There’s been a lot of buzz in the media this year about the broadening of the evangelical agenda, and attempts by some (non-evangelical)* progressives to reach out to evangelicals and vice versa. Evangelicals who have sought to broaden the agenda to include issues like poverty, global AIDS, human rights and torture, immigration and global warming have been fiercely attacked by some conservatives who claim they are distracting attention away from issues like abortion and gay marriage. On the other hand, some progressives have dismissed the efforts of religious progressives to reach out to evangelicals around these issues, accusing them of seeking meaningless common ground and ignoring core progressive issues, or of attempting to build a conservative religious coalition within the Democratic party. This week, we are asking evangelicals who are reaching out to progressives and progressives who are reaching out to evangelicals to speak for themselves.
Robby Jones a religion scholar and consultant to national progressive organizations; Randy Brinson and Pastor Bill Devlin of Redeem the Vote; Shaun Casey of Wesley Theological Seminary and Center for American Progress; Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite of Chicago Theological Seminary; and Rev. Rich Killmer of National Religious Campaign Against Torture weigh in… UPDATES FROM CONTRIBUTORS TODAY POSTED IN COMMENTS!
*I add “non-evangelical” as a point of clarification, so as not to imply that there are not progressive evangelicals– there certainly are.
Round 2 (August 1):
The increased participation of Evangelicals in progressive causes is sending shock waves through the traditional leaders of the Religious Right as Mark Tooley’s hand wringing quotes attest in the article cited today in the comments section below. The truth of the matter is that this new political activity is not being fed by the chattering classes in the traditional media and it is not going to be stopped by secular progressives or by nervous right wing power brokers.
Many evangelicals are tired of being painted as ignorant huckleberries who follow the dictums of preachers with bad hair. They are tired of being painted with the labels “dominionists” and “theocrats.” They are tired of the war, they are troubled by poverty, and they are tired of being taken for granted politically. They are looking for partners in solving these problems as Randy rightly observed.
One hard truth that is being exposed is that the Evangelical world is very complex and highly decentralized. Once the illusion that Evangelicals only care about abortion and same sex marriage is disabused, the realization is sinking in that reaching out to Evangelical communities is hard, sort of like herding feral cats.
I think it is important to note that there is a majority of Americans, particularly those that are motivated by their religious convictions, to come together to solve problems… We must be careful to note that this coming together is not to give a political advantage to a particular ideology but to actually solve serious social problems that face our country.
Regardless of your political identification, we can promote values that are coming from our shared belief in Jesus Christ and what he has called us to do on this earth. What are those things that we can solve ?
1. We can promote strong families and responsible fatherhood… look at what groups like Promise Keepers is doing to encourage men taking responsibility for their families as well as the leadership that Sen Evan Bayh has done to promote fatherhood.
2. We can seek to promote self esteem and self worth and the unique spiritual gifts and talents of our children, which is the best deterrent to sexual promiscuity and teen pregnancy.
3. We can encourage mentoring on a broader scale.
4. We can promote smart planning for our cities such that the environmental impact is minimized and that land use is in the best interest of municipalities, not developers.
5. We can work together to protect children from sexual predators and amend our laws that fail to adequately protect women from domestic violence and sexual assault.
6. We can instruct children and students about the proper role of sex and the benefits of monogamous relationships within marriage.
7. We can to promote healthy nutrition and lifestyles, in order to reduce the future burden that diabetes, hypertension and obesity create for our health care system, rather than focusing on health care access alone.
Research has shown that there is a close relationship to self esteem, education, marital stability, and security of women and the development of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other social ills. We must be proactive to help address the fundamental causes of the social ills that government ultimately has to care for. These are not conservative or progressive ideals, they are common sense ideas that have a deep Biblical historical basis.
Where these ideals intersect within the entire evangelical community is a good place to start the dialogue.
Round 1 (July 31):
Evangelicals and Progressives: Finding the Faith to Build a Meaningful Politics
Robert P. Jones, Ph.D.
