There's one thing that can't be disputed about the evangelicals who attended the Family Research Council's "Values Voters Summit" in Washington D.C. this past weekend: they are all wonderfully nice people. They may view homosexuals as abominations of nature; they may want to run the United States based on biblical dictates; and they may see immigrants as a corruption of American culture, but they will wish God's blessing upon you a million times over.
As a reporter from Mother Jones at the event, I needed all the blessings I could get. My employer was a constant source of amusement to the attendees I spoke with.
"Who are you with?" asked a heavy-set attendee from Texas who I chatted with outside a Sam Brownback book signing.
"Mother Jones magazine," I said. "It's a national magazine covering prog"
He cut me off before I could finish. "I read Mother Jones in college," he said, grinning. "Back when I was around your age, I believe. What did Winston Churchill say? 'A young man who is not a liberal is heartless, an old man who is not a conservative
.'" He started laughing. I started laughing. Turns out, the end of the quote is "is an idiot" or "is a fool"—the Churchill Centre says the quote is a false attribution, so end it however you please.
Later, as I was perusing books like Last Days Madness and The Criminalization of Christianity, a skinny man standing nearby spotted my press pass and made a beeline in my direction. "Can I introduce you to a candidate?" he asked, pressing a piece of campaign literature into my hand. "Daniel Gilbert, a fourth-tier candidate who believes ordinary citizens should run against professional politicians and win. A strong conservative." I paused to read the handout, but hadn't gotten past the quote "I love America" before the man asked me what news outlet I was with.
"Mother Jones," I said.
"Oh, Mother Jones! This must be a weird environment for someone from Mother Jones."
I laughed good-naturedly. Previously, I had been warned by an attendee that coastal areas like San Francisco and Massachusetts were declining into "hedonism." Mother Jones, the skinny man's tone implied, was ushering that descent. I smiled at the man and said, "I left my liberal media membership card at home."
"That's probably a good idea," he responded, chuckling. I tucked the handout in my bag (next to a "Jihad in America" pamphlet with a picture of a knife-wielding Muslim boy) and said goodbye. He may have said "God bless you" as I left. Most everyone did.
The highlight of my weekend came when I took a seat next to a pair of elderly ladies named Alice and Jayne, from Virginia and West Virginia respectively, asking both of them if they had a favorite candidate. Sam Brownback, said an unhappy-looking Alice.
"Are you disappointed he dropped out?" I asked.
"Yes and no," she said. "He's such a wonderful senator. I'm happy he'll be back there. And I believe he has done what he was supposed to do as far as being a candidate. He has been a strong candidate for God's principles. He has spoken truth." As I jotted down her comments, she looked at my notebook and repeated, "He has spoken truth." Duly noted.
I turned to Jayne. "Have you selected a candidate?" I asked.
"I just don't know. That's why we're here," she said, gesturing around the room. "We hear them all, and then we pray and ask God what to do."
"God tells you who to vote for?" I asked.
She nodded forcefully. "You pray and say, 'God, what's truth?' And he tells us," she said, adding, "We're sensitive. That's why we pray."
"And He's after you," said Alice. I looked up to find her staring me directly in the eye. "He's raising up a strong new generation. He's after young men like you."
I blushed and laughed politely. Avoiding eye contact, I started writing again.
"You seek truth, don't you?" asked Alice. I kept writing furiously. She waited until I glanced up again. "Don't you?"
"Yes," I said, which was true enough, regardless of my views on faith.
"Then you just ask God, 'Is this truth?' And he will tell you. You're open to the truth, aren't you?" I kept writing, hoping she wouldn't be interested in converting the top of my head to the Christian faith. She waited until I made eye contact again. She was determined. "Aren't you?"
"Yes," I muttered.
"I love you," she said abruptly, but with a clear voice. I stared at her. I contemplated saying that I loved her too, but didn't.
"You know what that is?" asked Jayne. "That's God's love. God loves you, and we love you through Him. You don't get that kind of love anywhere else."
"Now wait a minute," I said. "Yes, I do. From my family."
"Ah, your mom and dad?" said Jayne. "They'll let you down."
"I know I've let my kids down from time to time," added Alice.
What to do? Defend my parents in the face of two God-loving and very polite old ladies who were going to insist, as a matter of faith, that my mother and father would someday betray me? "But I'll forgive my parents if they let me down," I said.
"Ah! You're on the right track!" squealed Alice. For some reason, my response pleased her greatly.
"You're on the right track," concurred Jayne.
"Thanks very much folks," I said, reaching out to shake hands. "Have fun this weekend."
"God bless you," said Jayne, grasping my hand.
"God bless you," said Alice, with a wide smile.
They sure were nice.
(My coverage of the "Values Voters Summit" can be found in parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.)