Thoughts on New Congress & Evangelical Political Concerns
American evangelicals have a broad range of political priorities, and neither party adequately reflects interests of this increasingly diverse constituency.
When the 112th US Congress meets this month the balance of political power will change significantly. What should be the legislative priorities of this new congress from an evangelical perspective? The answer to that question is not as predictable as some would think.
It is important to understand that American evangelicals are not a political monolith. While mainstream media may depict evangelical Christians as a singular voting bloc reflecting a right-wing conservative agenda, the facts on the ground are that evangelicals are politically diverse. The reason is that American evangelicalism is made up of a wide swath of Christians, held together by their religious beliefs rather than by their political identity.
Further, neither the political right, nor left, adequately reflect all of the policy and legislative priorities of a growing number of evangelical Christians.
Evangelicalism in America today includes a rapidly growing number of Hispanic Christians, many Historic African-American Christians (although most avoid the label of “evangelicalism” because of its misuse as a political label), as well white evangelicals. There are many common values within this diversity of evangelicalism, but not necessarily uniform political priorities or strategies.
The framework that I typically use to shape my ideas of an evangelical policy platform is the landmark document “For the Health of the Nation: An evangelical call to civic responsibility” adopted in 2004 by the National Association of Evangelicals, and used widely today by evangelical churches, denominations and para-church ministries.
For the Health of the Nation outlines seven political values that are consistent with biblical teaching and provides a framework for political engagement and represents the concerns held by a majority of American evangelicals, of any political leanings. They are:
1. Protect religious freedom and liberty of conscience.
2. Nurture family life and protect children.
3. Protect the sanctity of human life and safeguard its nature.
4. Seek justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable.
5. Protect human rights.
6. Seek peace and work to restrain violence.
7. Labor to protect God’s creation.
Where should they start?
As a starting point, evangelical Christians should demand that members of congress act with “civility and statesmanship”. As Galen Carey, NAE’s Director of Government Affairs noted, “a divided Congress will require the two parties to work together and find common ground;” they should “debate issues honestly, and not demagogue and demean those who disagree.”
As Christians, our identity in Jesus Christ must be primary and our political beliefs secondary. This means that as individual citizens, we too should hold ourselves to a higher standard of civility in the words we say and in the pundits we choose to listen to.
As the 112th Congress convenes, these are some of the contemporary issues that many evangelicals would encourage legislative action on:
Protect and strengthen marriage. Congress should eliminate various marriage penalties in current tax benefit codes in order to treat married couples equal to others. Congress should also keep the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) intact, keeping in place the beneficial and historic definition of marriage as the faithful union of one man and one woman.
Protect the sanctity of human life: While it doesn’t seem likely that there would be major legislation in this area, evangelicals have long insisted that there should be no taxpayer funding for abortion, and many have suggested that supporting programs like Minnesota’s Positive Alternatives Act are an effective way to help mothers carry unplanned pregnancies to term.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform is long overdue, and a broad coalition of evangelical networks have advocated for reform since before 2006, when it was last seriously considered during the Bush administration.
Last May a coalition including Liberty University, the Southern Baptist Ethics Commission, the National Association of Evangelicals and Hispanic NAE, issued a call for immigration reform that would, among other things, “respect the God-given dignity of every person, protect the unity of the immediate family, respect the rule of law, guarantee secure national borders, ensure fairness to taxpayers and establish a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”
However there is concern that the new leadership of the House Immigration Subcommittee and House Judiciary Committee will instead put forward legislation that that is contradictory to this call; proposals that break up family units, fail to resolve the lingering fate of undocumented workers or deal unsuccessfully with border security. As a result, effective and humane immigration reform may be difficult to advance in the upcoming session, but continues to be a leading concern for many evangelicals of both political leanings.
Our nation is facing a series of crises: morally, economically and defensively. As Christians we should pray for our President and congressional leaders, for the health of our nation, the wellbeing of our citizens and the capacity of our nation to extend justice and goodwill beyond our borders.
(This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Christian Chronicle, January 2011).