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Will 'Social' Issues Disappear from the Republican Agenda?

By Billy Atwell
September 14th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Voting Christians who are Republicans are overwhelmingly in agreement on their desire to end abortion, define marriage as between one man and one woman, protect religious liberty, and so on.  So what is the strategy behind moving to less "sticky" issues? Will the Republican Party move the way the Democratic Party has in recent years and focus on issues which can be construed as somehow "safe" and of a purely "civic" nature?

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Influential Christian organizations are outspoken in their discouragement with the Republican Party's lack of leadership on what many call the "third leg" of the party's usual platform.  Every Republican Party campaign platform consists of a firm stance on the economy, national security, and what are called social issues. 

Lately, Republicans have been absent on social issues and are walking a bit limp as a result.  Traditionally, "social issues" is a phrase used to refer to abortion, sex education, bioethical concerns, the definition of marriage, religious liberty, and others.Arguably, every issue has a social dimension. However, these issues have often been singled out.

The two main opponents of this neglect are the American Principles Project and the Manhattan Declaration.  The American Principles Project is joining a grassroots effort called "Plank 1."  This effort says, "Our nation is only as strong as its core components: families, neighborhoods, churches and other religious communities, marriage and the voluntary associations of many types that make for a vibrant civil society." 

It lays out a principled devotion to protect the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, religious liberty, the rights of parents in teaching ethical values, charitable giving, a reformation of poverty programs, abstinence sex education programs, honoring our soldiers, and defining our rights as endowed by God, our Creator. 

The American Principles Project has called on its members to contact Minority Leader John Boehner, a Catholic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Republican National Committee Chairman Michale Steele to influence them in placing social issues back on their agenda and uphold the country's moral foundation.

The other initiative running through the same vein is the Manhattan Declaration.  The Manhattan Declaration is a movement of Christians leaders and laity to restore and preserve the sanctity of life, the orthodox Christian definition of marriage, and religious liberty.  It has been signed by 54 Catholic Bishops and Archbishops, and 3 Cardinals.  It has also been signed and supported by leading Evangelical Protestants such as James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Chuck Colson, Dr. Timothy George, and Jim Daly. 

Additionally, prominent Orthodox clerics and theologians have signed as well.  With almost half a million signatures from lay Christians, the Manhattan Declaration sent out an email to all supporters calling on them to contact Rep. John Boehner and Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor to voice their dissent in the resent abandonment of social issues from the party platform. 

The Republican Party has not issued any official edicts with regard to what issues will take precedent in the November elections.  Recent addresses from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and leading Republican members of Congress have focused on the economy, jobs, the healthcare bill, and other issues that do not address the country's moral compass or critical moral and social issues.  Christian religious leaders are worried that the final agenda will lack clear positions on these issues and that the Republican Party will move the way the Democratic Party has in recent years and focus on issues which can be construed as somehow "safe" and of a purely "civic" nature.

Abortion, abstinence education, empowering the family, and religious liberty have been important issues to Republicans, but in recent months they have become weak on mainstays traditionally used to unify their base.  With all of the attacks on the ability of Christians to live out their faith publicly, many question the tactic of speaking to other issues instead.

Republicans voiced little-to-no negative reaction when the Mojave Desert cross was stolen off of a war memorial, or when crosses were removed from a Utah memorial to fallen Highway Patrol officers.  In both cases the memorials were paid for and maintained by private citizens with private funds.  In fact, in Utah, the crosses were removed not because of opposition from local citizens or family members of the police officers, but as a result of a suit filed by a Texas-based atheist group. 

These violations of religious liberty invoked less reaction from Republicans than did the threat by a Florida pastor to burn the Koran.  Republicans were vocal in opposition to violations of religious liberty against Muslims, but for Christians, who comprise most of their base, they have not been as adamant or outwardly concerned.

The most overt move towards federally legalizing, and protecting, the judicially manufactured "right" of homosexuals to "marry" came from Federal Judge Vaughn Walker.  Judge Walker ruled that there was no legitimate reason to prevent homosexuals from marrying, and hence overturned California's Proposition 8, which was a voter-approved state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. 

Republicans were astoundingly silent in their dissent to Judge Walker's opinion.  Only religious leaders came forward to defend what they called a violation of Natural Law and the integrity of the family. 

After instances such as these, and the presumed removal of moral issues from the Republican platform, many wonder, is the Republican Party abandoning the heart-and-soul of their constituency?  Voting Christians who are Republicans are overwhelmingly in agreement on their desire to end abortion, define marriage as between one man and one woman, protect religious liberty, and so on. 

So what is the strategy behind moving to less "sticky" issues?  A move away from the traditional main-stays of the party platform seems imprudent, especially given their 9-point lead on Democrats (according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll).

The American Principles Project issued a press release making their position known and asked the Republican Party to not forget the moral causes that mean so much to Christian Americans.  Dr. Robert George,  Dr. Timothy George, and Chuck Colson, co-architects of the Manhattan Declaration, asked their signers to contact Republican leaders, which many did, and asked Republicans to reconsider their current path. 

For many, the Republican Party stands as the last major political party upholding pro-life values, authentic marriage, and religious liberty as foundational to every other issue, whether it's of a civic or moral nature.  Unless Republicans make moral and social issues more prevalent in their long list of priorities, more frustration and dissent can be expected from Christians who make up much of their  base. 

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Billy Atwell contributes to Catholic Online, and blogs for The Point and the Manhattan Declaration. From the perspective of a two-time cancer survivor he encourages those afflicted with pain and struggling with faith. You can find all of his writings at For the Greater Glory.

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