Centrist evangelicals lift their political voice
In 1973, 40 evangelical leaders gathered at a YMCA in Chicago to call for a movement against poverty, racism, sexism and violence. Their declaration was drafted by a young urban ministry activist, Jim Wallis, and signed by such evangelical pillars as theologian Carl Henry, a close ally of Billy Graham.
Time Magazine and the Washington Post described it as the social awakening of evangelical America. But a few years later, the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s conservative lobby, the Moral Majority, had taken over as the political voice of evangelicals.
Mr. Wallis attributes the juggernaut rise of the Moral Majority in 1980 to a deal between powerful conservative Christians, led by Paul Weyrich, and Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. In return for the candidate’s commitment on a few issues, including abortion, they promised to deliver votes and created a machine to do so.
Moderate evangelicals appeared silent because the media wasn’t interested in them, said the Rev. John White, president emeritus of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, and a president of the National Association of Evangelicals in the 1980s.
He recalls being invited, then disinvited, to represent evangelical policy views on a major national news program. The Rev. Falwell appeared instead.
The National Association of Evangelicals “was too balanced for [the media] in its views, especially as those related to politics. There were many statements of the NAE throughout the years of deep concern about everything from ecology to poverty to civil rights,” he said.
It’s widely believed that GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain alienated evangelicals in 2000 when he called the Rev. Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, “agents of intolerance,” but Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illinois, doubts it, saying many of them agreed with him.
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There is a related article in the Christian Post (Scholar Foresees Major Shift to Evangelical Center). Another excerpt:
Among the list of evangelical centrists are the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC); the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE); Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; David Neff, executive editor of Christianity Today; and megachurch pastors Rick Warren and Joel Hunter.
Furthermore, most leaders in Christian higher education and many individuals and groups in the evangelical relief and development community are evangelical centrists, according to Gushee.
“I don’t think anything will be, in the long run, more significant in American politics than the shift you see evident here today,” said NAE’s Cizik. “In terms of the shift that is occurring, I describe it as a slow moving earthquake. It is slow moving at times so you don’t see the consequences, but you will feel it.
“Those of you who observe the evangelical movement or are part of it need to understand it,” said Cizik, who wrote the forward to Gushee’s book.
The NAE leader who has been championing creation care at the ire of Christian right leaders said Tuesday that evangelical centrists such as himself are “re-visioning” the movement and attempting to “recast” what they are called to do.
He also said the religious right “missed” the big picture by only seeing part of it and predicted the next issue that evangelicals will tackle is peacemaking in the “broadest of sense.”
“The strategy is completely different, it is moving from a zero sum game politics – where someone else has to lose in order for us to win – to a common good vision,” Cizik said.
NHCLC’s Rodriguez echoed the sentiments of the shift towards the evangelical center:
“The future of evangelicalism in America is brown and it is center,” he declared. “It is not right or left.”
Rodriguez, who has been highly courted by presidential candidates trying to reach Hispanic evangelicals, said that historically white evangelicals have focused on the issues of marriage and life, or “righteousness and piety” issues. Meanwhile, African-American evangelicals concentrate on social justice issues such as health care, education, and poverty.
“And you have brown evangelicals and they really want to reconcile and they don’t want to be either, or – but be right here in the middle,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a platform of both righteousness and justice…It’s life, it’s marriage, but it’s healthcare, it’s education, and the issue of poverty.”
There was also this article by Rebecca Trounson in the LA Times:
A group of prominent U.S. evangelical Christians is urging other evangelicals to step back from partisan politics and avoid becoming “useful idiots” for any political party.
In an often strongly worded statement released this week, more than 70 pastors, scholars and business leaders said faith and politics have become too closely intertwined and that evangelicals err when they use their religious beliefs for political purposes.
About a quarter of U.S. adults call themselves evangelical Christians, polls show, and for the last 30 years, the “religious right” has been a reliable base of support for the Republican Party. But Christians from both ends of the political spectrum have made the mistake of politicizing their faith, the group declares in the document, called “An Evangelical Manifesto.”
Greg Warner of the Associated Baptist News (“Will ‘evangelical center’ emerge to rival waning Christian Right?”) asks, “how many evangelical centrists are out there?.”
Political scientist John Green, the preeminent researcher on evangelical politics, concluded that 10.8 percent of American voters in 2004 were in the evangelical center, compared to 12.6 percent of voters on both the evangelical left and evangelical right. But that doesn’t include African-American and Latino evangelicals, about half of whom are centrists. And those numbers likely have swelled in recent years if Wallis and others are correct about the exodus on the right.
An Evangelical Manifesto
WSJ: Centrist Evangelicals Find Their Voice