Robby is a religion scholar and consultant for a number of progressive organizations, including the Third Way, Progressive Christians Uniting, and People for the American Way Foundation; he is also an affiliated scholar at the Center for American Progress.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.â€ (Hebrews 11:1, RSV).
More and more people across the country are realizing that the recent levels of polarization of politics and politicization of religion has been bad for both, and that the continuation of the conversations between Evangelicals and progressives might be a key step in recalling a more prophetic religion and a more meaningful politics.
As someone who grew up Southern Baptist and whose commitments to progressive politics were formed in the crucible of the Deep South, I have had a somewhat unique vantage point as I’ve worked at this intersection both as a scholar studying the role of religion in public debates, and as a consultant on specific projects, such as a current effort to bring together progressives and Evangelicals on cultural issues with The Third Way and Redeem the Vote.
I want to focus here on one of the deepest obstacle to progress: a sense of defensiveness, particularly the ideological malady that thinks that giving an inch is opening the floodgates to disaster. For example, in Evangelicals circles, it is well-known that James Dobson and the Christian Coalition have both strongly resisted efforts to broaden the evangelical agenda to issues like poverty and global warming, claiming these are not core issues. In progressive circles, I personally encountered a similar defensiveness after giving a presentation of public opinion data that showed the promise of common ground between progressives and Evangelicals. The first comment came from an agitated prominent progressive blogger, who, on the bases of his own biases alone, proceeded to tell us not only that any outreach strategy was a waste of time but went on to seriously propose that a more prudent strategy would be to find ways to simply suppress the Evangelical vote.
The great twentieth century theological H. Richard Niebuhr identified a sense of defensiveness at the heart of what can go wrong not only with religious groups but all human groups and called for a movement from an ethics of defensiveness (which he noted resulted ultimately in an ethics of death) to an ethics of faithfulness and responsibility. The key to this move was to articulate (“to confessâ€ in religious terms) our own positions as honestly as possible while embracing our human finitude, which requires the modest notion that we might be wrong. That simple acknowledgment gives life to a humility that opens up space for new conversations and breaks down old orthodoxies.
It is worth noting that at least three significant things can happen as we move from defensiveness to faithfulness, a process Niebuhr thought had to be ongoing:
1. Space opens up for creativity on issues that seemed completely intractable. For example, as I noted on my blog last week, Democrats in the House recently made a quiet but significant step toward healing one of America’s deepest divides by passing the “Reducing the Need for Abortions Initiative” as part of the 2008 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill for 2008.
2. Opponents are humanized and become more complex. For example, in a recent meeting, a prominent Catholic leader told a largely surprised group of progressives that he had hosted visitors in his home to pro-life protests and anti-war protests on back to back weekends and that in his theological framework, these were perfectly consistent things to do.
3. The possibility of mutual critique emerges as the excesses of one ideology become more visible viewed in the light of the other. For example, progressives begin to think more about the importance of changed hearts and Evangelicals more about transformed institutions.
Although these are modest steps, they are significant. Thankfully, we are beginning to see a new day and the emergence of a meaningful national politics that requires less fear and more faith–both in our fellow citizens and in our own abilities to hold our principles while listening to others and looking for the common good.
We Must Pull Together
Randy Brinson, MD
Randy is Chair of Redeem the Vote
It has been tremendously challenging as well as rewarding as Redeem the Vote has worked to help define and give voice and life to those of us in the evangelical community to move away from the vitriol and polarization that has characterized so much of the political debate. In fact, as I speak to Christians across the country, many have been terribly demoralized by the fact that much of our spiritual message has been muted by the political debate that frequently divide dedicated, devout people of faith along “artificial” fault lines that never existed prior to the co-opting of the Christian evangelical message.
As someone involved with the conservative political movement for the past 30 years, I have come to appreciate the views and opinions of the entire evangelical community, not just a chosen few. I have also realized that it is important that the ends don’t justify the means in achieving the goals of the conservative movement, particularly if it means vilifying dedicated men and women, who share our common bond in our belief and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord.
Many conservative Christians see the need to promote responsibility along with rights. If that is true, then wouldn’t it make sense that we are responsible for others as well? We are responsible to show them love and respect and protect them.
