If It's Not Good News, It's Not Evangelical
Sojomail - October 25, 2006
"Some of us have been reluctant to speak of our faith in the political arena ... because we can see a danger that people deeply rooted in faith will seek to use God rather than be used by God."
- Tennessee State Sen. Roy Herron (Source: The Christian Science Monitor )
If It's Not Good News, It's Not Evangelical
I was at Bethel University in the Twin Cities on Tuesday. Known as a conservative evangelical school in Minnesota, and located in the heartland of the American Midwest, Bethel has long been regarded as a safe and secure place for conservative Republican politics - and even as fertile ground for recruiting by the Religious Right. And in the last two elections, most Bethel students certainly would have voted for George W. Bush.
But the wind is changing at Bethel, as it is among a new generation of evangelical students across the country. Yesterday was a dramatic demonstration of that change, one that will be most significant for both faith and politics in America.
I started my day at Bethel by speaking in chapel and asking a new generation to "clear up the confusion" in this nation about what it means to follow Jesus. I asked them if they wanted to be true evangelicals, defined by the root meaning of the word "evangel," which literally means "good news." The word was first used by Jesus in his opening statement in Nazareth, recorded in Luke 4, where he defined his own mission by saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news ("the evangel") to the poor ....” I told the young evangelical audience that any gospel that wasn't good news to the poor simply wasn't the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was clear from the response in chapel that a new generation of evangelical Christians want to be, like Jesus, good news to the poor. And because of that their agenda is now much broader and deeper than just the two things the Religious Right continues to talk about as the only "moral values" issues - abortion and gay marriage. The Bethel students, like me, still believe that the sanctity of life and healthy family values are indeed important issues. In fact, they are too important to be turned into political wedge issues to get votes at election time. We need a deeper moral discussion of both those questions than we find occurring in the political arena today, but there are clearly no longer just two moral values issues for this evangelical generation. They care deeply about poverty, global warming, sex trafficking, human rights, genocide in Darfur, and the ethics of war in Iraq. And they are eager for an agenda that will call forth their best gifts, energies, and the commitment of their lives.
This generation won't accept the narrowing of scripture to only two hot-button social issues and have found those 2,000 verses in the Bible that speak of God's concern for the poor and vulnerable. For them, environmental concern is "creation care." And they want a "consistent ethic of life" that addresses all the places where human life and dignity is threatened - not just one.
That doesn't mean that their votes, which conservative Republicans have taken for granted, will now automatically go to liberal Democrats. Instead, they are eager to challenge the selective moralities of both left and right, and respond to a moral agenda for politics that will hold both sides accountable. In the future, any candidate (from either party) who speaks the moral language of politics and lifts up the issues of social justice the Bible talks so much about could attract the attention of this new generation.
The chapel was packed; every seat in the house was taken. I told them that faith is for the "big stuff," that politics was failing to solve our deepest crises, and that it was a time for faith-inspired movements to change both politics and history as we have done many times before, invoking the abolition of slavery campaign and the civil rights movement, among others. When the students rose to their feet at the end it didn't just feel like a standing ovation, but rather an altar call, with students standing to say they want their faith and their lives to make a difference in our world.
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Download "Voting God's Politics" Issues Guides, and Vote All of Your Values!
Voting God's Politics provides a biblically centered set of principles to inspire prudent decisions at the voting booth. Taking into consideration a broad set of biblically based values while voting would radically transform our nation's divisive and misguided politics. We hope you will join us in making compassion and economic justice; peace and restraint of violence; a consistent ethic of life; racial justice; human rights, dignity and gender justice; strong families and renewed culture; and good stewardship of God's creation priorities in this year's midterm election!
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