September 10, 2007
Paul Edwards, host of “The Paul Edwards Program” on WLQV in Detroit, interviewed president of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins about the recent scandals in the Republican Party, the candidacy of Rudy Giuliani, the passing of Dr. D. James Kennedy and the future of evangelicals’ involvement in the political process.
Edwards: In the wake of the Sen. Larry Craig scandal out of Minneapolis, a lot of people in the media have been quick to say this taints the family values aspect of the political realm. In particular, evangelical Christians are hypocrites because we’ve got guys like Larry Craig who would vote against same-sex marriage and yet be involved in alleged activity like this. From where you sit, Dr. Perkins, what are you feeling about the scandals that are rocking the conservative wing of the Republican Party?
Perkins: Well, it’s unfortunate and discouraging and disappointing. Some of these individuals that have been involved in some of these scandals are friends of mine, that I’ve known, some I actually served with when I was in office. And it’s a reminder that we all are susceptible to falling and to failing and the question is, “What do you do when you have fallen?” and I think for Christians there is forgiveness, there is redemption on the personal side. On the public or political side, it’s damaging; it damages one’s credibility, one’s ability to lead. And there is a double standard, but it’s justifiable because I believe if you hold up something as the defender of it, and then you privately are doing something that contradicts it, I think you deserve to be called out. You deserve to be told, “Hey, this guy’s not practicing what he preaches.”
I think in part this is not about family values as some would want to say. I think what we’re seeing—and some would disagree with this—but I think what we’ve seen is some of the side effects of the arrogance of power. And from our perspective as Christians I think we’ve been a little slow at times to hold those in public office—especially if they’re conservative and vote right—accountable for their private actions. I think as Christians our role is to be involved, but it’s to also be a prophetic voice of accountability to government regardless of what party an individual may be involved in.
Edwards: [At the last Republican debate] Rudy Giuliani answered a question about his family, his own personal life, and the questioner was saying, if your personal life is a mess how do you plan to govern? And he [Giuliani] points out that he’s got a 35-year track record of governing. Does that negate Rudy Giuliani’s personal life—his divorces and all of that—for the evangelical right and are we ready to forgive him because, after all, for 35 years he has effectively governed, he’s reduced taxes, he’s done everything conservatives want him to do?
Perkins: Paul, I would say we have to go back to what the Bible says. God does not draw a line between our private and public lives. Now, is there forgiveness for Rudy Giuliani? I think we should be filled with grace—extending grace to those who acknowledge they’ve made mistakes and they’re on the path to doing the right thing. But to say, “Don’t look at what I’ve done privately, because [what I’ve done publicly] that’s all that counts,” I don’t buy that and I don’t think any Christian should buy that. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be perfect and I do think we need to extend grace to those that acknowledge failure and want to do better and set on a course to do better. We should encourage them. We shouldn’t in anyway write that off and say they’re not genuine. If someone does come to their senses and tries to do the right, we should support them, encourage them, and forgive them.
Edwards: Men like D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell used the legislative process of this country in order to effect moral change which we applaud. Is there, however, a danger of crossing a thin line of using the legislative process and the danger of getting into bed with one political party? Have conservative evangelicals been burned by the Republican Party?
Perkins: I think Dr. Kennedy modeled this best. He was changing hearts and lives of people by ministering to them the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think we can never forget our first call and that is to evangelism. We need to evangelize the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. But from that we also need to work to shape public policy. The policy really is reflective of the values we hope to see spread through the culture through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not going to bring that change. The change comes from people having that encounter with Christ.
Now, the second part of your statement or question … I think, in part, we’ve been taken for granted by the [Republican] Party. I also think there have been times when religious leaders have desired and enjoyed access to those in power and have forgone the accountability that we should have been bringing to the process. And some will say, “How could you possibly effect change if you can’t control and influence a party?” Well, let me tell you what’s happening in Congress right now. Last November election you had a handful of Democrats that ran as pro-family, pro-life Democrats and they defeated moderate Republicans. We’ve been working with them to hold to those pro-life, pro-family commitments and by-and-large they have. Now that is creating problems for the Democratic leadership because they have members of their party who are not marching in lock-step with them on every issue. I think that’s healthy for the process. Just as we free-market folks believe competition is good, I believe competition in the political market is good as well. We should be focused not on parties, but I believe on what is biblically correct, candidates—regardless of what label they carry—if they hold to pro-family, pro-life, biblical values then we should be willing to support them.
Paul Edwards is the host of The Paul Edwards Program and a pastor. His program is heard daily on WLQV in Detroit and on godandculture.com. Contact him at email@example.com.