The Bush/Rove campaign machine has targeted–and is relying heavily–on the fundamentalist evangelical vote coming out heavy in November and voting for them as a block, but this week the National Association of Evangelicals punched a hole in that assumption by endorsing govt’s responsibility in caring for the poor and in being an environmental steward, and suggested strongly that evangelicals shouldn’t be so knee-jerk about their political commitments.
Steeped in biblical morality and evangelical scholarship, the framework for public engagement could change how the estimated 30 million evangelicals in this country are viewed by liberals and conservatives alike.It affirms a religiously based commitment to government protections for the poor, the sick and disabled, including fair wages, healthcare, nutrition and education. It declares that Christians have a “sacred responsibility” to protect the environment.
But it also hews closely to a traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of families, opposition to homosexual marriage and “social evils” such as alcohol, drugs, abortion and the use of human embryos for stem-cell research. It reaffirms a commitment to religious freedom at home and abroad.
In the midst of a presidential election year, war and terrorism, the framework says Christians in their devotion to country “must be careful to avoid the excesses of nationalism.” In domestic politics, evangelicals “must guard against over-identifying Christian social goals with a single political party, lest nonbelievers think that Christian faith is essentially political in nature.”
“This is a maturing of the evangelical public mind,” said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, one of the nation’s principal evangelical schools. “Instead of just assuming an automatic alliance with a specific party — and that’s been traditionally the Republicans — it says evangelicals ought to be more thoughtful.”
This could have enormous consequences between now and November, no doubt, but even more important in my mind is its recognition and rejection of the Christian theocratic movement that has been using many of these evangelical churches as launching pads–a workable power-base–in their efforts to force America to become a Christian nation with a Christian govt run by Christian ministers using Biblical law rather than the Constitution.
Christian Reconstructionists long ago wrote off the mainstream Protestant sects, but they assumed–and acted as if–evangelicals would support them without much thinking about it. Two of the strongest Christian theocrats with the largest followings–Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell–have been insisting for years that evangelicals were in agreement with them and that they represented the entire movement. It must have been a shock to discover that their encroachment on mainstream evangelical territory had been denounced by the very people they claim to represent.
One of the NAE’s most heartening statements is aimed directly at the Robertson/Falwell/Randall Terry end of the spectrum.
[U]nder the new public engagement framework, evangelicals may find themselves sometimes at odds with political allies in the culture wars that have buffeted the country for two decades. Genuflecting to political realism, the new framework calls on evangelicals to seek to work with whom they disagree in common cause. The framework also recognizes that in the give and take of political compromise, they may frequently have to settle for “half a loaf.”
This is an explicit rejection of the growing radical right-wing Christian policy of refusing even to talk to its opposition on the grounds that anyone who disagrees with them is the spawn of Satan promoting his agenda and can therefore have nothing to say that a god-fearing Christian should listen to. While Falwell has at least ‘genuflected’ toward the need to ‘open a dialogue’ with the Enemy, though he avoids doing it himself, Robertson and his ilk have consistently denounced those who would compromise their definition of ‘Christian values’, and their views have been gaining political ground. Tom DeLay, who never loses an opportunity to expound on his born-again evangelical roots, has used the House rules to bar Democrats from House conferences and done everything else he can think of to make them so marginal as to be irrelevant to the governing process. As a practicing evangelical, he would now have to revise that strategy and start consulting them on upcoming bills and otherwise treating them as actual members of the House of Representatives. (Don’t hold your breath ’til he does it, though.)
This is the most encouraging sign I’ve seen in years that, as a core group, the evangelicals are not going to allow themselves to continue to be used as CR cannon-fodder without at least discussing if that’s how they want to end up. It’s even more encouraging that they have reaffirmed the Sermon on the Mount–the basis for traditional Christian attitudes toward society’s weak links–as a ‘core Christian value’ and explicitly identified the environment as a Chrsitian concern, something that’s been missing the last twenty years or so.
It’s equally encouraging that nowhere in this document will you find the power of corporations as surrogates of god affirmed–or even mentioned.