That is why the situation is so tragic in Darfur, where millions of Christians have been killed or displaced, where women are being systematically raped and tortured and sold into slavery, while we sit idly by. It also means that we are responsible for the implementation and monitoring of basic human rights, in areas where we can exert that influence. We must not sacrifice basic human rights in order to preserve a “favorable trade status” with another foreign country. We must never sacrifice our standards of human decency and embrace human torture, regardless of the circumstances.
It means we are responsible to care for our environment. We must protect our coastal waterways and natural forests from destruction. We must curb our environmental pollutants so we can protect our atmosphere from the growing threat of human induced global warming.
Finally, we are responsible for those caught in the cycle of poverty, to devise policies that will lift them out of poverty. This will require all of us to involve ourselves in the lives of those less fortunate. My challenge is to have every Christian home invest in one family that is mired in poverty. To provide mentoring, financial counseling, job skills, educational assistance, that will make them productive and restore their self esteem. In the end, conservatives Christians can also find that the investment in those in poverty can help them to be productive as well, to become contributors to the American experience.
However, all too often, the issues raised by our progressive friends fall on deaf ears, with many of us to busy with our own lives to care. These issues are important and need to be addressed by the entire body of Christ.
I personally applaud the efforts of the Democratic Party and progressives within evangelical political circles on the left, that have taken the opportunity to reach out and listen to those of us that have deeply held, spiritual convictions regarding issues ranging from abortion, gay rights, same sex marriage, and religious expression. I am appreciative of the fact that the majority of evangelicals, both conservative and progressive, support the fact that everyone deserves the basic tenet of human dignity, that women and children need to be protected from violence both physical and emotional, and that there is a need to promote fatherhood and the family unit, and reduce the need for abortion on demand. It is my prayer that the Republican Party will do the same and affirm these same principles that are the definition of who were are as people of faith, moving beyond rhetoric alone. We have had dialogue with a diverse group of individuals ranging from Common Cause, Third Way, Faith in Public Life, and Democrats for Life, looking for the consensus that can be found among people of faith and those seeking common goals.
If the progressive community is willing to define these areas of consensus, then it behooves those of us that ascribe to more conservative political views to be equally objective. We need to realize that just because someone pronounces certain Biblical beliefs may not necessarily live these truths in their daily lives (as we have seen recently in the lives of several previous members of Congress). We must be willing to reexamine our views on tax policy, particularly if these positions may be outdated or impractical and that the tax code represent fairness to all and that all contribute to the American common experience. We must be willing to look at environmental policy that may sacrifice our national resources to benefit one segment of the corporate world. Finally, we must examine our judiciary such that the policies and decisions of our judiciary demonstrates true balance and respect for all Americans, not just those able to afford it. We must look to protect women in a more substantial ways ranging from child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence, rather than be dismissive of women’s needs as many in the conservative movement have done.
I could go on and on, the bottom line is that we must pull together, conservative and progressives of faith to defend those that cannot defend themselves, ranging from the unborn to the elderly and everyone in between. We need to treat them with love, respect, and dignity that all of us in America may be able to experience the “American Dream”
If you agree with us, join us and Redeem the Vote to make a difference, be a mentor, teach a child, love someone that is alone, and vote and make a difference in your community and country.
Progressive-Evangelical Alliances: Something New Is Brewing… and There’s a Lot to Gain
Shaun Casey teaches Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary and he is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for American Progress
In the last two years I have spent a fair amount of time in different evangelical communities listening to people talk theology and politics and I am hearing things there that I have never heard before. First of all, there is a profound unhappiness with the direction the country is going. From the war in Iraq, to post-Katrina New Orleans, to the recognition of the reality of global warming, more evangelicals are questioning the sufficiency of the narrow agenda of the Religious Right. Second, a lot of this discontent emanates from Christian college campuses. Something new is brewing in these schools and no one has a comprehensive view of the full scope of the changes this generation is leading. Finally, progressive organizations of many different types are building relationships with various evangelical tribes for the mutual benefit of the country. Progressives who are nervous about these developments need to take a hard look at what they are gaining in these alliances: more opponents of the war, more advocates for solving domestic and global poverty, and more advocates of stopping global warming.
