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Evangelicals worried over 'apathy' as election season heats up

Saying that evangelical voters are a "sleeping giant" who could determine the winners in this November's elections, Bill Dallas, the CEO of the nonprofit group United in Purpose, told a group of evangelical activists and pastors Tuesday they need to get off the sidelines and get organized now.

Speaking on a conference call organized by evangelical leader E.W. Jackson, who was a Virginia lieutenant governor candidate in 2013, Dallas said it was his group that helped bring Donald Trump together with evangelical leaders for closed door discussions in June.

He said the aim of that meeting was to "bring Christian leaders from all across the country" to New York, where they would "put down their shields" and "just listen to a conversation" with the then-presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

The meeting drew a number of evangelical luminaries, including Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and two former presidential candidates, Dr. Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, he said. "If they were a leader in the Christian space, they were there."

Dallas said organizers "didn't know what Donald Trump would say." But the candidate got their attention when he said that when Christian leaders worked independently of one another, they couldn't get much accomplished.

He said his group also extended an invitation for a similar, separate, meeting to Hillary Clinton, "but we have not yet heard back from her campaign."

"We’d love to sit down with Hillary Clinton, and ask the same questions, and just listen." Dallas said.

Dallas said evangelicals have not been as politically involved in recent election years. According to his research, as many as 39 million evangelicals did not vote in 2012, and "12 to 13 million of them were not even registered to vote."

"It's a massive voting bloc," he said. But to be effective, "we need to have plans, and we need to be intentional" with those plans.

"A lot of Christians sit on the sidelines," Dallas said, "staying home" because they may be "influenced by others (that) their vote doesn’t really matter."

Dallas listed "fear, apathy, Christ is coming, he’ll take care of everything," as a few of the reasons why some individual evangelicals, who were once politically active, may sit out 2016.

Motivating those potential voters to show up at the polls will take more than traditional get out the vote drives.

"Just get out and vote isn't a plan," Dallas said. "We must do it with an intentional plan. When you hope or pray, you don’t get nearly the results."

His organization, through its Champion the Vote subsidiary, aims to use technology and old fashioned, in-person follow-up to get church leaders involved to bring 1.3 million new voters out in 2016.

Dallas admits this will be difficult. His group's research has found that "pastors and churches will be less engaged in this election cycle."

"It's not apathy," on the pastors' part, he said. "It’s a tough election; not promising."

"This election is going to come down to razor thin margins" Dallas believes.  "One extra church getting a congregation involved could make all the difference.

"It’s going to come down to a few key numbers, in a few key states."