Pull Back From Politics? Evangelicals Aren’t Engaged Enough

So we appear to be going through one of the periodic cycles where liberals tell Evangelicals, “We’d like you more if you disagreed with us less.”  You see, the main barrier between Evangelicals and the culture is our obsession with politics –how we allegedly focus on abortion and same-sex marriage to the exclusion of loving people and sharing the Gospel.  Focus on serving the poor and caring for your fellow man, then we’ll rebuild all the cultural respect you’ve squandered in the midst of the hateful and divisive “culture wars.”

So goes the argument, anyway.

And the argument is ridiculous.

First, let’s dispense with the idea that Evangelicals are obsessed with politics to the exclusion of serving the poor. Or, to put it in the language of the abortion movement: “You pro-lifers only care about children in the womb.”

Simply put, that allegation is pure slander, a Leftist talking point created out of whole cloth, bearing no relationship to the truth. Not too long ago, I researched comparative Evangelical expenditures on the poor versus expenditures on the hot-button “culture war” issues. I focused on the largest Christian anti-poverty organizations and compared them to the largest Christian “culture war” organizations. The results? It turns out that we care much more about kids after they’re born than before:

First, you’ll notice that Christians do give lots of money to what I’d call “pure” culture war organizations, but not as much as the Left. The largest (by budget) include [my former employer] the Alliance Defense Fund, and the Family Research Council. Of the pro-life organizations, two of the largest are National Right to Life and Americans United for Life. These organizations raise quite a bit of money—almost $60 million combined. But it’s not as much as the leading legal organization on the Left. The ACLU Foundation (which does not include the various state ACLUs) took in $98 million with the national ACLU itself raking in an additional $33 million.

. . .

How do those numbers stack up with leading Christian anti-poverty charities? Let’s look at just three: World VisionCompassion International, and Samaritan’s Purse. Their total annual gross receipts (again, according to most recently available Form 990s) exceed $2.1 billion. The smallest of the three organizations (Samaritan’s Purse) has larger gross receipts than every major “pro-family” culture war organization in the United States combined. World Vision, the largest, not only takes in more than $1 billion per year, it also has more than 1,400 employees and 43,000 volunteers.

If those numbers surprise you (oh, and the anti-poverty numbers have only grown since I wrote the article), then you’re either far outside the Evangelical community or you pay more attention to Leftist press clippings about Evangelicals than to the actual work of your own church. It’s by now well-established that conservatives in general (and Christian conservatives especially) give far more to charity than do the very Leftists who are continually calling on them to “focus on the poor.”

Now that we know Evangelicals don’t fit the Left’s stereotype, and are far more engaged in personal service and charitable giving aimed at alleviating poverty than they are in politics, let’s ask a different question: Is this disparity appropriate?

To be clear, I don’t begrudge World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, or Compassion International a single dime. In fact, I wish their budgets were larger, and I even used to think the disparities represented the proper allocation of resources.

And while I do continue to wish nothing but expanded funding for Christian relief agencies, I now understand we’re not nearly engaged enough in politics. Let’s take abortion. Is it really the case that stopping the yearly slaughter of almost one million innocent American children is worth only the tiniest fraction of our time and resources? That can’t possibly represent the proper moral and proportion.

The bottom line is the Left urges American Christians to allocate even less energy and effort into stopping abortion not because it cares for the health of our churches but because they want us to, well, shut up.

What about economic issues? Aren’t they less black and white than abortion? Certainly they are less black and white, but they’re still critically important. For generations we’ve forsaken free-market solutions to poverty, embraced a multi-trillion dollar investment in welfare, and we’ve watched the American family fly apart for the poor and lower-middle class. As a result, our poverty problem has increasingly become a marriage problem, with married couples enjoying low poverty rates while single-mother households are swallowed up by economic insecurity.

So should Christians merely accept the liberal elite’s welfare state and supplement it with soup kitchens of their own?  Or can we also present a biblical witness about the importance of marriage and the value of working for one’s sustenance?

It’s easy to generate example after example where a biblical witness is necessary in the great questions of our time — not just in abortion and economics but also in matters of war and peace. It’s also easy to understand why the biblical message on those points is divisive. After all, the Bible forecasts the world’s rejection.

Yet despite the importance of our message and the predictability of the opposition, we’re still tempted to pull back when we encounter angry reactions. After all, we want to be liked. We’re like eager puppies, looking for approval with pleading eyes and wagging tail. But we can wag away, and do all Leftists command, but they still won’t join our kennel.

