The Common Good

Jim Wallis and Richard Land Discuss Evangelicals and 2012 Elections

Tonight, Sojourners and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission are co-sponsoring an event to discuss religion and the 2012 elections. Rev. Wallis and Dr. Richard Land will delve into what they believe the religious issues will be and should be from now until election day.

The event is already turning some heads. A Washington Post article by Michelle Boorstein summed up the unique nature of the event in a headline, "Evangelical opposites to hold discussion on 2012 presidential race." But, the article goes on to say that both men have more in common than might be immediately apparent:

But both men say they are alarmed about seeing GOP candidates compete for who will cut government the most and who will be tougher on unions and immigrants. They say they are worried about candidates from both parties seeking to pull back from engagement overseas, whether that means programs that promote democracy or those that fight AIDS and malaria.

The discussion tonight is a sign of the changing nature of how evangelicals engage with politics. How and why they vote continues to shift, but so how they engage politics. The tone and tenor of political rhetoric has come of increasing concern as church leaders see increasing numbers of young people tuning out entirely.

One of the interesting themes that has already emerged is what seems to be the end of "compassionate conservatism." While this philosophy never united the right and the left, it did provide for areas of common ground and agreement on domestic poverty reduction and foreign aid. Boorstein's article continues:

Experts on evangelical voting say the discussion Wallis and Land have called Wednesday night at the National Press Club reflects a major change in the landscape of white evangelicals, who make up nearly a quarter of American adults. For nearly a decade, this group was broadly unified under the "compassionate conservative" platform of George W. Bush, for whom a vast majority voted during the 2000s.

Spending overseas. A middle ground on immigration and domestic anti-poverty programs. Funding faith-based groups to boost fatherhood and marriages. This was the Bush doctrine, and although dissatisfied evangelicals were on both the left and the right, the broad middle embraced him and his articulation of Christian thinking.

The disagreement will, no doubt, be lively. When talking about religious issues for "Room for Debate" in the New York Times, Wallis talked about poverty and economic disparity and Land focused on foreign policy including a "strong nuclear force." There is a big difference between how the two view policy issues. But, I'm sure tonight will also show some unlikely areas of shared concern and common ground.

T.KingTim King is Director of Communications for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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