Powerful piece by Tom Sine (from theooze.com) about the politics of polarization. My interest is in Christians learning to disagree without condemning one another, realizing that there is something that is a common bond holding them together. Some Christ-loving Christians will be voting for George Bush while others will be voting for John Kerry. But they should be united in this: that the faithful proclamation and living out of the gospel (rather than the agenda of one nation or one political party) is the great hope for our world. When Jimmy Carter--a committed evangelical Christian and a Democrat--was elected the 39th president of the United States, he received enthusiastic support from both mainline Protestants and fellow evangelicals. This was possible because, in 1976, neither church nor society was divided by the culture wars that so polarize America today as it races toward the 2004 elections. American evangelicalism was a very different movement in the ’70s than it is today. Evangelicals were roughly 50 percent Republican and 50 percent Democrat, and most believed that you changed society through preaching and demonstrating the gospel of Christ--not through political activism. While mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics were actively lobbying for political change, the National Association of Evangelicals spoke out only occasionally on political issues. What has caused the character of American evangelicalism to change so drastically over the past 30 years? “The religion gap is fast becoming the country’s widest political division,” Knight Ridder correspondent Steven Thomma stated in an April 8, 2004, article. “Those who regularly attend religious services vote Republican by a 2-1 ratio, and those who don’t [attend religious services] vote Democratic by the same margin.” In the past 20 years there has been a huge migration of evangelicals not only into the Republican Party but into the most conservative wing of the party. What has brought about this migration and more importantly the conversion of most American evangelicals to a very politically conservative world view? When Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye co-founded the Moral Majority in 1980, they successfully began to convince evangelicals to attempt to take back America around a very conservative political agenda. After the Moral Majority folded its tent 1989, the Christian Coalition and groups like Concerned Women for America took up the task of radicalizing evangelicals around a conservative ideology. They, too, have been very successful. In the early seventies abortion was a non-issue for evangelicals. The Catholics lobbied alone. As the religious right took leadership abortion went from being a non-issue for evangelicals, and one that was rarely mentioned in Christian media, to virtually the only issue that matters. Leaders on the religious right, like James Dobson, elevated it to the Christian issue. It became the issue that moved American evangelicals from non-engagement politically to a very high level of political engagement that included protests and acts of civil disobedience. In 1996 I wrote an article for the Herald of Holiness reminding evangelicals that Scripture teaches that the primary way we should seek to change society is through sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ through word and deed ministry. I argued that seeking to change society politically should be a secondary approach. I have never received more angry responses to any other article I have written. Readers apparently have been persuaded by leaders of the religious right to view conservative political action as the primary way Christians should seek to change society. Battling abortion was not only the issue that ignited this new level of evangelical political activism, but it became the litmus-test issue to decide which political party to support. Since the Democratic Party was pro-choice, by default the Republican Party became God’s party. I am convinced that the elevation of abortion to the overarching issue of Christian social responsibility has directly contributed to this enormous migration of evangelicals into the folds of the Republican Party. While American evangelicals consider themselves ardently pro-life, I have found enormous resistance to following our Catholic friends in embracing a consistent-life ethic that includes issues like AIDS, hunger, and violence. When I spoke on Christian radio in Colorado Springs and suggested that abortion wasn’t the only pro-life issue, listeners expressed outraged. I argued that 25,000 children dying every day from malnutrition made world hunger a pro-life issue, too. I pointed out that our affluent lifestyles in North America directly contributes to this tragic loss of innocent life. Most of the evangelicals we work with in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are also concerned about abortion, but they haven’t made it their predominant cause or used it to select a political party. Rather they have joined Catholics in promoting a consistent-life ethic, lobbying against world hunger, land mines targeting non-combatants, and the proliferation of guns, and lobbying for the care of creation. They also lobby much more aggressively for justice issues. Scripture has so much to say about God’s concern for the poor, but one rarely hears any mention by most American evangelical leaders about social justice. In fact, leaders on the religious right often favor tax policies that benefit the wealthiest Americans while cutting social programs to our poorest neighbors. There is another reason for this enormous migration of American evangelicals into the Republican Party. In Battle for the Mind (Fleming H. Revel), published in 1979, Tim LaHaye presented an extremely polarizing notion of what has gone wrong in society. Without any evidence, he argued that a small group of secular humanists had already taken over our public schools, universities, and all the major communications networks. He insisted that this conspiratorial elite is intent on collectivizing us into a Godless one-world gulag. This, of course, is the political sub-text of the popular Left Behind series. Plus this insistence that that secular humanists have taken over public schools has undoubtedly led towards the growing evangelical animosity towards public education and the recent call by the Southern Baptist Convention for Christians to take their children out of public schools. As I mentioned in the last issue of PRISM, nowhere else in the world have I ever heard evangelicals spouting the mantra common on Christian radio in America that a “sinister elite of secular humanists, liberals, and feminists in Washington, D.C., are out to destroy the Christian family, take away our liberties, take away our guns, and get us ready for a one-world socialist takeover.” This type of polarizing analysis makes of those on the other end of the political spectrum cosmic enemies instead of just people with whom the religious right disagrees with politically. Listen to the fearful warnings of one Presbyterian pastor in Portland, Oregon, who has obviously embraced this conspiratorial fiction: “Western European socialists and their American supporters want to dominate the world as much as militant Muslims want Islam to. Their vehicles are the United Nations, the European Union, and international institutions such as the International Court.”This kind of fear mongering has not only been remarkably effective at galvanizing evangelicals around a very conservative political agenda but it also makes an evangelical voting for a Democratic candidate an unthinkable possibility as we approach the 2004 election. So how should Christians who do not subscribe to either this very conspiratorial view of what has gone wrong or a very politically conservative advocacy seek to have a Christian influence in the complex world in which we live? Let me outline one proposal to begin taking back American evangelicalism around a biblical agenda that transcends the deep polarizations of our culture wars. I propose that ESA host an international conference with the National Association of Evangelicals and the 33 Evangelical Alliances from a host of other countries, including Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. I suggest that evangelical scholars be invited to work with these other evangelical leaders to (1) provide a new biblically informed analysis of what has gone wrong in society to replace the highly politicized secular-humanist critique; (2) offer a new biblically shaped view of Christian social responsibility of compassion that not only transcends right and left but also transcends the self-interested agendas of modern nations, including the United States; and (3) challenge all those of Christian faith to set aside the politics of polarization and address the urgent and difficult issues facing our nation and our world with humility and in the spirit of the reconciling Christ.