In fact, they won’t even throw us a bone.


  • nowis1234

    Bravo David … bravo. Articulate, reasoned and godly counsel.

  • Steve

    I can’t imagine a situation in which Liberals would stop and say, “Hey, I wonder what Evangelical Christians would think about this. Let’s make sure they’ve had their say!”

    Their fake hand-wringing over the divisiveness of the “culture-wars” should be dismissed without a second thought.

    • BuckTucker

      You were given that chance many times. We, as a nation, had a chance to debate the issues of the public option versus the individual mandate based on the merits of each proposal and the evangelicals decided to scream socialism.
      There is no handwringing over the “culture wars”. The evangelicals are divisive by their very nature. They have no right to decide the issue of abortion for everyone else but they believe they do. They have no right to decide if a gay can marry but they believe they do. They have no right to “purge” the republican party of those they deem unworthy but they believe they do.
      They are quick to take a stand but slow to understand and behave in the most un-American manner imaginable. They thrive on division simply by believing they are doing the lord’s work and the other guy works for the devil. Even going so far as to think of him as their enemy while seeing themselves as real American patriot.
      It’s a fantasy and hopefully the internet has exposed all the hate and fear and willful ignorance that has passed for logic for far too long in far right circles.

      • BradyR

        I couldn’t have said it better myself. Bravo! “Quick to take a stand, but slow to understand,” that was a brilliant description of exactly what I encountered growing up in the Evangelical culture.

  • Brian Westley

    How convenient Mr. French can argue against a straw target like “The Left”.

  • Eric

    I can’t help but to think of your recent post about dependency and poverty in Appalachia. I think the biggest question is not how much we spend or engage in political issues but whether it is worth it to engage at all. When you look at issues like abortion, drug use, generational poverty, and the decline of marriage and increase of single mothers there doesn’t seem to be a political solution. If there is one I sure as heck haven’t heard it.
    The evangelical answer to these problems in my mind has always been that these issues are the symptoms of a people who are spiritually lonely, hurt and broken. Now the good news is that there is answer to that loneliness and hurt through the love of Christ and following a Christian life to the best of our flawed capabilities. It is not the support of a specific house/senate bill or candidate. Truly what have we gained from our political involvement as a community of evangelicals?
    I remember last election cycle when during the debates a Repub candidate ( was it Paul?) asked the audience if heroin was made legal how many would try it? Of course nobody raised hands. As William Buckley would say ‘the point survives the exaggeration’. That point is that the issues facing America are mostly ones of culture and values. And those are issues that no political body or civil law in the world can even begin to address and overcome.
    I sincerely wonder if we would be better off if our talented and wonderful brothers and sisters in Washington picked up camp and moved to Booneville, KY, East Cleveland, OH, or Greenville, MS.

  • Yonah

    The man makes some fair points, but then again they are wasted. It IS true that liberals are personally glaringly cheap on giving of their own money for the poor…and their collective efforts do not come near that of the evangelicals. But. Playing with the numbers OUTSIDE of the political reality that evangelicals are empowering the GOP which fully oppresses the poor…isn’t worth the keystrokes. So. Franklin Graham’s organization feeds a bunch of folk with one hand, but with the other hand supports a party which is the sustainer of the pentagon/military industrial complex which, with the aid of a co-opted morally confused faux Democratic President, takes the poor out with drone stikes. Domestically, again an evangelical feeds with one hand, and starves with the other in the voting booth by supporting right wing GOP politicians hell-bent on abolishing food stamps.

    Abortion. Abortion IS an economic issue. Liberal elites imagine that they are doing something noble by deciding in top-down fashion that abortion is a fine “solution”. They ignore completely that the first instinct of working class non-elites is to keep their children….if they could see a way to do it economically. Liberals are completely on the wrong side of abortion vis a vis poor people. Human rights includes the right to all the basic existential factors which denote being human…including the right to be able to afford having a child and feeding him/her. Conservatives ignore the feeding…as it really plays out after token charity is factored in. And Liberals just dispense with the having of the child.

    If both sides would get their heads out of their own backsides…with all their weird little arguments about whether a fetus is this or that….maybe, then, we could consider what Abortion does destructively to the human species writ large. For, if we imagine that Abortion can be considered to be such a fine solution that it can be the stuff of strident political championing in which every political “win” is a cause for ecstatic joy and a big bump in fund raising…then, truly, humanity has severely degraded…and doesn’t even know it. Darkness that is.

