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The 2008 presidential race might be the first one in a while that hasn’t been decided by what we’ve previously known as “the religious right.” Many signs exist to suggest that those two words just don’t go together as well as they once did.
The latest and perhaps most impressive evidence of a decline in the numbers of those willing to work as Christian soldiers for the Republican Party was announced last week. A group of Christian leaders produced a document they called an “Evangelical Manifesto,” urging Christians not to let themselves become political pawns any longer, suggesting that they pull back from party politics.
The Washington Post story about this, which ran on May 7, described it as “the latest sign of emerging fractures (in the religious right) as some activists seek to broaden its agenda beyond hot-button social issues such as opposition to abortion and gay rights.”
Many Christians have long objected to “Christian conservatism,” saying that it doesn’t represent either their faith or their politics. But the manifesto takes aim at both sides of the political fence. Look at this statement from it: “Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have made the mistake of politicizing faith. That way, faith loses its independence, the church becomes ‘the regime at prayer,’ Christians become ‘useful idiots’ for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. If you want to know some of the people associated with this document, it includes - among the 70 leaders who signed it - Leith Anderson, president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals, Mark Bailey, president of the Dallas Theological Seminary, and John Huffman, chairman of the board of Christianity Today.
I suppose the creators of this document felt the need to include all the stuff about “both sides of the political spectrum.” But the truth is this document is aimed directly at the religious right. There are “liberal Christians,” to be sure, but they’ve never flocked to the Democratic Party the way their counterparts on the right took over the Republican Party.
The late Jerry Falwell was the best example of people who sought to marry conservative political ideology with fundamentalist Christianity. He was always crusading for Republican votes. But many who might have lined up with such an agenda in the 1980s have had second thoughts.
Even Pat Robertson has taken up with Al Sharpton, in the interest of promoting a clean environment and the fight against global warming. In fact, environmental issues have led many Christians to believe that God expects us to take care of the planet we live on. This is one example of going beyond the usual obsession with abortion and gay rights.
It never made any sense that in order to be a good Christian you had to be a conservative Republican. In 2004, a larger share than ever of evangelicals voted Democrat. Bush and Cheney and their war in Iraq have apparently cost Republicans as many votes among Christians as they have among any other voting bloc.
No, not every segment of the religious right will support this new call for rejecting politics. Tony Perkins, of the so-called Family Research Council, didn’t sign the document and wasn’t even asked to do so. But he and that group never spoke for anyone but themselves, anyway.
Jesus of Nazareth didn’t come to the Earth to support pre-emptive war, tax cuts for the wealthy, and a desire to get as rich as you possibly can. More and more Christians are now realizing that.
Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.