I am one of those evangelicals who, in Professor Marcia Pally’s words, have “left the right.” As a former President-elect of the Christian Coalition of America, I resigned that position and all other positions that would box me into ideologies that were becoming insidiously narrow and negative. As a 64-year-old pastor, I may not yet be representative of my generation or profession in my political openness, but I am one of a growing number of white evangelicals who are making biblically-based decisions on an issue-by-issue basis, in a wider circle of conversations than ever. We are put off by the “hardening of the categories” that is stifling not only intellectually, but also spiritually.
Part of this transition is cultural. As Professor Pally pointed out, it is not only a generational shift that naturally declares independence from traditional religious reactions (especially paternalistic ones). The transition is for others a distancing from the institutionalism of the church and the inelasticity of a movement that began as personally charitable but has become dogmatically xenophobic.
The greater part of this change, however, is a generic return to the original agenda of Christ. As the world becomes more complex and less predictable, we are seeing a “back to basics” trend. It is an expansion beyond a preoccupation with the more recent monitoring of sexual matters, to a more ‘whole life’ helpfulness. It is the turn from accusation to compassion, and it is much in keeping with the priorities and example of Jesus. His focus on helping the most vulnerable is also our concern. Thus more and more evangelicals are expanding the definition of pro-life. They are including in a pro-life framework concern with poverty, environmental pollution, AIDS treatment, and more. And issues like abortion are being expanded from focusing on only “in utero” concerns—increasing numbers of evangelicals now see prevention of unwanted pregnancy and support for needy expectant mothers as pro-life.
More evangelicals simply want to live our lives according to our spiritual values—unselfishness, other-centeredness, non-presumptuousness—so that when people see “our good works, they will give glory to our Father in heaven.”
Lastly, practically all sustainable change is relationally based. In an increasingly connected world, an increasing number of evangelicals are developing a broader range of relationships, both interfaith and inter-lifestyle. These make us think twice before we declare those who have different values as adversaries. As we “love our neighbor,” we want to cooperate in ways that express our own values while allowing others to express their own.
Professor Pally has established a masterful and nuanced summary of the change in the evangelical political voice. I hope that we will continue the dialogue.