CHRISTIANITY TODAY presents a referendum that should help Christians clarify their stand on many issues.

Remember 1976, the “year of the evangelical”? That was the year evangelicals exulted in born-again Jimmy Carter’s election to the presidency, the year they put up their feet and said, “Well, it’s about time the world took notice of us.” They basked in all the exposure they were getting.

Now it is 1980, another election year. All three presidential candidates claim some sort of born-again status. Evangelicals generally have higher visibility in the news media, though commentators still scratch their heads at their “fundamentalist” zeal, and some continue to stereotype the evangelical as one who is unconcerned about social and political issues.

Evangelicals certainly are not all cut from the same cookie cutter. They are committed to the final infallible authority of the Bible. They profess absolute allegiance to the lordship of Jesus Christ. They believe in righteousness and justice. Many of them believe that the U.S. has traveled far down the primrose path to moral and social decadence. They trumpet a clarion call to repentance and renewed dedication to the good. But they don’t agree on what path will take us most readily there.

1980 could well be called the year of the right-wing religious lobby. Best known are Moral Majority, headed by Jerry Falwell, and Christian Voice, headed by Robert Grant, with their millions of followers. Their mission? To clean up America by getting moral values back into government, schools, and families—a lofty goal, one that evangelicals heartily espouse.

We support the vigorous stand these lobbies fake for what is right and their deep commitment to social and political change. As Christians, they are involved; they refuse to opt out of the human race. They recognize that evangelicals, too, have an earthly citizenship with responsibilities to take social and political action for the welfare of their fellow citizens. They take seriously the causes of national righteousness and justice.

This flurry of evangelical political activity, particularly by these lobbies, has provoked us to ask a number of questions pertaining to Christain faith and politics. The CHRISTIANITY TODAY editors put together a little referendum and we give readers our results. Compare them with yours.

Do Christians really care about the moral decline in our society—the breakdown of the family, the rise of secular humanism, dishonesty in government, the onslaught of pornography, homosexual practice, free and easy abortion, social injustice, the exploitation of minorities and the poor, televised sex and violence, increasing drug usage and addiction, and government intrusion into the affairs of private schools and churches? ☒ Yes  No

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Unanimity among Christians is hard to find, either in politics or theology. But we think all Christians can agree with this list of moral concerns and many more. We stand together, too, in solid support of Evangelicals for Social Action in their call for evangelicals to take a biblically informed approach to politics. The ESA statement published in this issue reminds us of certain Christian givens: The family is a divinely willed institution. Every human life is sacred. Religious and political freedom are God-given inalienable rights. God and his obedient people have a special concern for the poor. He requires just economic patterns in society. He requires Christians to be peacemakers. He requires stewardship of the earth’s resources. Sin really is both personal and social. Personal integrity is vital.

Moral Majority and Christian Voice appear to emphasize the first three of these ESA principles more than the others. The Bible deals with all of them. In fact, probably more space in the Bible is devoted to calls for justice and the care for the poor than to the fact that human life is sacred, though none can deny that both are biblical mandates. The concerns of the religious lobbies will appeal to a broader range of Christians to the extent that they emphasize these other equally biblical principles of justice, peace, stewardship of our resources, and care for the poor, as well as profamily and prolife issues. It is a case of “these ye ought to do but not to leave the others undone.” Too narrow a front in battling for a moral crusade, or for a truly biblical involvement in politics, could be disastrous. It could lead to the election of a moron who holds the right view on abortion.

Do evangelicals and religious lobbies have the right to organize? ☒ Yes  No

Of course, they do. And it’s about time evangelicals exercised that right. For too many years they have shied away from political activity, while National Council of Churches lobbyists and liberals in mainstream denominations pressed for their own humanistic platforms. No one should be surprised at or disturbed by the formation and increasing influence of conservative religious lobbies. It’s not the ones who complain about moral decadence who have influence in Congress, it’s the ones who do something about it. Politically active evangelicals are simply striving for the good of their fellow citizens.

