Future of Evangelicalism
The Legacy of an Activist Career An Interview with Jim Wallis
The next stage was when the Religious Right went public -- it did so on only a narrow set of issues: abortion, homosexuality, and pornography. It became very political, but only on these issues. There was still no concern for the issues the Bible talks most about, like poverty, war and peace, and suffering. We wanted to press for Christians to concern themselves with those things.
Both of those stages -- the first when faith was a private matter, and the second when the Religious Right went public -- were political. It was always political, meaning they always voted Republican. The Elder who talked to me was completely in favor of white racism. He was living it every day. They were conformed to their culture, to things like racism, materialism, militarism, whatever the culture thought. It had nothing to do with faith. But we were good Detroit white racists. What changed, then, was that they became political on abortion and gay marriage, homosexuality and pornography.
You rose to prominence partly through your critique of the Religious Right, a critique made in places like The Soul of Politics and God's Politics. The Religious Right, in your view, became apologists for the Republican party. The question may seem silly, but I want to hear your answer to it: What's wrong with that model of Christian political engagement?
It's always a mistake to be in the back pocket of a political party, to make your religion partisan, to be a power broker within a political party. That's always a mistake, Right or Left. There was no prophetic engagement. And their selection of issues wasn't big enough. Let's be honest. The Bible says very little about homosexuality. We found two thousand verses in the Bible about poverty -- yet homosexuality was the issue of the Religious Right, and poverty was not. There was not a biblical selection of issues.
I'm opposed to abortion too, which is why I'm not part of the Left. But they were pro-life only on abortion, and not on nuclear weapons or the death penalty. They weren't really pro-life at all; they were just anti-abortion. That was not a biblical stance. It was an anti-abortion stance, but not a pro-life stance. So it was a narrow selection of issues that was not true to a biblical vision of what God cares about.
You say it's dangerous for the Left and the Right to become apologists for a political party. Now that there is a Religious Left, and a Democratic administration in power, are you concerned those same mistakes are being made on the Left?
Well, there isn't a very big Religious Left. The new evangelical generation is not Religious Left. Journalists and the media are sloppy; if they see something that is not on the Right, they conclude that it must be Left.
I've been in meetings at the White House with evangelicals across the spectrum. We worked together on the issue of immigration reform. We're united on that issue. Some are Republicans and some are Democrats. I have had meetings with the administration, with the House Speaker, with all kinds of Democratic leaders, and with a broad spectrum of religious leaders, all of whom care about climate change, care about the environment, care about poverty. So the issues that concern us are those issues: human rights, Darfur, trafficking, war and peace. Those are not Left/Right categories because the new evangelical generation is not pro-abortion. The Left is, and the new evangelical generation is not. They're also traditional in their view of sexuality and family. They hold a covenantal view of sexuality, and the Left by and large holds a recreational view of sexuality. So, there are real differences.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.