At a meeting mixing discussion of national policy issues with thoughts about God’s will for America, five Republican presidential candidates took turns appealing to a gathering of Christian conservatives, who reserved their loudest cheers for attacks on legalized abortion and the authority of the United Nations.
One candidate, former commentator Patrick Buchanan, drew a standing ovation when he promised to be the “most pro-life president in the history of the United States.”
Another, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, who is better known for his foreign policy expertise, described himself as an active Methodist who had always opposed abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or to save a woman’s life.
The two-day meeting, called the National Affairs Briefing, began early Friday afternoon in the Memphis Pyramid, an indoor arena whose main entrance is guarded by an imposing statue of Pharaoh Ramses II.
In four sessions, the gathering featured more than 20 speeches that amounted to a continuing call to action, based on negative appraisals of the nation’s moral state by some of the most politically influential religious conservatives of the past two decades.
The speakers included the Rev. Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University, Beverly LaHaye, president of Concerned Women for America, and Gary L. Bauer, head of the Family Research Council.
Many implored fellow believers to hang tough and stay politically active so the country could be morally restored.
“We’re going to be subject to a lot of antireligious bigotry,” warned Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition. “Don’t be thrown off by the critics.”
Attendance never reached even half the 10,000 people that organizers predicted. But those who came were not reticent about their feelings.
Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, in a speech Saturday afternoon, drew polite applause when he recalled his role in helping to pass income tax cuts in the 1980s. But his audience erupted into a series of standing ovations when he stated his opposition to abortion and promised that, if elected, he would overturn President Clinton’s policy allowing homosexuals to serve in the military and would also bar American troops from serving in U.N. peacekeeping forces.