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As the election approaches, politically minded conservative evangelicals are discovering they are not involved in the issues so much as they are the issue. "Religious Right Shows Its Muscle" reads a headline in the Chicago Tribune. The Arizona Republic warns that "the religious right is causing near-civil war in some campaigns." The buzz on Capitol Hill is that the Religious Right is splitting conservative ranks.

But this bellicose imagery could cause real harm to evangelical political activity.

The latest round of press attention was triggered when Jim Dobson gave his celebrated speech threatening to abandon the Republican party. Worried party leaders convened a Values Summit and agreed to take action on such things as abortion and the marriage penalty.

Dobson did a noble service in jarring Congress out of its lethargy, but nothing sets off alarm bells in the press faster than political stirrings among the Religious Right. Journalists immediately warned in apocalyptic tones that religious conservatives were "marching on Washington" and "demanding their due." Articles described Christians as a powerful voting bloc that delivered 45 percent of the vote in the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress. Many alluded to Ralph Reed's phrase that Christian conservatives are demanding "their place at the table" and depicted them in the same terms used for a labor union or any other special-interest group.

Sadly, Christians have sometimes contributed to this image. Of course, we have a right to a place at the table, like any other citizen. And yes, we have political clout because millions of Americans share our moral concerns. But that can never be the basis of our political stance. We contend for certain truths in the political arena precisely ...

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Charles Colson
Charles Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an outreach to convicts, victims of crime, and justice officers. Colson, who converted to Christianity before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices. His books included Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? A Christianity Today columnist since 1985, Colson died in 2012.
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In the Magazine

October 5, 1998

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