    • Glenn Olson

      The impulse behind the average liberal’s pro-choice position is literally the opposite of what you claim: it’s an attempt to *avoid* making a top-down decision on whether or not abortion is “a fine solution,” thus leaving that decision ultimately up to the one facing it. We can be faulted for allowing others to do what they see as patently wrong, but to accuse us of making that decision for another is a spiteful twisting of intent.

      • Yonah

        The avoidance you assert seems to me to be facade. Behind it, is utter ignoring of economic pressures that are the primary factor propelling many working class and poor people to abortion…and even middle class people who, in cases where a baby will be born with profound developmental challenges, know that this so called civilized society will not support those challenges. As for “choice”, I in fact, do not support laws that restrict abortion. People are gonna do what they’re gonna do on this matter…one way or the other. My conviction is that the shear number of abortions ought to be the target of reduction by way of economic justice. It would be nice if “pro-choice” activists would exhibit more sobriety and less joy when they advance their positions.

        As for upper class liberal elites, it is my observation that they want two things at the same time: 1) They want public acclamation of a certain nobility attributed to them for actions or positions that cost them very little 2) And, they want to keep their own money as much or more than the conservatives they paint themselves as being in opposition to.

        My daughter works for liberals. She works with the most profoundly mentally challenged adults. She teaches them, and takes care of their most graphic physical needs…because she wants to. She makes $9.00 an hour. Her Social Work supervisors, all stunning liberal elites, make a lot lot more. Never do the supervisors acknowledge that they are working their underlings for no more than Walmart wages. Instead, they worry constantly over some possible misjudgment their workers might make that will imperil their supervisory positions and public reputations…and so they clamp down on the low-wage workers all the more.

        Abortion is about money. How well the developmentally challenged are regarded and cared for is about money. Oh, if only we could all “choose” to be rich.

      • BuckTucker

        This is a free country. A democracy or a democratic republic according to conservatives. I cannot imagine anyone else making that decision but the person who is facing it. When you get pregnant you may make that decision for yourself. You may even make it for other family members. But you do not, nor have you ever, nor will you ever have the right to make that decision for other people.

    • radiofreerome

      Many Southern Baptist congregations have turned their churches into tax-free, segregated country clubs. This isn’t charity. HTH.

  • nodespots

    Nominations from the only Pro Life political party, the Republicans, of moderates such as McCain, followed by Romney, garnered support of Evangelicals due to strong pro life running mates, Palin and Ryan.
    Evangelicals are involved politically, because they turn out to vote.
    However, we have no say in the issues of the day. Same gender legal union status has been left unanswered except by a few Black Leaders from evangelical circles.
    Local Republican groups use our pro life activists as foot soldiers for elections for Republican candidates because pro lifers are actively engaged in order to get candidates in who are pro life. But again, the GOP has no interest in being seen in public with us, though thankfully Pro Life is still part of the platform.
    McCain used us then distanced himself from us and he never seemed to face the fact that without Palin, most of us wouldn’t have shown up to vote at all and he would have lost by a much wider margin.
    Romney said he was Pro Life but where has he been for 40 years? Never saw or read a single piece about his position politically. Reagan was secular but wrote a courageous essay Conscience of a Nation, while in office, in which he publicly aligned himself with Biblical principles.
    Mr. French is correct that evangelicals need to stay and increase their involvement in the issues which interface politics. Since we are shunned as far as the debate, the most powerful tool we have is voter registration and the vote.

    • Nemo

      Wait, what? You acknowledge that Reagan was secular, but politically aligned himself with evangelicals? Doesn’t that suggest that it was more of a political move than a sincere statement of belief?

      • nodespots

        Evangelicals became more of a cohesive group as a result of Reagan and his bold open actions for life, against abortion and euthanasia. Evangelicals actually learned how to become an influence on politics of the day under the tutelage of Reagan.
        Reagan was secular in the sense that though his personal faith was real, he knew how to interface with secularists.
        No one seems to know how to do that anymore.
        As one in the evangelical camp, I would say we put much pressure on politicians who support our key principles to NOT be able to interface with secularists.

  • Disbelief

    “So should Christians merely accept the liberal elite’s welfare state and supplement it with soup kitchens of their own? Or can we also present a biblical witness about the importance of marriage and the value of working for one’s sustenance? ”

    Actually David, what about the importance of wealthy companies paying a living wage to those working? That’s what liberals want and conservatives push back against. How about a ” biblical witness” to that??????

