Although the United States is in a Republican era, in which the majority is culturally conservative, the people last night voted in Democratic majorities to governorships, the House, and perhaps the Senate. Like most complex events, this one has multiple causes. The issues were less local and more national. The people rejected the war in Iraq (but not in Afghanistan). The people seemed to want less unilateralism in international affairs, less budget deficit and trade deficit, less pork in our legislation, and less hubris, arrogance, power-lust, partisanship, and corruption in our leaders; and they wanted more good jobs, health care, truth, principle, and competent government.
The pre-election campaign exposed evangelical Christianity's fading influence in the Republican Party and in the nation. David Kuo's Tempting Faith revealed that the actual influence of evangelicals in the government was more image than reality. While some Republican leaders cultivated evangelical votes, the former White House staffer reported, they also ridiculed evangelical ideas and leaders. In the campaign, evangelicals were seldom visibleexcept in relation to Abramoff, Cunningham, DeLay, Foley, Haggard, and other public scandals.
We may, of course, ignore the insights of 2006. Or we could reflect, repent, and rethink our witness in this land. Consider the following two-plank platform.
First, we could repent of our monogamous alliance with the Republican Party and encourage evangelicals to become involved with Democrats. Biblical Christians are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; there never was biblical warrant for disengaging from the half of the population called Democrats. We are called to love Democrats as well as Republicans, to support their causes that are congruent with Scripture, and to reach Democrats as well as Republicans. From the 1700s until the late 1970s (from the traditions of Wesley, Wilberforce, Finney, and others), evangelical Christians strived, in cooperation with many parties and movements, to end slavery and to advance many humane causesas evangelical Christians continue to do in many nations today. We could recover our tradition's full social power.
Second, we could recover, and champion, Christianity's full ethic. Most Americans would assume, from listening to public evangelicals, that the biblical social vision is limited to concerns about abortion, homosexual marriage, and evolution. For our sake and the nation's, let's allow society in on the larger revealed ethic that Jesus mandated his disciples "to obey" (Matt. 28:20).
Jesus' ethic, for instance, stands powerfully against war and all forms of violence; because his kingdom is "not of this world," he said his servants must not fight (John 18:36). Many pagans know that Jesus taught nonviolent love; our acquiescence to the current war of choice in Iraq has undermined evangelical credibility with millions of people.
Again, people know that Jesus taught us to "love your enemies" (Matt. 5:44). It doesn't take much brainpower to reason that, whatever else the command means, it undoubtedly implies that we are not to torture or abuse your enemies! Our reluctance to speak prophetically against prisoner abuse, and the astonishing denial by some evangelical leaders that it has ever happened, undermines our credibility with millions of people.
Yet again, we are the people who are supposed to know that all people are our brothers and sisters, they matter to God, and Christ died for them. While we are called to love our country and its people, we have no business cooperating with nation-state idolatry (which, like gluttony, is too much of a good thing), or with the corollary assumption that "we" matter more than "they" do.
Many American evangelicals have forgotten that other Americans, who belong to another political party, are our brothers and sisters. The world now follows our politics on television. As the world's peoples observe the deceitful, "Swift-Boating," character-assassinating campaign tactics that now pass for "the American (political) way," the American democratic experiment is perceived, less and less, as a model for other nations to copy. If evangelical Christians do not call campaign obscenity by its right name, and intervene in campaigns whenever necessary, who will?
Space does not permit an extended reflection on "the weightier matters" of Christianity's ethic. Scripture stands strongly on the side of justice, peace, reconciliation, and health--including the health of creation. Some evangelicals have been strangely mute on the social ethic of God's kingdom; the world might not even know, from us, what it would look like if the will of God were done "on earth, as in heaven." The prophets were more than predictors of the future; they were revealers of God's purposes for his people, the nation, and the earth's peoples. And Jesus did much more than provide the way to heaven; he also taught and showed people how to live and what kind of world he wants.
The shifting times suggest that many of us are called to become "oxymorons" Christian evangelical Democrats. Two obstacles, however, seem to stop evangelicals in their tracks when they consider this possibility.
First, many evangelicals experience distress bordering on trauma at the thought of associating with the "lunatic fringe" of the Democratic Party. I sympathize, but those people often need Christian friends and invitations to follow Christ. I experience discomfort at the thought of associating with Klansmen and other "flat earth" people who attach to the Republican Party, until I remember they may need Christian friends and redemption. In either direction, "politics makes strange bedfellows." If we are salt and light people, however, there is no valid reason to avoid the fringe folkswhen we remember that, in them, Jesus meets us anew (Matt. 25:40).
Second, many evangelicals are more comfortable in the company of Republicans than Democrats, because Republicans seem to profess religion in greater numbers. That is probably true, but please reconsider Jesus' parable in Matthew 21. A man asked his two sons to work in the vineyard. One son said he would not, but he did; the other son said he would, but he did not. Jesus then posed a rhetorical question that has exposed the "lip service" fallacy ever since. "Which of the two did the will of his father?" I am, on most days, an evangelical Democrat because the Republicans are often like the second son, and the Democrats like the first.
George G. Hunter III is Beeson Distinguished Professor of Evangelization at Asbury Theological Seminary and the author of Christian, Evangelical, and Democrat? (Abingdon Press, 2006). This article, as with all "Speaking Out" pieces, does not necessarily represent the views of Christianity Today.
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Hunter's Christian, Evangelical, and Democrat? is available from ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
See today's other commentary on the election, "Faith-Based Triangulation | Religious moderates propelled the Democrats to victory" by Joseph Loconte.
Christianity Today editors liveblogged the election results.
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