As word of Representative Mark Foley’s sexually explicit e-mail messages to former pages spread last week, Republican strategists worried — and Democrats hoped — that the sordid nature of the scandal would discourage conservative Christians from going to the polls.Arrrgh. As Henry Rollins once wrote to a friend of mine: "They don't like their brains." I simply do not believe that these evangelicals (an unscientific and hopefully unrepresentative sample) made an honest moral and religious decision here. With the help of Fox News and talk radio and their own church leadership, they instead elected to view it through the most absurd and pro-Republican prism possible. ("Well, yeah, this may have been a purely Republican scandal, but it's the sort of thing Democrats would do, so I'm going to keep voting Republican.")
But in dozens of interviews here in southeastern Virginia, a conservative Christian stronghold that is a battleground in races for the House and Senate, many said the episode only reinforced their reasons to vote for their two Republican incumbents in neck-and-neck re-election fights, Representative Thelma Drake and Senator George Allen.
“This is Foley’s lifestyle,” said Ron Gwaltney, a home builder, as he waited with his family outside a Christian rock concert last Thursday in Norfolk. “He tried to keep it quiet from his family and his voters. He is responsible for what he did. He is paying a price for what he did. I am not sure how much farther it needs to go.”
The Democratic Party is “the party that is tolerant of, maybe more so than Republicans, that lifestyle,” Mr. Gwaltney said, referring to homosexuality.
Most of the evangelical Christians interviewed said that so far they saw Mr. Foley’s behavior as a matter of personal morality, not institutional dysfunction.
All said the question of broader responsibility had quickly devolved into a storm of partisan charges and countercharges. And all insisted the episode would have little impact on their intentions to vote.
[A]as far as culpability in the Foley case, Mr. Dunn said, House Republicans may benefit from the evangelical conception of sin. Where liberals tend to think of collective responsibility, conservative Christians focus on personal morality. “The conservative Christian audience or base has this acute moral lens through which they look at this, and it is very personal,” Mr. Dunn said. “This is Foley’s personal sin.”
Republicans have put up a vigorous defense, mainly through conservative allies and on talk radio. An e-mail message to talk-radio hosts from the Republican Party last week asked, “How would Democrats react if one of their own had a sexual relationship with an intern, was found out, then lied to a grand jury in an attempt to cover it up?”
[M]any conservative churchgoers said that what stood out for them was not the politics but the individual sin. “It is not going to affect my vote because I don’t live in Florida,” said Scott O’Connell, a mechanical engineer who described himself as a fundamentalist. “But there is a bigger moral issue which I would say is the prism I view this through: I do not believe in homosexuality.”
I am not nearly evolved or enlightened enough to be a good Christian, but I am apparently far too evolved and enlightened to be a bad one.