A recent cover story in Newsweek discussed the "politics of Jesus" and how the so-called "religious right" has been maturing into a more broad-based evangelical movement. One of the hallmarks of this new movement is supposed to be the group's philosophy that moves outside "sins of the flesh" politics, i.e., focusing on gay marriage, pornography, etc., to include other important issues like Darfur, global AIDS, and poverty.
In many ways, I think Newsweek's story is catching up, several years late, to something that has been happening among evangelicals in my generation for many years, now. On one hand, we grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when evangelicals were, in many ways, still seen as a lunatic fringe of religious fanatics.
Of course, in the rural enclave of the hills of East Tennessee, that didn't matter much. I grew up being taught to memorize Bible verses, to pledge allegiance to the Christian and American flags -- and to the Bible.
Everyone I knew either attended church or made excuses for why they didn't. Mine was a world not far removed from a sense of Christendom that Christians in Europe must have felt a thousand years ago.
But a lot has changed between then and now. Ten years ago, my home denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, was not far from a boycott against the Walt Disney Corporation because of its addition, to its corporate benefits package, of insurance and vacation time for domestic partners. Ten years ago, our nation had yet to endure two years of a blue dress and "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
Now, an evangelical has been in the White House for six years. Today, the Southern Baptists have elected a President who says, "I believe the Bible, I'm just not mad about it."
What does all this mean for people in my generation? We have sought to deepen evangelical worship and doctrine, with adaptations of liturgy and delving into weighty theological matters that have seldom been trod by our doctrinal forebears. But in all of this, we have yet to make a political commitment.
Many young evangelicals seem tempted to return to our days of political non-participation. Instead of being involved in the highest levels of power, they say, we should return to our Bibles, to our churches, and to our accountability groups. Power corrupts, and besides, politics will never change someone's heart.
At the same time, however, there are some who cannot read the Sermon on the Mount without feeling a holy call to change hearts and then change the world.
Is there room, then, for genuine, life-changing Christian outreach in the cut-throat world of politics? Can we follow the trail of angry, often bitter fellow-believers who blazed the trail into politics, without becoming tainted with their rhetoric and vitriol?
And how can we ally ourselves with libertarians and business-people who's real politick seems to threaten the koinonia that we seek and the agape love that we strive to live?
Can we be pro-life and pro-poor?
LISTENING TO: Election results coverage