Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), the son of a Baptist minister and an outspoken evangelical in his own right, may still have some work to do to court conservative Christians.
The governor is mulling a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and will head to Washington, DC
next Tuesday for a meet and greet with 50 evangelical leaders, who are said to be unsure of how deeply rooted Walker’s convictions are on social issues like abortion and gay marriage.
“Clearly he’s not well known within Washington, DC with social conservative leaders. He’s more known for his battle with unions in Wisconsin,” Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, told Politico, who first reported the meeting.
“I think people are wondering, ‘Where does he stand?'” Perkins added.
Perkins did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider about what he hopes to gain from the gathering next week or what topics he plans to address with Walker.
Perkins has previously raised questions about Walker’s beliefs, advising in a February FRC newsletter, “If Governor Walker wants to woo Christian conservatives, he might start by recognising faith’s importance in the very profession he’s in.”
Gary Bauer, a former Reagan official and former Family Research Council leader, also wrote in a 2014 Daily Caller column that Walker’s chances at the White House were in jeopardy “because he has become so timid on values issues.”
“These days, Walker’s position seems to be, ‘sure, I’m pro-life, but I’d rather not talk about it,'” Bauer added.
Despite the doubts of these conservative Christian leaders, during his tenure as the governor of Wisconsin, Walker hasn’t shied away from wearing his faith on his sleeve.
Walker’s spiritual heritage came in large part from his father, Rev. Llew Walker, who served as assistant pastor at the First Baptist Church, an American Baptist Church in Plainfield, Iowa. Walker’s mother, Pat, was also involved and ran the Sunday School program, according to the Journal Sentinel.
The governor now attends Meadowbrook, an evangelical non-denominational church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and told World Magazine in February that he wants to “discern that this is God’s calling, not just man’s calling” before deciding if he will launch a White House bid.
However, it’s not Walker’s personal spiritual convictions that are in question, it is his policy platform on the social issues that are near and dear to the hearts of those in the Christian Right.
Walker has seemingly made dismissive comments about abortion, telling the Christian Science Monitor in 2013 “I don’t obsess with it.”
On the subject of gay marriage, he told The Hill newspaper in 2013, “I don’t talk about it at all. I don’t talk about anything but fiscal and economic issues in the state.”
Then in Walker’s 2014 campaign for governor he released a video ad that lamented the “agonizing” decision to seek an abortion and touted legislation he signed that would leave “the final decision to a woman and her doctor,” a remark perceived by some conservatives as too permissive on the subject.
So, even though Walker has previously said he’d rather not get sidetracked with discussions on the divisive issues, Christian leaders want him to talk about it and openly.
“He cannot campaign in Iowa and South Carolina and not talk about the issues of life and marriage,” Penny Nance, who leads the conservative Concerned Women for America group, told Politico. “And even if it appears that he’s not talking about it, he’s done,” she added.
Asked about the indications some conservative Christians have concerns about Walker, an aide for his committee, Our American Revival, pointed to his religious background in an email to Business Insider. The aide also argued Walker has a record of opposing same-sex marriage and abortion that has demonstrated “conservative results activists know and love.”
“Scott Walker is the son of a pastor and proven conservative governor who has reformed a lot of status quo governing in Wisconsin. Travelling the country, Our American Revival and Scott Walker have seen a lot of enthusiasm and interest from conservatives throughout the country, be they social, fiscal, or otherwise because they like the bold reforms and proven record,” the aide said, adding, “Specifically on engagement with conservative activists, Governor Walker has circled the country and conducted many individual, small group, and large meetings at conservative gatherings.”
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