Evangelicals Disappointed, Political Faith Shaken

Conservative Christians are upset with the Republican sex scandals.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:18 AM

Aug. 31, 2007 — -- As the Republican party reels from another scandal involving sex, several evangelical leaders say they're worried about losing their political clout as the faithful become disillusioned with the immoral behavior of a few hypocritical lawmakers.

It is easy for Republican candidates to take the evangelical community for granted, but it's leaders say their support is not guaranted. Several expressed disappointment with individual lawmakers and concern about the party's prospects for the 2008 presidential election.

The list of shamed lawmakers includes Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, recently arrested for allegedly soliciting sex in a men's restroom; Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, who confessed to being a client of the "D.C. Madam"; and former Florida Rep. Mark Foley, who exchanged lewd e-mails and instant messages with teenage boys in the congressional page program. The scandal involving GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the ethical questions currently surrounding Republican Senator Ted Stevens only add to the problems.

Both Craig and Vitter, who opposed gay marriage and promoted abstinence-only education and anti-abortion policies, were strong allies of evangelical Christians. Foley, a crusader against child abuse and exploitation, was more moderate on social issues.

Though evangelical leaders were alarmed at the lawmakers' personal behavior clashing with their public positions, they were not surprised at the revelations.

"I don't know an evangelical who hasn't been disappointed by somebody in a position of moral leadership," Richard Land, a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, told ABCNEWS.com. "Evangelicals and social conservatives believe in human depravity. We're disappointed by it, but not surprised by it. And we understand that our political leaders are human. It can happen to any of us if we are not watchful of our moral values."

Roberta Combs, the president of the Christian Coalition, was equally disappointed. "It's a sad day," she said the day after Craig's appearance before reporters in Boise, Idaho. "He certainly ran on family values. When they get elected and campaign on family values, you hold them to a higher standard. We need to step up our job a little more."

The Foley saga helped the Republicans lose the Congressional majority in 2006 as many evangelicals stayed away from the polls.

"What are we working ourselves to death for and then they're not who they say they are?" asked Tony Beam, the director of the Christian World View Center. "There is frustration, but I don't see it as an overall loss of faith in the conservative side of Republicans. It's a matter of individuals. We're all susceptible to sin, to evil, to giving in to our baser instincts. It just reminds us that when we take a strong moral stance publicly, it's all the more important that our private life lives up to that."