Voting

Randall Balmer answers, "What is an Evangelical?"

The puzzle here is not that readers of the Bible would tilt toward the political left. That, for me, as well as for thousands of other American evangelicals, is self-evident. Jesus, after all, summoned his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to welcome the stranger and to care for “the least of these.” He also expressed concern for the tiniest sparrow, a sentiment that should find some resonance in our environmental policies.

No, the real conundrum lies in the subtitle the editors of Christianity Today assigned to Franzen’s article, which was titled, “A Left-Leaning Text.” Adjacent to a picture of a Bible tilted about 45 degrees to the left, the editors added the subtitle: “Survey Surprise: Frequent Bible reading can turn you liberal (in some ways).”

The fact that anyone should register surprise that the Bible points toward the left should be the biggest surprise of all.

So, about those "Evangelicals..."

In his column last week, Sojourners chief Jim Wallis talked about his frustration with the perennial misuse of the word "evangelical" by various media to describe folks and ideas that, in his view, and that of many of us who self-describe as evangelicals, don't bear any resemblance to what we understand that term to actually mean.

Below is a compilation of recent media reports where the word "evangelical" is invoked. When you read these, evangelical brothers and sisters, do you recognize yourself in how the word is used and defined? Or does it ring false to you and your understanding of what "evangelical" really and truly means?

Let Us Be Clear: The Debt Ceiling Crisis is Purely Artificial

We have come to an impasse in the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling because of several conceptual errors in our public discourse. These errors were most glaring in the remarks recently delivered by Speaker of the House John Boehner in his response to President Obama. The largest conceptual error is the idea that the government of a constitutional representative democracy is different from the people. Boehner said, "You know I've always believed the bigger the government, the smaller the people."

What does this mean? The government is composed of the people, and if people are paying attention and voting according to their own interests, the government ought to work toward the happiness of the people. The problem is that too many Americans have bought into this conceptual error that the government is some kind of leviathan, a monster that exists to take away their liberties. This is nonsense. A correction of another conceptual error in Boehner's presentation makes my point.

The Shape of Things to Come

From now through 2013, electoral district boundaries, which affect who represents you in Congress and other state and local governments, will be readjusted to address changing demographics. The stakes are as high as ever for this arcane process, which affects control of legislatures and communities’ representation. But for this round of redistricting, new, open-source mapmaking software holds the promise of unprecedented public participation.

At the founding of the U.S., the Constitution gave states the primary responsibility to design electoral institutions. Not long afterward, Declaration of Independence signer and Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry emblazoned his name into the political lexicon when, to give his political party more power, he drew a salamander-shaped state legislative district, soon dubbed a “Gerry-mander.”

Gerrymandering has played an ignominious role in the history of racial discrimination, as white Southerners drew districts to dilute African Americans’ voting strength. The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 rectified this by requiring, under certain circumstances, special districts designed to create opportunities for minority candidates. The Act has been a resounding success.

However, there has been little success constraining partisan, as contrasted to racial, gerrymandering. Although the Supreme Court has found partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional, the tie-breaking Justice Kennedy has not found a judicial standard to his liking; without one, no judicial remedy can be applied. Reformers have thus turned to state practices, either by changing who draws the lines or by imposing criteria on how they are drawn.

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