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Are all evangelicals necessarily politically conservative? □ Yes ☒ No

Ask Mark Hatfield that question. Or Jimmy Carter. Or John Anderson. Or anyone who reads Sojourners, The Other Side, the Wittenburg Door, the Church Herald, or the Christian Leader. “All evangelicals” agree on very few things, but at least they agree on the most important things: in one God who in Christ chose to invade our planet in order to redeem men from sin and its consequences; the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross as the means by which God himself completely settled the score of man’s sin; his own sovereign role as the Supreme Judge of all the universe; the need for a personal relationship with God through faith in Christ; and the call of every Christian to discipleship and a life of sacrificial love in service to God and our fellow men. Everything else is application and secondary—even politics. Differences among Christians over fine points of theology or politics should be welcomed as a sign of breadth and vitality, not of weakness.

But there are differences in viewpoints. We insist that it is possible for an evangelical who believes in the inerrant authority of Scripture to be a political moderate, or even a liberal.

Is there only one “Christian” position to take on each of today’s complex issues? □ Yes ☒ No

We get the impression that some evangelical lobbies on the political right, as well as liberal lobbies on the left, want us to believe that theirs is the only truly Christian position on all issues. How can a policy board of evangelical Christians, without access to vast amounts of intricate political data, emerge from a meeting and announce that it has arrived at the Christian or moral position on lifting sanctions against Zimbabwe, for example? Or how can its opposite number, a body of liberal theologians, demand the reverse as the Christian position?

Surely it is possible for people to arrive at what they feel is a biblical position on Zimbabwe, or disarmament, or the Panama Canal. While the Bible was never intended to be an economics textbook or a foreign policy manual, it still gives clear principles that we can apply to the issues of the world around us. But even if we all see these principles with scintillating clarity and accuracy, they must be applied to the present world situations—the complex personal and institutional life as it is organized and lived on planet earth.

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The Bible isn’t always explicitly clear on how its principles are to be understood and applied to every specific issue. These applications are not always divinely given in the Word of God. Our best efforts to be biblical and moral on current political, social, and economic issues are still limited, very fallible human applications of the infallible Scripture. We must be prepared to recognize, therefore, that sincere and conscientious Christians may apply these principles in different and sometimes opposite ways. Recognizing the diversity in the body of Christ, Christians must allow for these differences in application of God’s truth.

The political presence and influence of contemporary evangelicals is good and must be commended: first, because they are concerned about moral issues and national righteousness and justice; second, because they are concerned about social and political choices and recognize the responsibility of Christians to be informed, to hold opinions, and to express openly their viewpoint; and third, because they are doing something about their convictions so as to get action and work for man’s good. All this is not only consistent with biblical and evangelical Christianity, it is demanded if we are to be guided by the clear instructions of Holy Scripture. As good disciples we must take seriously the lordship of Jesus Christ over every aspect of human thought and life, including man’s political life, and we must function as Christian citizens of the state.

But we must also warn the new evangelical activists of serious dangers that beset their path as leaders of the people. It will not do, for example, to focus upon a single issue, or even two or three so-called moral issues. In today’s world, not one issue, but many, are important to the welfare of our society. It is more important to secure responsible political leaders of intelligence, deep moral commitment, political wisdom, and administrative skills than those who simply vote “right” on one or two, or even fourteen favorite issues. For the good of our nation, we must exercise a broader vision.

Likewise, we must warn against what often appear as simple solutions to the problems of America. We live in a terribly complex society. Rarely are neat, pat answers the best solutions to the intricate social, political, and economic problems of the world. It is all too easy to shut our eyes to the complexities of a problem, opt for superficial slogans, and join a noisy but unthinking crowd following a popular religious crusade.

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Thoughtful Christians will be wary of such Pied Pipers. Uncritical support is unworthy of the Christian citizen who seeks righteousness and justice, for it is destructive of the good of society. Something that appears to be an easy answer for a complex problem of society often brings untold harm.

America today does not need shrill emotional cries, even from religious leaders of the right or the left, for this or that panacea or cure for all our national and international problems. America needs thoughtful, prayerful Christian citizens who choose to vote responsibly for leaders of moral integrity and sheer honesty, leaders who love justice, have the courage to do the right even at the cost of popularity, understand complex domestic and foreign issues, and appreciate the significance of underlying moral and spiritual values. We must find such leaders, work to get them elected, and then trust them and pray for them. Remember the ancient wisdom: people generally get the government they demand and deserve.

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