For many evangelicals, it will be the end of the world if Obama wins

Tue, Oct 28, 2008, 00:00

The evangelical movement is fearful on many fronts, Mark Hennessydiscovers in Colorado Springs

QUIETLY SPOKEN, religiously and politically conservative, and living in the heartland of evangelical Christianity in the US, Daniel Lopez pondered the end of time that could come if Barack Obama becomes president.

"When I think of it, it brings to mind the prophecies that the Bible tells us about," said Lopez, sitting in the shade outside Focus on the Family's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"On the one hand, it is exciting for us as conservatives because we can actually see what God prophesied coming about; but on the other hand, it is frustrating to see somebody become president who is a blatant liar."

Lopez and his family moved three years ago from California to Colorado Springs, which has over the past couple of decades become home to thousands of evangelical Christians, and more than 100 of their churches.

The most influential religious operation in the city is not, however, a church as such, but the sprawling Focus on the Family complex established by James Dobson, one of the US's most influential figures.

Each year, he broadcasts to 200 million religious conservatives at home and abroad, and he reigns supreme in Colorado Springs since pastor Ted Haggard fell from grace after he was found to have solicited a male prostitute for sex and drugs.

The Haggard experience, and general suspicions that the press is everlastingly liberal, mean the evangelicals are not keen on journalists, even if they are polite about it. "No sir, I'm afraid there is no one you can talk to. They are attending a meeting on homosexuality and I cannot disturb them. It's quite a sensitive subject, you know," a Focus on the Family staffer gently, but firmly, told The Irish Times.

The evangelicals believe the world is swimming against a tide of filth: promiscuity; homosexuality; and the curse of relativism.

Eight years ago, and again in 2004, the evangelicals, who number up to one-quarter of the US population, were on a political roll, and were crucial to the election of George W Bush.

Today, they are still influential, as can be judged by Republican presidential candidate John McCain's selection of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as running mate.

During the battle for the Republican nomination, the evangelicals' dislike of McCain was evident, with Dobson saying he was convinced the Arizona senator was not a conservative.

"In fact, he has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are. I cannot and will not vote for senator John McCain, as a matter of conscience," he declared.

Times have changed since then, and Dobson, faced with the unacceptable prospect of a liberal in the White House, now says he is "supportive" of McCain's campaign, even though he cannot bring himself to endorse it. "It's probably obvious which of the two major party candidates' views are most palatable to those of us who embrace a pro-life, pro-family world view," Dobson wrote in a weekly e-mail to supporters.

Palin, on the other hand, the evangelicals like. Last week, the vice-presidential candidate, herself an evangelical, was interviewed by Dobson for 20 minutes on his syndicated radio show, which has 1.5 million daily listeners. Describing herself as a "hardcore pro-lifer", Palin voiced confidence that, by "putting this in God's hands, that the right thing for America will be done at the end of the day on November 4th".

The evangelicals' main complaints about McCain are that he does not support federal constitutional bans on gay marriage and abortion, and he favours embryonic stem-cell research. A ban on all three is Republican Party official policy, and Palin assured Dobson that McCain would follow it if the duo wins: "I do believe that, from the bottom of my heart."

With time slipping away, evangelicals still hope McCain can win in Colorado, particularly because a state referendum that would grant "personhood" to a fertilised egg should rally the local conservative vote. But Obama's eloquence and campaigning skills, and a sense that the political winds in the US are running against them, have disconcerted the evangelical movement.

Fearful on many fronts, they particularly fear for Israel if Obama wins. James Borja, a youth pastor, said: "Right now, we are one of the few nations giving them support. They have the rightful ownership of that land, rather than the Arabs who covet it. Once our support ends, you will see the end of Israel and the beginning of the end for America.

"Truly, the Bible says of Israel, 'I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you'."

But Borja holds out hope that many Americans will act like his father-in-law in the campaign's final days.

"He has always voted Democrat, a lifelong trade unionist. But he says now that he is voting Republican. He says, 'I can't vote for my pocket. I've got to vote with my conscience'."

However, the future is already written, said James Krause, who disagrees that evangelicals have reasons to be afraid if a Democrat takes the White House. "God holds everything in his hand. There is no doubt in my mind that what happens on November 4th has been pre-ordained," he said.