Evangelical voters are having as hard a time as anyone at figuring out what to do with the Republican candidates in this presidential primary cycle. They could not bring themselves to line up uniformly behind any one of the evangelical candidates. They briefly supported the socially conservative Roman Catholic candidate, Rick Santorum, and then lost interest. Now they are vacillating between the serial adulterer with a rhetorical gift (no, Bill Clinton is not running) and the business whiz they're not sure they can trust to be conservative. They may be tempted simply to stay home on Election Day, but to them the thought of four more economy-killing, government-growing, court-liberalizing Obama years is even more horrifying to contemplate than anyone on the debate stage as president.
Evangelicals need the GOP. After the cultural decay of the 1960s and '70s, and the growing government activism that pressed ever more deeply into citizens' lives, evangelicals threw their support to the Republican Party. They saw the GOP as far more likely than the Democrats to protect the private Christian life in its individual, family, and church forms as government is supposed to do. The Apostle Paul told Timothy to pray that the government of his day would protect people's freedom to "lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Timothy 2:2).
Part of that government task is maintaining a morally healthy environment. For this reason, evangelical voters have had a strong interest in "values"-related issues. But they have also supported low taxes, not only to restrict government intrusion into every sphere of life, but also to give Christians greater means to direct their own lives and those of their families and churches.
On the other side of this marriage of convenience, the GOP needs evangelicals-which makes up roughly 25 percent of the voting population-if they are going to carry key states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But who needs whom more: the GOP or evangelicals? The answer is breathtakingly simple.
God gives us government for our good, even for the good of the church. In that sense, evangelicals need government that will provide best for the liberty of the gospel: security in life, property, speech, worship, and a moral environment that facilitates godliness and the godly nurture of our children. But Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is not of this world. A just political order is helpful and good, but not entirely necessary. In that sense, evangelicals don't "need" the GOP. But the GOP, because it's a political party, needs evangelical votes. Period.
The Republican Party has the help of evangelicals, and it will sink without them. But evangelicals have the risen and reigning Christ. The GOP needs evangelicals far more than evangelicals need the GOP. It would be better for the nation as well as for the kingdom of God if they would both remember that.