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Is there an evangelical center?

Posted by Chance on January 12, 2008

Jim Wallis and Ron Sider are famous names in evangelical left circles. Jim Wallis is author of God’s Politics and is part of the group Sojourners, and Sider wrote Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. The Evangelical Christian Left is a group that has been growing recently, or, maybe it is the same size but I am just now aware of it.

My problem with both is that they seem to insist that they belong to either some group in the middle or some kind of group that consists of both Republican and Democratic elements.

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to labels, the lack of a label is not an issue, it is mislabeling. Labeling itself is not all that important. I don’t say in each post I am conservative or limited-government conservative or libertarian conservative. The beliefs are more important than what those beliefs are labeled. However, if I was to say in this blog that I am somehow a moderate or that I am even liberal that would be mislabeling. Either I would be confused or be disingenuous.

In his blog, Wallis repeats one of his famous mantras, “God is not a Republican or Democrat”. And I think the statement is true in the sense that we can’t try to fit God into our own or any other political system. But I wonder if Wallis even believes this himself. A look at his writings and his friends reveals a political agenda that is overwhelmingly Democrat. And that’s fine – that’s how they believe, but I feel that Wallis tries to portray himself and the Sojourners as something they are not. No doubt, Wallis wants the same thing that many on the Evangelical Right do. But politics is almost all about the methods, and Wallis favors those on the left.

In one of the rare instances I watch PBS, I happened to catch Bill Moyers Journal where the topic was Christians United for Israel. Moyers showed video segments of John Hagee and other conservative Christians sharing their support for Israel. Moyers had a sit down with Ron Sider, mentioned previously, and M.J. Rosenberg, Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum. Interestingly enough, Moyers didn’t interview any of the conservative Christians he had spent so much time talking about. Sider was talking about the shift of politics within the Christian population, but he mentioned that people were moving from the Christian right to the “Evangelical Center.” From the transcript

BILL MOYERS: How many evangelicals are there in this country?

RON SIDER: Oh– you know, with different polls and different studies that say different things. But a quarter of the American voters. Eighty, 90 million people. It’s a huge segment. What’s emerging in the present time, and it’s huge in terms of change and impact, is that there’s an evangelical center emerging. You know, the stereotype was that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, you know, the religious right represented the evangelical world. They never did. But now we’ve got a– an evangelical center emerging that is much, much broader. It’s saying that faithful evangelical civic engagement must have a biblically balanced agenda. And that means you’ve gotta be concerned about sanctity of human life but also the poor. With the family but also with racial justice and creation care.

This is a sensible viewpoint, but where is this “Evangelical Center”? I have no doubt that there are some politically moderate Christians, but for the most part Christians are either primarily on the right or on the left. It is almost uncanny, but the more a Christian talks about using the government to care for the poor and needy, the more likely they are to be pro-choice. I’m not saying that should be the case, but that is the way it is, at least in my observations. People typically do embrace one side of the aisle or another. Either Sider is seeing something I’m not, or he truly thinks the “Evangelical Left” truly is the “Evangelical Center.” Based upon this article he wrote though, maybe it is the former.

I think both of these men are good people. Maybe Wallis truly believes that his political beliefs actually fall outside the Republican/Democrat dichotomy. I think his writings say otherwise. Sider could actually be correct in his view of the emergence of an “Evangelical Center.” It’s just not anything I’m seeing. It could be that the political landscape leaves no choice but to latch on to one part or the other. But I tend to think that people cling to one side or the other for the same reason we have the emergence of the two parties we do. There are fundamental philosophical differences between the two groups, even within Christianity.

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2 Responses to “Is there an evangelical center?”

  1. Lee said

    I cannot speak for Sider, but I’ll be honest that I hold Wallis’ political intentions with a bit of skepticism.

    I think that he less wants Evangelicals out of the political realm, and more that he wants to lead a Christian/evangelical movement, with him as a left-wing Falwell doppleganger.

  2. Chance said

    I would agree as well. He compared himself with Falwell (whom he spoke of very respectfully after his death) and said they both wanted religion in the public square, but just disagreed in the manner.

    I do hold Sider in higher esteem, simply because he is what he says he is…someone who holds beliefs from both parties (even if his only right-wing thing was being pro-life, that is significant).

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