January 18, 2009

The Political Agenda of Evangelicals

Ever since the emergence of the Religious Right in the 1980's, the political agenda of evangelicals has been fairly easy to ascertain--no abortion, no gay rights, vote republican. While that has not totally changed, there is another evangelical view emerging, one of unity, not division.

From the U. S. News and World Report:

A coalition of prominent evangelical leaders who've partnered with Third Way, a Washington think tank influential in shaping Democratic Party policy and messaging, is presenting policy recommendations to Barack Obama's transition team today that purport to offer a consensus approach to hot-button issues that have long divided evangelicals and liberals.

The recommendations include a framework for reducing demand for abortion without further restricting abortion rights, through initiatives like grants for sex education that emphasizes abstinence but includes contraception, an expanded adoption tax credit, and a call for a federal prohibition on workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians, with an exemption for religious organizations.

"This is the first time that evangelicals have taken a gay equality position," says Rachel Laser, director of the culture Ppogram at Third Way.

The memo's drafters, including the Rev. Joel Hunter, a prominent Florida megachurch pastor, and the Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, released the document—"Come Let Us Reason Together: A Governing Agenda to End the Culture Wars"—this morning, ahead of a meeting with religious outreach and policy aides on the Obama transition team.

The more traditional evangelical position is still alive and well, however.

From Politico:

The Christian right is not going to give up on the issue of homosexuality anytime soon, as much for strategic electoral considerations as sincerely felt religious ones. “[Cizik] seemed to be abandoning the one thing where evangelical activists felt they had actually made a difference this time around,” David Neff, editor of Christianity Today magazine and a member of the NAE’s Executive Board, told The Associated Press. In a country that has rejected much of its agenda, the Christian right sees the battle over gay marriage as the last issue where it can play a politically significant role.

The views of the American people are increasingly moving away from those of the Christian right on an array of policy issues. On abortion, which inspired the formation of the Moral Majority in the 1970s with the Roe v. Wade ruling and continues to inform evangelical voting patterns today, most Americans support keeping the practice legal with reasonable restrictions. Most Americans oppose mandatory school prayer and support the teaching of evolution. Most Americans believe in the separation of church and state. Even on homosexuality, the Christian right has lost. Americans overwhelmingly support allowing gays to serve openly in the military and laws that prevent gay people from getting fired because of their sexual orientation.

Gay marriage, however, remains the issue where the views of Christian conservatives are most in line with those of the rest of the country. More than 30 states have passed statutes or constitutional amendments preventing gay marriage. Last November’s passage of Proposition 8 in liberal California, which revoked a state Supreme Court ruling permitting gay marriage, as well as a ban on gay adoption in Arkansas, has convinced Christian conservatives of not only the moral justness of their cause but its political salience as well.

There are two points I want to make here. First, it continues to sicken me that Christian leadership is making choices and advocating policy with their political implications being a major factor. Jesus was not a politician, and a political emphasis takes us away from a Christlike life, not closer to it.

Even more importantly, these two stories serve as a reminder of the fact that there really is no ONE evangelical opinion on policies, just like there is no single Christian political view. The Religious Right has propigated that view for close to three decades, but more and more people are understanding the falicy of that and seeking God's plan and views on their own. I believe that's one of the reasons the right likes to portray their issues as a war that is being fought. In a real war, the leaders give orders and the followers blindly obey.

Fortunately, an increasing number of people are not engaging in this pseudo-war and simply trying to do what is right.

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