It is hard to predict just where these alliances are heading, but their political implications are going to be hard to miss. The upshot is that the stereotypical boxes the media and the Religious Right tend to put people and causes into are in need of serious revision.
Some of My Best Friends…
Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite
Susan is President of, and Professor of Theology at, Chicago Theological Seminary
Some of my best friends are evangelicals; some in the teaching and learning community at Chicago Theological Seminary would self-describe as evangelicals. They are attracted to CTS because of our mission to “transform the world toward greater justice and mercy.â€ These evangelicals and the progressives in our community differ on biblical interpretation and an array of theological doctrines, but they unite around the idea that faith must include a core commitment to social justice.
There are at least 70 million evangelicals in the United States, about 25 percent of the population and they are a very diverse group as their numbers would suggest. There are those who attend megachurches and worship a gospel of prosperity, there are fundamentalists who believe in a literal interpretation of scripture and want the book of Genesis taught as science in schools, there are the “dominionistsâ€ who want to pass a Constitutional amendment defining America as a “Christian Nationâ€ and to establish a theocracy in this country, there are the “old styleâ€ evangelicals in the Billy Graham mold who are intent on “saving soulsâ€, and “new styleâ€ evangelicals who have acquired tremendous political and social clout through radio and television ministries and direct political work such as James Dobson, and there are “left-wingâ€ evangelicals such as Jim Wallis’ Sojourner movement or Ron Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Action. And there are many others along this continuum from right to left.
My best friends who are evangelicals I know from decades of work in the peace movement. You can hardly do better when you want a colleague who will work tirelessly for peace than to pick someone who takes the Sermon on the Mount literally. No Just War drivel there, just solid, biblically based peacemaking. Today I encounter the same kind of solid folks in those evangelicals who are actively engaging the environmental movement. I welcome their energy and the kind of serious commitment of energy and time I have found consistently characteristic of socially engaged evangelicals in the peace movement.
At the same time, I have enormous concerns given the wide sweep of evangelicalism represented above. While it can seem very attractive to “move beyondâ€ the so-called wedge issues of homophobia or abortion for the sake of widening the discussions, I believe it is crucial to the future of this nation to directly challenge the militant core of evangelicals (especially the dominionists) who are hostile to democratic pluralism, who champion the “totalitarian politics such as denying homosexuals the same rights as other Americansâ€ (Chris Hedges, American Fascists) and who would legislate what women can or cannot do with their reproductive lives. I grew up pre Roe v. Wade and there’s no way I will not resist with all my strength a return to back-street abortions that maimed and killed so many women.
So I sometimes feel torn because in principle bridge-building with those who have different religious perspectives is a core value for me, while at the same time my faith requires that I stand up for freedom of religion, personal conscience and universal human dignity. I think that we progressives should take the increased opportunities for dialogue with evangelicals with utmost seriousness, but I also believe fundamental issues of religious freedom are at stake in our times and I must and will speak out decisively in defense of that freedom. Both things have to happen.
Ask anyone who knows me. I can be an exceptionally trying person to have as a friend, though I try to be as interesting as possible.
Evangelicals — Broadening and Leavening Peacemaking and Justice in the Religious Community
Rev. Richard Killmer
Rich is Executive Director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. NRCAT founded Evangelicals for Human Rights, which authored the “Declaration Against Tortureâ€
Those of us committed to the tasks of peacemaking and justice within the religious community are always working to broaden the base. Societal change often occurs when a large number of people representing the diversity of the U.S. share a common goal. People of faith help to produce that majority when they are committed to broaden the base within their own denomination or faith group to accomplish that goal.
Those of us with commitments to peacemaking and justice therefore need to reach out to people in a variety of religions. It requires sitting down with people of other faiths to present our concerns and our goals. It means taking these individuals and their faith seriously — viewing the conversation not just as a means to an end, but as an opportunity to honor the importance and integrity of their beliefs even if those beliefs are not our own.
