The battle for righteous and sane government is not over.

Who won the November 4 election? We hope the American people did, and that the entire world will benefit. Ronald Reagan is President-elect of all Americans, not just of evangelicals. He gained that office by the votes of a majority of American people, not just of evangelicals. And not all evangelicals voted for Mr. Reagan. Many opted for Mr. Carter or Mr. Anderson. But the people have spoken; for better or worse, Ronald Reagan is the next President—of us all. What is the significance of a Reagan presidency for evangelicals? No doubt that question can be answered better four years hence. But we can take stock now, and begin to prepare for the coming days.

We must acknowledge an important role played by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Robison, and other representatives of organizations representing politically conservative segments of evangelicalism. We commend them for getting Christians to register and vote; these are clear Christian duties. For the first time in half a century, evangelicals generally became involved in a national election. They registered, took sides, worked actively to select candidates they preferred, and voted their choice. And the politically conservative evangelical vote was significant. Particularly in the South and in contests below the level of presidency their votes sometimes proved decisive.

Having said this, however, we must caution politically conservative evangelicals against taking too much credit for the outcome of the election. American evangelicals are a minority in a pluralistic society. Certainly conservatives among them could not alone have elected Mr. Reagan. He had to draw on other groups as well. He came to power partly because he increasingly took a moderate stand, allaying fear that he was an extremist.

One segment of a small minority cannot win and hold the people. Conservative evangelicals must take this fact into account as they plan their future strategies. They must neither expect nor encourage Mr. Reagan to adopt a dogmatic, uncompromising stand on all positions of deep concern to them. While we may hope and pray that he will serve as a committed evangelical, we must remember that to prove effective, he must work as President of the entire nation.

Mr. Reagan himself must seek to move people by persuasion and not by force. He must seek as broad a consensus as possible. If he cannot do this, he will only generate a backlash. And evangelicals will be discredited along with him.

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In our pluralistic society, the key to evangelical power lies in its careful use. Evangelicals must be wary of the temptation to abuse it. If they try to do more than they can or ought, they will soon lose their credibility and whatever momentum they now possess.

But we commend them in this political involvement. They functioned as responsible citizens seeking to further the cause of public morality in a pluralistic democracy. Leaders within the National Council of Churches and other politically liberal religious groups were unjustified in charging that conservative evangelicals were wrong to mix religion and politics.

Whatever separation of church and state means, it clearly does not mean that all people with religious and moral convictions are disqualified from participating in the political process. Certainly evangelicals have the right, even the duty, to speak out on moral issues; and some moral issues also become political issues. Setting aside for the moment whether Moral Maority and other religious groups may at times have overstepped the legitimate sphere of church and Christian ministry, we support their recognition that some moral and religious issues must be fought for in the political arena.

At the same time, we must caution politically conservative evangelicals against any taint of triumphalism. The battle for righteous and sane government has not been finally won. On the contrary, right-wing evangelicals must prepare themselves for a let-down as evil forces continue to show their clout in government; scandals are not all in the past—nor are imprudent, unstatesman-like decisions. It is important to guard against disillusionment leading to a cynicism that could once again deprive society of evangelical moral influence. The doctrine of separation of church and state does not support the theory that politics is so evil that biblical Christians should withdraw from it altogether. If evangelicals expect too much too soon, they may once again become disenchanted and withdraw; that would be a disastrous step backward.

We live in a sinful society that includes many who freely reject Christ, but whose views still must be heard because they are citizens. God is not going to work miracles just because of Christian influence in or on the White House. Conservative evangelicals must not place their hope in a “quick fix.” Mr. Reagan will not bring the millennium to America, nor will he restore an imaginary golden age of an earlier day. We should neither expect nor demand this. The wheels of state grind very slowly. It is not humanly possible to change a social structure overnight. Immense pressures will be placed on Ronald Reagan, and on occasion he will yield. Some compromises are necessary and wise; evangelical Christians should prepare to accept them. Other compromises are harmful. The wisdom of American evangelicals will become evident as they learn when to work with and support a president who makes compromises for the common good, and when to stand up and be counted in opposition because that boundary of the common good has been crossed.

