Nearly two months ago—on May 22, to be precise—the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., held a meeting on "Evangelicals and Political Engagement: Assessing the Past, Scouting the Future." The political scientist and master interpreter of survey data, John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron, led off with a paper on "Evangelicals and Civic Engagement: A View from (near) the Top." That was followed by the main event, pitting columnist Cal Thomas against Focus on the Family's VP of Public Policy, Tom Minnery, authors of dueling books on the subject. (Thomas' coauthor was Ed Dobson, a refugee from the Land of Falwell who repents of his former ways). The debate sputtered, in part because "political involvement" was never clearly defined and thus real differences were never substantively and clearly articulated—Thomas' passion surfaced in recurring complaints that James Dobson has repeatedly refused to meet personally with him to air their differences, an issue that hardly seemed relevant to the question at hand—but the conversation caught fire around a slightly different but important subject: how a pastor, in his role as preacher and not considered as a private citizen, should or should not speak to political issues from the pulpit.

I have been thinking about that debate-that-wasn't off and on ever since, wondering what form a real debate on the subject might take. It's a puzzle because I have a hard time imagining how one would go about building a case that Christians should shun political involvement across the board. (I know that various Christians have held that view over the centuries in many different times and places. I guess I should have said, ...

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