Congressional Mailbag

Congressman John Anderson, Illinois Republican, gets a lot of letters from people who say they are evangelical Christians. He’s not always happy about that mail, however. He says most evangelicals write about “the traditional don’ts”: liquor, tobacco, and pornography. Only a few write about war, peace, poverty, or civil rights.

Conversations with two others on Capitol Hill, Senators George McGovern (South Dakota) and Mark Hatfield (Oregon), bear him out: The moral issues evangelicals most often write their congressmen about are personal vices rather than broad social evils.

“I’m afraid his remarks are right,” said McGovern, a liberal Methodist whose pastor in Mitchell, South Dakota, made headlines this summer by demanding that the movie Candy be prohibited in local theaters. Mail from religious conservatives deals more with peripheral than with substantive issues. “Getting a pamphlet in the mail with a naked woman on it seems to disturb these people more than hunger or poverty,” McGovern said.

Baptist Hatfield, who receives about ten letters a day from “clearly religious people,” said many could be called “crackpot”: “People speak of their Christian commitment, then take off on a tirade, usually on petty issues, sometimes in filthy language.” He recalled one that opened by calling the senator an obscene name, then closed, “Sincerely in Christ.”

Asked to explain these tendencies—either to send scorching letters or to skirt major issues—the legislators interviewed offered somewhat different answers.

“Traditionally the church has been interested more in the petty don’ts,” said Congressman ...

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