SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Sen. Jim DeMint, Republican from South Carolina, implored pastors to “come out from the safety of their walls” and urge the faithful to see economic issues as moral issues Friday night at a Southern Baptist church in South Carolina.
“It’s a moral issue,” DeMint said of the federal debt. “It really is a religious issue, and this is what we’re trying to tell pastors all over the country.”
On a night usually reserved for high school football, a couple hundred constituents gathered in the fellowship hall of First Baptist North Spartanburg, a church that averages about 2,500 attendees on Sundays. The event was sponsored by CEO Round Table of South Carolina, a conservative group promoting the idea that economic and social issues are equally important.
DeMint himself certainly did not shy away from cultural issues, which have been points of tension, even in conservative circles.
“We’re not asking the government to push our religion or morals, but don’t take them away from us,” DeMint told the audience. “That’s what they do when they redefine marriage or when they say unborn children are not really a life.”
DeMint appeared with Dr. Frank Page, executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention, who gave a less political sermonette in which he said that Christians “are the ones to blame” for what he called a cultural “mess” and urged believers to focus on the “main thing,” winning the lost to Christ.
“Some of you are naïve enough to think that if we just get the right people in office, we’ll be all right,” Page told the crowd, which echoed a few amens. “You are wrong, you are wrong, you are wrong.”
The speech demonstrated how DeMint, highly influential in the Tea Party movement, which tends to unite participants around economic issues, is still a leader – even a hero – among cultural conservatives.
The music of Chris Tomlin, popular worship leader and Christian recording artist, played before the speech, and the church’s senior pastor Dr. Mike Hamlet prayed for DeMint before he left for home.
DeMint joked about taking heat from party leaders for throwing his weight behind “reinforcements” — such as Christine O’Donnell, Delaware’s Republican choice for U.S. Senate.
“I am in the doghouse in Washington,” DeMint said to loud cheers. “Up there I really feel out of place and sometimes disliked, and then I step off a plane in South Carolina or any other place in the country and people are encouraging me and telling me they’re praying for me.”
DeMint also touted the victories of candidates across the nation that he has supported, including Pat Toomey and Joe Miller, Republican picks for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania and Alaska, respectively, and took a jab at former GOP colleague Sen. Arlen Specter, Democrat from Pennsylvania.
“People say I ruined everything, that Pat Toomey can’t win in Pennsylvania, that conservatives can’t win in the Northeast, and he’s well ahead in the polls. Arlen couldn’t win as a Republican or a Democrat,” he said in the speech.
O’Donnell, Toomey, and Miller all have a couple things in common — they ran as outsiders with Tea Party support, and they are pro-life, a sign of how the two strands of conservatism so often intersect.