Those in the interfaith community have always had to deal with differences of opinions as we work on specific issues. To successfully broaden our coalition requires working with people with whom we may disagree on other unrelated issues and concerns. We are simply not going to have a very broad base if we are only going to work with people with whom we agree on most major justice issues.
This “Faith in Public Life LIVE” blog exchange is about evangelicals, progressive Christians and others in the faith community working together. Though people in these communities have different opinions about a variety of issues, I believe that it is very important that people of all faiths encourage a significant evangelical presence in most interfaith campaigns. I say that for several reasons:
- Evangelicals are growing quickly and already represent a large portion of the U.S. population. According to John C. Green of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, University of Akron, a leading researcher on evangelical engagement in politics, at least 25% of the American population are evangelical. There are sixty denominations affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals, along with a host of schools, parachurch organizations, ministries, mission organizations and commissions.
- They have a rich heritage of concern about social justice in the United States. Among the causes taken up by evangelicals were the abolition of slavery in the 1800s, the fight against child labor in the early 1900s, ending the nuclear weapons arms race in the 1980s, ending hunger and poverty in America and around the world, and the need for government action against global warming.
- Evangelicals are receiving a great deal of attention by the press, the Congress and the White House.
- Evangelicals bring a great deal of energy and fervor to their discipleship.
Evangelicals broaden and leaven many efforts in peacemaking and justice. They need to be welcomed and encouraged to join in providing leadership to these issues.
The Risk Driven Life? Losing Yourself while Loving Others
Pastor Bill Devlin
Bill is president of Redeem The Vote www.redeemthevote.com
Followers of Jesus of Nazareth who attempt to jump into the ‘common ground’ fray may soon find themselves ground up in the process of aligning with those who they have not previously aligned with. Operating outside the box is something folk do not do in real life-too risky (what will my friends say?); and within religious circles, does the word ‘heretic’ conjure up warm and fuzzy vibes within one’s soul? Some would say that those of us who actually seek relationships with folk who working on ‘other issues’ have sold out to the cause and have abandoned the faith. As one who has practiced reaching out since 1989, it is like the man who went to the doctor and was told, “I have good news for you; and I have bad news for you.” The patient shuddered, “Doc give me the good news first!” The doctor replied, “You only have 24 hours to live.” “That’s the good news the man decried and then exclaimed, “Give me the bad news…” The doctor stated sadly, “I wasn’t able to reach you yesterday.” To those who are adventurous and willing to live the risk driven life, I do have good news and bad news for you. Jesus has called us to work with those we do not agree with-that’s the good news; the bad news is, Jesus has called you to accomplish this task, however difficult. Since the Carter administration, the polarization of right and left has only grown colder. In discussions surrounding public policy between evangelical left and evangelical right, there is no such thing as global warming; rather, it would be described as global colding, each side growing further apart over the years and it may get worse. And as for me and my house, as we have for the past many years, we shall work with those with whom we disagree. And we know that we will be accused by some of abandoning principle. Yet the Gospel compels us to work together to bind up the broken-hearted in our culture.
Three months ago, as an orthodox evangelical and long term national pro-family leader, I received a phone call from a long term friend and proud unbeliever who works as a top aide to Philadelphia’s mayor John Street. “Devlin, you’re one of those born again guys; do you care about the poor?” “Lance’ I said, I’ve lived amongst the poor for twenty years.” “Then Devlin you need to work with Governor Ed Rendell on his commitment to reform health care in Pennsylvania.”
“Who do I call â€ I asked. Now three months later, I chair the Faith Coalition of Governor Ed Rendell’s Task Force for Health Care Reform. Outside the box: yes. Inside the Gospel: of course. For the poor, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed, the broken, the orphan, the widow: do I find myself sitting on the premises or standing on the promises? Am I cold and frozen or called and chosen to accomplish being ground up finding common ground. Following Jesus means dying to self, giving up one’s self in pursuit of serving others-no matter the high degree of risk or loss of one’s own reputation. He must increase: I must decrease. Grinders: start your grinding. I look forward to losing myself while loving others.
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