  • JDM

    The farther to the right that the Christian right moves, the more rigidly ideological it becomes, the less likely it is to get a president it wants. While it may be a force in the Republican party, most of the rest of the nation is not with it. Better to nominate someone who is not your ideal candidate and win, than to lose to someone you like even less.

  • JuliePurple

    Please stop naming all left-leaning people as “elite”. It’s not fair and it’s not true. I know many, many far left liberals who are not in the least sense “elite”. And what, exactly, DO you mean by the term?
    Another point: “biblical witness”. Do you mean that part of the bible that condones slavery, genocide, rape, and murder? Where it’s okay to totally abuse any woman or society as long as it’s one that has a different name for god? Where a science-poor iron age tribal group decided how life originated and invented talking snakes? The bible that has been translated over and over sometimes to the point of original meanings being lost? THAT bible?
    Just sayin’.

    • T. Scott

      You couldn’t find a passage in the bible that condones genocide, rape, or murder that you are not taking way out of context. Nice try.

      • JuliePurple

        Gosh, Scott, where to begin?
        And don’t say it’s “taken out of context”. What possible context could support this?

        Murder, rape, and pillage at Jabesh-gilead (Judges 21:10-24 NLT)
        Murder, rape and pillage of the Midianites (Numbers 31:7-18 NLT)
        More Murder Rape and Pillage (Deuteronomy 20:10-14)
        Death to the Rape Victim (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NAB)
        Laws of Rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT)
        Rape of Female Captives (Deuteronomy 21:10-14 NAB)
        Kill People Who Don’t Listen to Priests (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)
        Death to Followers of Other Religions (Exodus 22:19 NAB)
        Kill Nonbelievers (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)
        Kill the Entire Town if One Person Worships Another God
        (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT)
        Kill Women Who Are Not Virgins On Their Wedding Night (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 AB)
        Kill Followers of Other Religions. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)
        Kill Sons of Sinners (Isaiah 14:21 NAB)
        Kill Men, Women, and Children (Ezekiel 9:5-7 NLT)
        1 Samuel 15:1-35
        Isaiah 13:15-18
        Deuteronomy 3:4-6

        • Nemo

          Julie, you are taking that out of context. You have to realize, the Bible says Jesus LOVED them so much. Besides, you are a puny mortal. You have no power, so who are you to say any alleged deity is evil? Ever? The Bible says Yahweh has the power, so he is the good guy.

          Yes, I’m being sarcastic. I can imagine a few people who do believe that, though.

  • ahermit

    There’s a moving of goalposts here. Yes evangelicals might give a lot of money to charity, bit If we’re talking about political activism evangelicals clearly spend a lot more time and money and effort lobbying against things like women’s health (not just abortion but contraception) homosexuality and other social issues and very little on finding public policy solutions to problems like poverty.

    We can’t effectively deal with those problems with the scattershot approach of private charity, we need real public policy solutions; solutions which, sadly, too many evangelicals oppose with empty rhetoric like the nonsense about “leftist elites” and “welfare states” that we see in this post.

  • radiofreerome

    Evangelicals have long been engaged in U.S. politics. When I was a child in the 1960′s in the American South, not every Evangelical was a terrorist but all terrorists were Evangelicals because the KKK was and is an Evangelical organization. Evangelicals were politically involved in every aspect of politics from bombing black churches to murder children to keeping schools and neighborhoods segregated. They were ignorant, hypocritical, and hateful. They perverted religion to justify their hatred. They made their symbol of martyrdom, the burning cross, a symbol of terror. While their intellectual contributions to the larger society were minimal, one can never fault them for not being politically involved.

  • ahermit

    For generations we’ve forsaken free-market solutions to poverty

    That’s because there really aren’t any…


    The problem is the numbers don’t bear that out. To be sure, almost 90 percent of Americans give to charity, and they gave a total of $316 billion
    last year. That’s a staggering amount, and Americans should certainly
    be proud of it. At the same time, that money can’t replace the
    government-run programs that have engendered so much public opposition,
    for a number of reasons.

    One reason is the cycle of giving.
    Donations rise during good times and fall during bad; the $316 billion
    given last year is high, but it’s still less than any of the three years
    leading up to the last recession. It’s understandable that people would
    have less to give when times are hard, but happens to be the exact time
    when the need is highest.

