What is the worst misconception about evangelicals?

The most common is that evangelicals are primarily motivated by a political agenda. But to a certain extent, this media perception is a natural response to some actions of the evangelical movement. Politics may not be the core of evangelical identity. But when you look like a duck and quack like a duck, you should not be surprised if people say you're a duck.

Why do media quote evangelical spokesmen who many evangelicals do not identify with?

The media like to quote people who have a catchy turn of phrase and will say something dramatic. That's what evangelical spokesmen do for a living, to get their radio listeners motivated not just on political issues but also to send in money. You don't get people to support a ministry by saying nice, calming things and telling them that all is well in the world. You sound the alarm. This adapts very well to politics.

Can evangelicals play the political game and still maintain a credible distance?

Integrity comes in when deciding which positions to champion. Are they calculated to win elections, or do they bring the gospel to bear on issues important to Christians? That is where the fault line runs through the evangelical movement. Those who say evangelicals need to limit the agenda argue that it's easier to keep people focused and engaged if you stick to emotionally charged, proven issues. In my mind, it's a purely political calculus. Certainly it's going to be harder to keep Christians engaged on a broader range of issues. But then again, what is the purpose of evangelicals being in the public square?

Will evangelicals remain noteworthy even if their political power wanes?

Their influence will ebb and flow. That's part of what happens when you become engaged in the political process. You don't always win. And if you hook your star to one party, when that party is out of power, you're not going to get as many White House invitations. That doesn't expose some anti-religious bias in the country. That's just a part of what happens when you get involved in the street brawl we call politics.

How do you see the evangelical movement maturing?

The easiest place to see that is in the political realm. Maturation in that realm is reflected as evangelicals have abandoned the all-or-nothing approach to politics and as they have become willing to work with people they don't agree with theologically or on a number of other issues. That maturity is fairly recent. You didn't see that in the era of the [fundamentalists'] second-degree separation.

Related Elsewhere:

Believers is available through Amazon.com and other booksellers.

See also today's review of Believers.

Jeffery Sheler's website has more information about Believers, his book Is the Bible True? and his other work.

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly has an excerpt of Believers.