Evangelicals are the Republican Party’s “biggest, most reliable voting bloc,” according to Republican National Committee faith engagement director Chad Connelly. But there has been grumbling for years that they’ve received a raw deal from the party.
The New York Times reported in March that evangelical leaders and other socially conservative groups said they didn’t believe that Jeb Bush would fight for the issues they care most about: opposing same-sex marriage, holding the line on an immigration overhaul and rolling back abortion rights.
And that’s why it’s significant that Bush will appear before a reported crowd of 13,000 evangelical pastors and leaders in Nashville next month. He’ll be appearing at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday, August 4, and will be interviewed by the organization’s president, Russell Moore.
In a statement, Moore said that it’s become clear in the past several years that evangelicals are “tired of sloganeering and are looking for concrete strategy.”
“Evangelicals realize they can no longer consider themselves part of some silent majority, where our First Amendment freedoms are assumed and guaranteed,” he says. “Instead, evangelicals want to know which candidates offer a clear, coherent vision of religious liberty and have a plan to defend it when the very idea is contested in American politics. Evangelicals are looking for leaders who not only understand their convictions about human dignity and family stability but have plans to address them, and this event will provide the opportunity for precisely this kind of discussion with some of the leading presidential candidates, and I am greatly looking forward to it.”
Bush was raised as an Episcopalian but converted to Catholicism in 1996. This will not be his first turn before a large group of evangelicals in this campaign season. In May, Bush gave a commencement speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., before some 34,000 people. In his speech, he accused liberals of trying to undermine religious freedom.
“The progressive political agenda is ready for its next great leap forward, and religious people or churches are getting in the way,” he said at Liberty University. “Our friends on the Left like to view themselves as the agents of change and reform, and you and I are supposed to just get with the program.”
According to the press release issued by the Southern Baptist Convention, the leading candidates from each major party were invited to this event. That was limited to those polling at 10 percent or higher in the Real Clear Politics national average up to one month before the event. The only other presidential candidate listed as being part of the two-day event is U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who will be interviewed on video by Russell Moore.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry have all been clear about trying to woo the evangelical vote, especially in Iowa and South Carolina.