Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

The Evangelical Swing Vote

Here is a major story being ignored by the press and pundits or being misunderstood by them.  Christine Wicker shows that Democrats can win the majority of American evangelicals by being “moderately pious” (her words–I would prefer to say they should advance a moral vision and, if they are people of faith themselves, let it show without making it an implied reason to vote for them; if they are not people of faith, they should let their respect for such be shown) and by emphasizing healthcare, jobs, and clean energy.

I largely agree with this perspective. Wicker’s data comes from evangelicals themselves (as reported in Christianity Today no less!), but I think she underestimates evangelicals in some respects. She suggests that Democrats downplay the war in Iraq because no one knows what to do about it. Wrong. That led to failure in ’04.  68% of Americans want the troops home within 6 months (and 85% of Democrats want this). There is no reason to think that evangelical Christians, who must, at least on some level, know that peacemaking is supposed to be a major Christian concern, are not part of that 68%.  Democrats should be honest in saying that some chaos will probably follow–as it will whenever we leave Iraq.

Evangelicals are also interested in stopping the spread of AIDS, in the environment, in ending poverty, in stopping human rights abuses at home and abroad.  We don’t need to short change them on this.  Neither the Religious Right, nor the Southern Baptist Convention speaks for the majority of “born again” Christians in the U.S.  It’s time we woke the press up to this–and long past time we woke up Democrats to this.

As an Anabaptist-leaning Baptist, I am never sure whether or not to call myself “evangelical.” Like the late John Howard Yoder, I think it depends on the definition and I do not fight it when others put me in the category. I don’t fit well in the Evangelical Subculture (with a capital E) as I found when I taught at Fuller Theological Seminary (but that could have just been my reaction to Southern California). But I can affirm the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds (although my tradition is against creedalism) with no finger crossing and only a few mentle footnotes. I was converted and am evangelistic and Scripture (with Jesus Christ as the interpretive key) is my final authority in all matters of faith and practice.  That seems to be what most people mean by “evangelical.” It’s not a sufficient definition of my faith (Where is discipleship? Where is justice? Peacemaking? Liberty of Conscience?), but it is certainly part of it. 

So, I hope evangelicals continue to break with the Religious Right, not to form a Religious Left voting bloc, but to be an independent voice–a swing vote that is courted by serious moral politicians from all parties, but whose ultimate allegiance is to God in Christ and the Rule of God.

May 16, 2008 - Posted by | evangelicals, U.S. politics

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