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Presidential race engages students

With the Nov. 4 presidential election just weeks away, students at Christian universities are organizing debate watch parties, putting up campaign signs and discussing the issues in dorm rooms and coffee shops.
The youthful Barack Obama has created a buzz of excitement among some students, while John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate has energized others, students told The Christian Chronicle.
“I wish more students felt the urge to get involved. However, I’ve been pleased to see more students engaged in political discussions than ever before,” said Ben Metzger, 20, a McCain supporter and president of the student body at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Fla.
Both parties are targeting young evangelical Christians — who experts suggest may be less likely than their parents to vote based on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Shaun Casey, the man charged with coordinating evangelical outreach efforts for the Obama campaign, is a graduate of Abilene Christian University in Texas and a member of the Fairfax Church of Christ in Virginia.
Casey, who teaches Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., said he senses a much higher level of political engagement by young evangelicals than in past elections.
“Certainly, Senator Obama has an unusually strong following among young evangelicals,” Casey told the Chronicle. “I think the basket of moral issues that their generation is concerned about may be broader than their parents’ or their grandparents’ generations.”
Randy Bohlender, an evangelical pastor and McCain supporter, is on the senior leadership team of The Call, a prayer and fasting movement that hopes to fill Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego with tens of thousands of young “values voters” on Nov. 1.
“The combination of seven years of military action, a lack of an incumbent in the race, the nation’s first African-American presidential candidate and the first woman on the Republican ticket has caused interest and political engagement of young people to go through the roof,” Bohlender said.
Bohlender did not challenge the perception that many younger voters are less passionate than their parents about overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Parents and church leaders have taken for granted that younger Christians would share their views and failed to educate them on issues such as abortion and “the homosexual agenda,” he said.
“The young people who have a grasp on what the issue of abortion is about are certainly voting their conscience,” Bohlender said.
At Harding University in Searcy, Ark., Democrat Chris Berry and independent Rachel Gardner are among students actively supporting Obama.
Berry, 24, hosted a watch party at his home the night of Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.
“I consider myself a ‘younger evangelical Christian,’ yet I am pro-choice and support homosexuals’ rights,” Berry said. “The issues that my Christian views take hold of are ending the war, providing health care to those who cannot afford it, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and preserving God’s creation.”
Gardner, 20, who attended the Democratic convention through an internship program by The Washington Center, said: “I find it difficult to understand how a person can picket against abortion or gay rights one moment and then walk across the picket line and invite a homosexual or a woman who has had an abortion to church.
“If we are constantly fighting them, how are we to build relationships with them?” Gardner asked.
Chris Schandevel, 22, president of the College Republicans at Harding, said he gets a knot in his stomach when he hears the media “excitedly discussing the idea that my generation has ‘moved beyond’ issues like abortion and homosexuality.”
“Sadly, I have to agree that there is a lot of truth to what they’re saying,” said Schandevel, describing his generation as incredibly motivated to go out into the world and make a difference. For example, 800 Harding students carpooled to a small Arkansas community to do relief work after a tornado this year.
“Unfortunately, we are still young, and I’m afraid that politicians on the far left have found us to be easy to manipulate for their own political gain,” Schandevel said, suggesting his peers buy Democratic arguments about abortion and gay rights “in order to justify their support for candidates who sound so concerned about the issues that matter most to them.”
Young Christians have grown up in a society that emphasizes open-mindedness on social issues, said Lindsey Boerma, 20, a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., who served as a campaign volunteer in McCain’s “war room” in Washington.
“Instead of viewing issues such as same-sex marriage as morally repugnant, we have been exposed to the issues themselves in a way that allows us to see them from a completely different perspective. Thus, although our parents may have more black-and-white platforms on issues such as abortion and gay rights, young Christians still hold them in high regard,” said Boerma, who cites McCain’s foreign policy experience and opposition to pork-barrel spending as reasons for her support.
Still, Metzger, the Florida College student, said many of his generation, like their parents, “can’t even fathom a Christian voting for a politician who supports abortion and gay rights.” At Florida College, “The few Obama votes would be based on the desire of some students for more governmental assistance to lower income families. I understand that, and I respect their reasoning.”
Yasim Butler, 19, student government president at Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, said he’s at war with himself this election year over “God’s teachings versus change for the better.”
“Obama is way too liberal for my religious views, but McCain is too conservative for my racial needs,” said Butler, a Bible major from Newark, N.J., who said Obama would win handily in a straw poll at historically black Southwestern. “Coming from the inner city and being an African-American, I need a liberal leader that wants reform. As a Christian, I need a leader who is willing to fight the moral fight.”
At ACU, the buzz over Obama has been evident for months, said Neal Coates, a political science professor.
But McCain’s selection of Palin ignited a similar enthusiasm on the Republican side, Coates said.
“She has many views in common with persons on our campus, and she seems to have come from the blue,” Coates said of the Alaska governor. “Both the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans are gearing up to register more students to vote … and to encourage students to think about who to vote for.”
Similarly, Palin has aroused the political scene at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., said Kaitie McDermott, 20, assistant editor of the campus newspaper, The Babbler.
The Democrats at Lipscomb are feeling more cautious and the Republicans more excited, said McDermott, who remains undecided.
“A friend of mine was very pro-Obama and has now done a 180 and plans to vote for Mr. McCain,” she said. “I’m glad to see that students are listening to what is being said without being blinded by party affiliations.”

  • Feedback
    Considering all of the issues it amazes me that anyone would vote for or against a candidate based on the candidate�s views on such limited topics as abortion or homosexual rights neither of which either candidate can control.
    Roe v Wade isn’t what allowed abortion; abortions were already being done in 1960s against the law. The courts conformed to the social and moral changes that were taking place in society. Law reflects the morality of the people; without morals there can be no law. It is up us as parents and citizens in the way we raise our children, how we interact and talk with our friends and the good example we give to bring about changes to our culture toward greater respect for life.
    Christians lost the battle Gay Rights long ago due to their acceptance of adultery, fornication, co-habitation, and intolerance of birth-control measure. Heterosexual sins heterosexuals understand, tolerate, and as the church in Corinth are proud of our tolerance.
    When Christians watch ‘R’ and �X� movies they are endorsing the activities in the movie. If it is permissible for Christians to observe heterosexuals engaged in sexual activities of all types, real or simulated, why not let homosexuals enjoy the same privileges? Heterosexuals recognize Common Law marriages so why not homosexual commitments and the associated legal privileges?
    In case we forgot, sin is sin.
    October, 4 2008

    Very good article.
    September, 26 2008

Filed under: National

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