WASHINGTON – The political agenda for evangelical Christians will be driven by faith and not political parties in November's election,a group of evangelicals predicts.
Tired of the “Religious Right” monologue,one group of evangelicals is preaching for a dialogue encompassing support for all parties.
“The menu of politics is broken,and people want a different menu. God is not a Republican or a Democrat,” the Rev. Jim Wallis said. “We've got Christians on both sides now.”
Wallis is president of Sojourners,a religious community in Washington,and editor of the group's magazine. The religious community's mission is “to articulate the biblical call to social justice,inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals,communities,the church,and the world.”
He was one of nine evangelical Christians who met Wednesday at George Washington University to discuss a new political agenda.
According to beliefnet.com,the largest spiritual Web site,a majority of evangelicals who responded to a request to answer questions about their political beliefs preferred Barack Obama in the Democratic race and Mike Huckabee,followed by John McCain,among Republicans.
“What has been happening religiously in the country is now being felt in the primaries themselves and the candidates people are selecting. They are the mavericks,” said Richard Cizik,vice president for government affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals.
He said their disagreement with established GOP leadership on topics from campaign finance reform to torture and discrimination against immigrants' children is distinguishable from other Republican candidates.
“Huckabee has been able to get the traction he has because he is the first blush of this new evangelical,” said the Rev. Joel Hunter,senior pastor of Northland Church in Orlando,Fla.
The evangelicals' support of the Republican Party has stemmed from its history of trying to reform politics in the easiest manner and is something evangelicals will have to overcome,said Bishop Harry Jackson,founder and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville,Md.
Jackson endorsed George W. Bush in 2004.
“At some point we lost our ability to be an impartial conscience to the nation. Because we played a political favorite,we now have to deal with the fact that folks have politicized moral issues. A new and different strategy is important now,” Jackson said.
A new and broader agenda
Abortion and gay marriage are not the most important issues for evangelicals,Wallis said. Instead,the group is focusing on topics affecting every threat to human life,such as poverty,degradation of the environment,climate change,immigration reform,AIDS,the use of war,human rights and Darfur.
Evangelicals are searching for the right candidate to be the vehicle of change,Wallis said.
“When I am looking for a candidate,I am looking for a person who doesn't have his wallet or his gun where his heart should be,” Hunter said.
Cizik agreed: “We are no longer single-issue voters,and we are not going to blindly follow the dominant leaders in the religious group who are telling us what to believe.”
More than three-quarters of evangelicals who responded to the beliefnet.com questions said they support a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions. That surprised Cizik,who said that,in the past,evangelicals would have denied the notion of global warming.
“A historic shift is occurring,” Cizik said. “It is equivalent to an earthquake in slow motion. People aren't sensing it.”
But Wallis said he doesn't think the U.S. will reach social justice without a spiritual revival.
Moving past religion
“When politics fails to resolve or even address our greatest problems,what often happens is social movements rise up to change politics,” Wallis said. “And the best social movements always have spiritual foundations.”
About three times as many self-identified evangelicals who volunteered their information to beliefnet.com said Mitt Romney's Mormon religion made them less,rather than more,likely to support him. Half said it would have no effect.
Wallis said he is focused instead on the candidate's moral compass and values.
“You don't get to win because you are Christian,” Wallis said. “I think we sometimes cross a line about the use of religion in public life.”
“We are not electing a pastor. We are electing a commander in chief,” said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez,president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
While Evangelicals are reluctant to be perceived as bigoted to the Mormon faith,candidates' religions and philosophical beliefs are a reflection of their priorities and their decisions. Cizik said it is impossible to ignore religion,and it will remain in the race.
“The evangelical church will be a spoiler in the next election,” Jackson said. “It is going to be either a thumbs up or a thumbs down.”