The year 2004 marked the year of a rigorously fought election on issues of faith, where for the first time, the political arena gave way to moral values. Rather than being dominated by concerns over the economy and national defense, the American public resounded a ‘yes’ to issues of faith, as more than 50% of the popular vote went to incumbent President Bush, which has not happened since his father’s win in early 90s. Also, the Republican Party gained votes in both the House and Senate, allowing it to dominate both houses – a feat that had not occurred since 1920’s. This election has left the nation deeply divided; some have even called the cleavage as deep as that of the slavery issue in Abraham Lincoln’s election before the Civil War. The election is explored in an interview with the Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger II, president and publisher of Good News, a conservative ministry of the UMC.
What was the major issue in this year’s election? And which issue gave Bush the win?
The whole vote on marriage amendment was a major factor in this vote. I think it energized the Christian vote in getting out the vote. I think there is a deep feeling of distress that the nation is -experiencing judicial tyranny.
What do you mean by judicial tyranny?
That we are having moral values imposed upon us by radical courts and judges that are using judicial power in ways that were not meant to be used. The result of that is that more Americans are realizing that they’ve got to vote and make their voice known on these issues. That certainly happened this fall. 11 states passed the amendment and 2 others had previously passed the amendment. That is a strong feeling among 75-80% of Americans towards marriage between a man and a woman.
Some say that raising the marriage amendment was a political ploy. How do you feel about that?
The United Methodist Church is on record supporting the amendment, and it is much more than a political ploy. I think that to say that it’s a ploy is to misread the deep feelings of the American people on the traditional view of marriage.
One of the things I want to say about the federal marriage amendment is that, that’s not something he came up with. He is supporting the amendment that is really the work of Matt Daniels, the President of the Alliance for Marriage (Washington D.C.), and he is the one who has put together this broad coalition who is supporting this federal marriage amendment. [The coalition] includes Christians, Jews, and Muslims. It includes Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanics. It is a broad, multicultural coalition. One of the person’s assisting him in that coalition is Walter Fauntroy, former mayor of Washington, D.C. and coordinator of Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1963 march on D.C. The media has ignored this. [The claim that President Bush came up with the marriage amendment is] simply not true. [Also, critics are calling the supporters ‘religious right zealots’]. Evangelical Christians support it most certainly but it is [also] supported by Catholics, Orthodox, mainstream believers, and Jews and Muslims.
How much do you think Bush’s Iraq War policies and how he’s dealt with the situation in terms of Christian values?
There has been so much misinformation about what’s going on in Iraq, so little reporting of any of the positive things that are taking place. Many soldiers are returning home are saying, ‘that’s not the total story.’ There are many many good things happening in reconstructing, reestablishing an infrastructure, schools, governments that has not had adequate coverage. The media continues to focus on simply the setbacks and the number of causalities. But I do think that people have a basic confidence in the integrity of George Bush. They sense that he is a firm leader, that his faith is real and authentic, and that he’s not misrepresenting to the American people. I believe they find him trustworthy. None of us are excited about war, and I think all of us would see it as a last resort, which many of us believe in this case after waiting 12 years or so for Hussein to have abided by United Nations resolution that this was a last resort. Even the president’s critics are saying, ‘he might’ve waited a little longer.’ But how much longer could he wait?
What do you think about his war on terrorism? Homeland security? Afghanistan?
I don’t think that there’s any perfect policy on Homeland Security. However, all of us look at 9/11 and breathe a sigh that we have not been attacked again. I have seen that there have been more than 150 terrorist cars found and 80-90 persons prosecuted and convicted. That’s not a bad record. I don’t think we have forgotten about Afghanistan. I think that we should focus on Iraq because it was encouraging and aiding terrorism in many areas. I think we are also trying to follow a major policy in Afghanistan and I think there’s reason to believe that that has been fairly successful although we still have not found Bin Laden.
How great a priority do you think President Bush will accord to poverty and other issues that are relevant to faith?
I think that we should continue to encourage him on the faith-based initiatives, which is a wholesome effort to encourage faith-based groups to continue what they do very well. That’s to bring a systems as well as a personal ministry, relating personally to people in need, which is far better than just federal spending being thrown at people from afar. I believe the faith-based initiatives program is going to be rejuvenated and should! I think all of its instincts are good, and it’s bringing people in touch with people who can help make a difference instead of the oftentimes dehumanizing way in which a lot of money is donated to charities.
What do you think of President Bush’s economic policies?
I think the economy is on the move. I think we are beginning to come out of a recession, a recession that had begun a few months prior to the president taking office. A correction to the market that probably needed to happen, and I think that we’re gong to see the economy continue to strengthen which means that new businesses will be energized. When the whole sea rises, all of the boats rise.
In what direction do you think President Bush will take? How great of a role do you think President Bush’s faith will play in the policy directives for the next four years?
Back in May, I had the opportunity to go to the White House along with 8 other press representatives and meet with the President for an hour. He shared and spoke to us from his heart about various issues facing the nation. He also talked about his faith and how many people indicate that they are praying for him and what that means for him. I believe the president’s faith is real. He can talk about it in a relaxed, natural way. When he talks about it, you sense that he is at ease doing so and that he’s not talking about something that’s foreign to him as you sometimes do when politicians talk about their faith.
One of the things he said to us that day was he believes that a president has the ability to impact the culture of the nation. He believes that’s true, and he wants to do that. He realizes that there are many direct and indirect ways in which a president can influence culture. I think that his support for federal marriage amendment is one of the ways he believes he can do that.
The Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger has been president and publisher of Good News, a Forum for Scriptural Christianity since 1981. He graduated from Asbury College, Asbury Theological Seminary, and Wesley Theological Seminary, where he completed a doctoral in ministry. Jim authored two books, “United Methodist Renewal: What Will It Take?” (1988) and “Theological Malpractice” (Bristol House: 2000). Good News is an evangelical magazine of the United Methodist Church. Working out of Wilmore, Kentucky, the magazine is one of the dedicated mouthpieces of the UMC. You can find it online at http://www.goodnewsmag.org