    Another reason private giving isn’t a substitute for government aid is where that money goes:
    Just 12 percent of all giving in 2011 went to human services, behind
    religious organizations (32 percent) and education (13 percent). Some of
    the money you give to your church or synagogue will go to helping the
    needy, but not all of it. And donations to your alma mater, your
    children’s school or your favorite art gallery are crucial for society,
    but they don’t feed the poor or pay for doctor visits.

    A third reason is scale. The food stamps program cost $78 billion last year, and Medicaid cost $251 billion. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or what used to be called welfare, cost another $31 billion.
    Once the Obamacare exchanges reach something like full capacity in
    2017, federal subsidies for insurance on those exchanges is projected to
    cost about $108 billion. And that’s before we even mention Social Security, which cost $773 billion in 2012.

    So the idea that a reduction in these programs could somehow be made up
    for by an increase in private giving just doesn’t reflect reality. In a
    country where 57 million people don’t have health insurance and one in four
    children live in poverty, falling support for government welfare
    programs can’t be defended on the grounds that Americans remain
    individually charitable.

  • BuckTucker

    If Mr. French were to dismount from his high horse he may see that there are many who disagree with him who aren’t liberal or that those who are liberal are not leftist. That’s a word meant to be derogatory [ at least in his mind ] without appearing to be derogatory. He may see that the evangelicals represent the far right extreme just like the liberals represent the far left extreme and that neither extreme represents America. Or that the way the far right i.e. evangelicals, is “purging” the republican party of those they deem unworthy in an effort to “take” back their country has given them a far louder voice than most other groups.
    If Mr. French were to enlighten himself and read a history book instead of operating on self righteous belief he may see that a safe, legal, well regulated abortion is the best option out of a bunch of bad options. Abortion has a long history in this country both legal and illegal and even the Puritans practiced abortion. They believed as long as it took place before the “quickening” that God was cool with it too. We simply cannot give ourselves the right to make that decision for other people. It’s that simple. Read about the 90 years it was illegal. It did not stop them, just forced them underground and made them more dangerous. Evangelicals should stop misusing their religion by treating like it is a political organization instead of using it for spiritual growth and guidance.
    It is not about how much one group has given to charity as opposed to another. It’s about what’s in our hearts and mind. Many evangelicals hearts and minds are guided by hate. They are so drunk on that hate they have created two Obamas. The real one that has governed mostly from the center left and has angered the liberals often and the one invented in their hearts and minds and feed by the many e-mails passed between them.
    That hate has added imaginary problems to our plate like birth certificates, death panels, sharia law and socialism, scandals that don’t exist like Benghazi and fast and furious or ones that are grossly misrepresented like the IRS scandal.
    It’s people like Mr. French that hurt the country by believing that working with the democrats is caving or doing what the liberals want them to do. It is not. A real ” real American” would understand that we are all Americans and as such we have two options. Work together for the common good of the country and try to solve our problems or continue to behave like Mr. French and divide this country until it is no longer divisible.
    What a shame we have to deal with such self righteous and misguided people.

    • Al Cruise

      Very good points. Let’s also look at his statement “Working for ones sustenance” and see how far the right have taken that. Paying lobbyists millions to protect the interest of billionaires, in essence controlling who can be a lawmaker on economic issues. Taking advantage of poor countries to take resources at fire sale prices. “To big to fail” taking tax money paid by the middle class to bail out the 1 % after they’ve squandered their resources through incompetence, so they can stay in their life style. Years of turning a blind eye to immigration policies as long as it supplied cheap labor. The true gospel of the far right “Greed and Entitlement”. Yes the Bible did forecast this.

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    > free-market solutions

    Such truly is a religion, which Jesus denounced: “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

    “Economists instead were assigned the task to dispense priestly blessings … by means of their message of laissez faire religion…” ~Robert H. Nelson (1993) Reaching for Heaven on Earth: The Theological Meaning of Economics. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

    “..economists have been the priesthood defending this…” ~Robert H. Nelson (2002) Economics as Religion. Penn State University Press. p. xv.

    And you can’t denounce me as “The Left.” I voted for Reagan straight out of high-school and have been a registered Republican my whole life. I own property, I run a business. I’m more cowboy than thou.

    I used to be one of those libertarian fundamentalists. Now? I vote for taxes that make my community more livable. The way I see it—even if one is as selfish as Ayn Rand—the mental health “welfare” program in our county (which I voted for) and taxes for repair of Teh Roadz! keeps my property values up.

    I am weary of the “winner-takes-all” anarch-capitalist free-market rhetoric that has become so popular in conservative circles. How can a few have taken it all, then blame others for not having anything?