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Further, it is clear that one grand splurge on a presidential race every four years is useless. Evangelicals must set themselves to a rigorous agenda for the next ten years. First, they must seek to win people to Christ and to the moral and spiritual values essential for right judgments in matters relating to the good of human kind. They may be at the cutting edge of a great reversal of moral trends in America, but for the better part of a century they have not provided political leadership in the United States. Once again they are moving back into the mainstream of the political life of America. But today they are novices. They need to learn how to apply their high moral values honestly and intelligently to the world scene.

In God’s providence, evangelicals are a growing body. If they were small they could shrug off responsibility for the direction of the ship of state, for there would be no possibility of effecting change. With their steady growth over the last several decades their opportunity—and responsibility—for the destiny of this nation became correspondingly greater. If they choose unintelligent, uninformed, misguided leaders, they will have to answer to God. If the American government makes unwise laws, evangelicals will have had a decisive voice in making them and must be held responsible.

Clearly, the growing political and social responsibility requires of evangelicals a corresponding political and social education so they can function as mature citizens. They must develop a basic Christian world-and-life view out of which will stem a consistent political and social philosophy of life. No doubt they will make many mistakes. They must, for example, avoid being drawn into “single issue” voting. The folly of this became evident in the unfortunate support of officeholders whose voting record fit the litmus test of a few select items, but who proved themselves unworthy for office by their dishonesty and disgusting sexual offenses. Evangelicals need far greater sophistication in their political action. Certainly they need to make plain they are not seeking a theocratic kingdom or a return to the Massachusetts Bay Colony of three centuries ago. Fortunately, even the most extreme right among conservative evangelicals have stressed their commitment to basic freedoms.

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Again, evangelicals cannot allow themselves to be used as the tool of any particular party or candidate—whether from right, left, or middle. They must maintain their own integrity so they may be free to provide a moral and spiritual critique of all parties and all candidates.

And if the church as church and its ministers as ministers limit their emphasis to those political issues that involve moral and spiritual values, they can expect their voices to be heard and to be received with far greater effect. They must avoid pronouncing on every issue, particularly where they have no special expertise.

Evangelicals must also be careful not to neglect key issues they have stood for in the past. If they display an indifference to the rights of minority groups, to freedoms of speech and press and religion, to civil rights, and to just treatment of the poor, their moral hypocrisy will be evident. The Bible addresses itself to such issues, and so binds the evangelical conscience to serve God here. Moreover, if they fail to emphasize these broader requirements for just government, aligning themselves instead with only a few select issues, their very failure will draw just criticism to their position, and drive away many who see this inconsistency.

But if evangelicals seek the whole counsel of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and of our Lord Jesus Christ—they stand on the threshold of great opportunities that may never again open up in our generation.

Buffalo churches recently provided a model for effective church response to a community crisis. Following the murders of six blacks, fragile black-white unity threatened to shatter. However, both black and white churchmen pulled together to promote a Unity Day rally on the city square that led to further meetings on a regular basis (CT, Nov. 21, p. 52).

Moreover, some sectors of the church community built racial bridges even before matters reached a crisis stage. Beginning a year ago, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff member Clara Castro brought together predominantly black IVCF Buffalo chapters with predominantly white ones for periodic meetings. These links later proved especially helpful as Christian students dealt with the racial tensions. Indeed, students took the lead in the recent crisis.

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They actively promoted the Unity Day rally, and held biracial services around Buffalo. Members and pastors of various storefront and Pentecostal churches joined them. Castro, who also pastors a local black church, believes this visible unity had an impact on the entire city.

With a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and the economic frustration of blacks in the inner cities, America faces racial turmoil reminiscent of the 1960s. To forestall that, and to stimulate harmony and good will, black and white Christians need to awaken to each other and provide leadership like that shown in Buffalo.

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