A Hijacked Heritage

The Religious Right has hijacked American evangelicalism and made it an aberration in the global evangelical community. Many of us who are evangelicals in America no longer feel that we have a home in the movement.

Through the social upheavals of the '50s and '60s, American evangelicalism was little moved. Culturally the movement has always been somewhat conservative. And in those days most conservative Protestants were taught that faith was solely related to the spiritual realm, so few evangelicals got involved in working for social or political change during the civil rights or anti-poverty movements.

As the decade of the '70s began, a number of evangelicals belatedly began to become involved in struggling with issues like racism, world hunger, and the environment. The Chicago Declaration in 1973 and the Lausanne Covenant in 1974 reflected this awakening of the evangelical consciences toward Christian social responsibility.

In 1978, Billy Graham, Christianity Today, and Wheaton College were at the front of the parade as the discussion of Christian social responsibility was still expanding. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority, Timothy LaHaye, the Religious Roundtable, and others hijacked the evangelical parade and gave it a decisive wrench to the Right. It has never recovered.

At the end of the Reagan era, the Moral Majority folded its tents and slipped away. But with the election of Democrat Bill Clinton, the new flagship of the Religious Right experienced remarkable growth. The Christian Coalition, started by Pat Robertson, is 1.5 million strong and still growing at a rapid clip. Ralph Reed, the young chief executive officer of the Christian Coalition, takes credit for the recent Republican landslide. We can be sure the Christian Coalition will play a major role in the selection of the Republican candidate for president in 1996 and in the shaping of our political future.

Of course, not all evangelicals in the United States are members of the Coalition or political activists for right-wing causes. But I believe the influence of the Religious Right has been seriously underestimated.

The Christian Right has intellectually hijacked the American evangelical movement, first by defining what's wrong-"secular humanism." They have also determined what the politically correct issues are-"abortion, pornography, gay rights, and traditional family values"-and decided that the correct political identity of Christians should be conservative Republicanism.

I HAVE FOUND NO other country in the Western world where evangelicals have to be conservative Republicans, or the equivalent, to be considered genuine Christians. Evangelicals in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Great Britain, Holland, or Germany don't have to subscribe to a narrow political ideology of the Right or Left to be politically correct.

For example, in Great Britain, evangelicals focus on a broad spectrum of public policy issues. Instead of simply adopting the political position of the ideological Right, like the Christian Right in America, British evangelicals do careful public policy analysis of each issue, then study scripture to define biblical principles that relate to the specific issue, and then define their position. As a result of this biblical approach, instead of an ideological approach, they are all over the map politically on issues of concern.

The Religious Right in America is indeed an aberration. It is time to call American evangelicals back to their heritage, a biblical heritage.

TOM SINE is the author, most recently, of Cease Fire: Searching for Sanity in America's Culture Wars (Eerdmans, March 1995).

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