According to a story in Newsweek magazine, it appears that at least some evangelicals are moving away from the political and theological right wing. Younger evangelicals seem to be shying away from the rigid ideological orthodoxy of past culture wars and are embracing a broader range of social issues.
The Newsweek story focuses on Richard Cizik, former vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). During an interview with National Public Radio in December 2008, Cizik admitted he had voted for Barack Obama in the Virginia primary. He also indicated he had changed his mind about gay marriage and was in favor of civil unions. That’s the comment that cost him his job.
He was soon summoned to a meeting with his boss, NAE president Leith Anderson. After the meeting, Anderson announced Cizik’s resignation. “Our individuals and organizations felt there was a loss of credibility for him,” Anderson said at the time.
But that’s not the end of the story. A year later, Cizik is back and is heading up his own Christian group. Calling themselves the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Cizik is trying to craft a softer tone for evangelicals.
According to Newsweek, Cizik believes that the evangelical right “needs to reframe its politics, to walk away from divisive name-calling and find common ground with opponents, even on hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion.”
According to Cizik, he is more pro-life than Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourner’s community in Washington, D.C. In Cizik’s words, “I am what we should be – that is, post-ideological. We are to be about healing, not division. We are not to be subservient to ideology, but above it.”
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Only time will tell if this new evangelical approach will gain any traction. Pundits have been claiming for some time now that young evangelicals are not falling in line with the old conservative Christian guard. These young Christians have not abandoned traditional evangelical concerns, and are in fact even more opposed to abortion than their forebears. But their approach may be different, less confrontational and political.
If that is true, then Cizik may be situated to seize the moment.
For his part, Cizik claims not to be doing something new but actually reaching back to a kinder, gentler form of evangelicalism from the past. He invokes the names of Francis Schaeffer and Carl Henry as evangelicals with impeccable orthodox credentials but who advocated a wide range of social concerns and diverse partnerships.
We could use an infusion of civility and reasonableness into our political process. The activities of many evangelical leaders in recent years have only served to deepen the polarization of the electorate. Ideally, as a country, we should be able to engage in lively debate, disagree agreeably, vote and then come together as a united people.
Sadly, for some time now, the mixing of religion and politics has made that coming together nearly impossible. After all, when political opponents are cast as the minions of Satan, it’s hard to grant them legitimacy to govern if they are elected.
In life, and especially in politics, it’s best to remember that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.