The Common Good

Young Evangelicals, Elections, and Our Real Work

It is no secret that young evangelicals are opting out of the 'religious right' in ever-larger numbers, and are becoming more (what for lack of a better term we'll call) progressive. With the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, many young evangelicals are asking tough questions and beginning to make connections.

Our politics are coming out differently, but it is not that we reject everything our parents believe. Rather, we take seriously something beneath the rhetoric. We are pro-life, but realize this doesn't end with the womb. The U.S. War on Terror, the death penalty, genocide in Darfur, the AIDS crisis, and global warming also violate the sanctity of human life. We are pro-family, but realize that gays and lesbians are being used as a scapegoat by the Right. The commodification of sex, housing and healthcare costs, mass imprisonment, and raids on immigrant communities are all forces tearing families apart.

Many of these crises are perceived as 'liberal' issues. Polls show that young evangelicals are voting increasingly for Democrats is all but a given. The temptation I pray we will avoid is hopping in bed with the Democrats like previous generations did with the Republicans. It is my hope, that instead of becoming more liberal, we would become more biblical. We need to be more realistic about partisan politics, both its capacity to exploit and use the church and its limits in creating large-scale social change.

In Matthew's Gospel, when the mother of James and John asked for positions of power for her sons in what she thought would be Jesus' revolutionary government, he replied: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant..." Essentially, Jesus was saying the practice of government is domineering and self-serving; disciples are to understand and exercise power in a different way.

We should not place our hopes solely on our representatives, senators, or presidents to enact our values for us. Rather, we should learn how personal the political truly is, by living out the changes we want to see take place in the wider world. Then, the political choices we make will flow naturally out of the work we're already doing as part of being the church. What I mean is, part of the faith community's vocation is feeding the hungry, providing shelter for those who have none, caring for single mothers, working for peace, and so forth. Casting a ballot should simply be an extension of that prior service--not an excuse for noninvolvement with the marginalized--but a chance to further the work we should already be doing.

Widespread social change will not come merely from the election of a "change candidate," but from the movements of nonconforming minorities, faith communities, and others, whose lives take the shape of servanthood and whose voices are joined with those on the opposite side of the power equation. This is our real work, to which we must be committed for more than one day in November.

Tim Kumfer works with the Servant Leadersip School of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., and previously worked as a Sojourners intern.

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