaders in the past, is launching “a crusade to save America from the wrath of God and Republicans abusing their power,” according to his press materials. . . “God is mad at this country,” Paul told the congregation. He described the war in Iraq as “unnecessary genocide.”

Can you say, “amen!” and “halleluja!”?

The only explanation of which I can think for the general collapse of this pillar of War party is that the political contests in mid-Atlantic and Southern states are generating television ads, candidate appearances and debates that highlight the catastrophe that is Iraq–and it is getting through to the church-goers at long last.

Mostly political discourse in the United States is dictated by the ruling party in Washington, and the mass media and press are most often nervous about getting out in front of the elected officials. But in an election season, the press is suddenly allowed to cover at least a narrow range of dissident views intensively– that is, the views of political opponents of the incumbents. Since the vast majority of incumbents in the mid-Atlantic and Southern states are Republicans, the upshot is that a Democrat point of view is suddenly getting aired and reported on. And the Dems are mostly pretty critical of Bush’s Iraq War.

You have to wonder, as well, if the Foley scandal has, so to speak, opened the evangelicals’ ears to criticisms of the Republican Party status quo more generally, allowing the bad news about Iraq to sink in. I suggest it only because the story broke around the time that their approval for the Iraq War began to plummet.

Even in a relatively safe district for a Republican incumbent, such as southwest Alabama’s 1st Congressional District, where Vivian Beckerle (Democrat) is challenging Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, at least there is a lively debate. You read this article carefully, and it turns out that this is the white Republican Baptist elite duking it out with . . . itself. Beckerle is a member of the Baptist church, a retired major in the Army reserves, and she was until recently a Republican herself. But now, she is a Democratic challenger to Bonner, and here is what the article says about her stance on Iraq:

‘ But her sharpest attacks were reserved for Iraq, where the 3½-year-old war has so far cost the lives of almost 2,800 American service members, with a financial price tag that has climbed into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Beckerle, a retired major in the U.S. Army Reserve, supports a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces within six months. At the Jackson forum, she accused the Bush administration of lying about the need for war and suggested Bonner should know that “maybe we shouldn’t be there.” ‘

This kind of challenge to Bush’s Iraq War is being mounted in congressional districts and Senate races all over the South. The election is getting this discourse on the local news. Often in southern cities there is just one major newspaper, and it often is owned by a Republican and the headlines about Iraq for the past 3 years have been sunny. I travel a lot, and have seen those local newspapers folded on coffee tables in hotel lobbies, with headlines like “Iraq turning Corner, General Says.” But I think the various kinds of Baptists down there are now hearing someone like Beckerle, who is one of their own and has all the right credentials to be credible on the subject, and some of them are developing doubts as a result.

This political campaigning dovetails with the crticisms of the war now being heard by a minority of preachers, such as K.A. Paul.

Places like Mobile, Alabama, are also seeing news articles that contain language like this one from October 18:

“Nine Americans killed in Iraq . . . Officials said three soldiers died Saturday of injuries after a roadside bomb went off near their vehicle in Baghdad. The victims were 35-year-old Staff Sgt. Joseph M. Kane of Darby, Pa., 25-year-old Spc. Timothy J. Lauer of Saegertown, Pa., and 48-year-old 1st Sgt. Charles M. King of Mobile, Alabama.”

The spike in US casualties in October may be part of the nosedive in support for the war among evangelicals, but I think it is mostly that the usually closed US political information system has been temporarily opened up by election season.

The significance of the enormous decline in approval of the war among white evangelicals is that they are dispirited. A few may even vote Democrat. But generally speaking, the dispirited often simply do not vote at all. White evangelicals go to the polls at higher than average rates, so if they sit this one out because of discontent over Iraq (and the bumbling Bush interfering with Jesus’s Second Coming), then the Dems take both chambers of Congress hands down.

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