Much attention has been paid to the idea that evangelical Christians are, politically, in motion. Only 29 percent of "born-again" Christians now say they support Republicans, compared to 62 percent in 2004, according to Barna Research. Among those who participated in the Republican primaries, many went for John McCain, who once called certain Christian leaders "agents of intolerance." Many younger evangelicals are stressing issues like the environment and poverty, and, as Christianity Today readers know better than most, a new generation of evangelical leaders has emphasized different styles and modes of worship.
But while many Christians re-assess current alliances, practices, and beliefs, one characteristic relatively unchanged: their sense of history. A recent Beliefnet survey found that more than 70 percent of conservative evangelicals believe the Constitution created a Christian state. Whether it's prayer in schools or the Ten Commandments in courthouses, many evangelicals still believe that being a good Christian means advocating for a stronger government role in promoting religion.
I'd like to respectfully suggest that the important dialogue within the evangelical community would be enriched if it were to more boldly re-examine its historical roots. What it would find is that evangelicals of the founding era had very different attitudes about the separation of church and state than many of their modern counterparts. In fact, we would not have religious freedom or the separation of church and state without a key alliance between heroic evangelicals and James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.
In 1784, Virginia's leading politician, Patrick Henry, proposed taxing citizens to sustain and support churches. This was a liberal ...