As I listened to Pastor Bill Tvedt on the radio this morning, my spirit was moved.
The conservative evangelical told NPR’s David Greene that all members of the Jubilee Family Church in Oskaloosa, Iowa, vote. It is part of their religious mission and platform, Tvedt said. It is the way to best represent their faith. He added that he encourages his members to vote for the candidate that reflects ‘biblical values.’
This last statement piqued my interest. I know exactly what ‘biblical values’ are. The Christian Right has long supported candidates who are anti-abortion, against same sex marriage, and who will govern with the Bible’s teachings in mind. Yet this definition of values, in my view, is the thing that has always contradicted itself. Who are Evangelical, right-wing Christians to define God’s values?
Apparently this is a question more and more Republicans are now asking. Pastor Tvedt told NPR that ever since the George W. Bush administration made Christian Evangelism a major factor in its decision making (and thus, launched a very unpopular and costly war against Islamic fundamentalists in in Iraq and Afghanistan), the Republican party has been quietly moving away from the traditional evangelical platform.
Other tenets of conservatism are falling by the wayside as well. Gay marriage is the No. 1 factor driving traditional Republicans away from the Christian Right. The law of the land simply does not make the rights of married heterosexuals more important than that of gays.
Immigration may eventually become the next factor. Many of these immigrant children and their parents are not being treated the way Jesus would do. Additionally, the American economy needs this labor source to keep food and clothing costs low, as well as to pay social security taxes. And let’s not forget Latino Catholic voters. They may believe in Jesus’ teachings, and even be pro-life, but they still want their families to be united and have safe passage across the border.
It’s as if someone (perhaps a divine entity?) has untied the strings that once secured Ronald Reagan’s Big Tent GOP platform. Those ties were fragile to begin with. Still the canvas is coming down hard on traditional evangelicals.
So which political party best considers the values of right-wing Christians in America? One could argue that the Tea Party does this. However, I suspect there is division between the Christian and Libertarian factions of the party itself.
Christian Evangelicals want to do whatever is needed to protect the US relationship with Israel, even if that means continued war with the Islamic State. Libertarians, I suspect, have a more of an isolationist view of foreign policy. As a result, the big tent of the Tea Party will likely never be raised off the ground either.
Does this mean that Evangelism is losing influence? No. I would argue that it is the definition of an Evangelical that is actually being evolved. People like Bill Tvedt can no longer define what is of value in our global society. There are simply too many people, a silent majority, who have values too. Strong ones at that.
The biggest headline from the pulpit this week was not how God is (barely) giving America Ebola as punishment for gay marriage, etc. Rather, Pope Francis told his billions of followers that Evolution and the Big Bang were real. God does not have a magic wand, the Pope said.
Even to the least devout believer, this is the very definition of heresy.
Or is it?
Pope Francis represents the rise of what I call the Evangelical Liberal. They may not have a cable channel or even a headcount. They don’t have a university in Virginia. Nor do they boycott the funerals of Conservative Christians to bring awareness to their cause. What Evangelical Liberals share, however, is a passion for peace and quality of life.
Evangelical Liberals quietly, and pragmatically study their spiritual paths, meditate, contemplate, and listen to the opinions and beliefs of God and others. They also, most importantly, respect the findings of science that has evolved. These findings, they conclude, are part of the extensive miracle works provided on earth by God.
When I google the phrase Evangelical Liberal, more than a million results pop up. Some references are simply the Evangelical Left.
A well established and very popular blog by writer Harvey Cox clearly defines The Evangelical Liberal:
“Doctrinal statements aren’t really what it’s all about,” Cox writes. “What counts, to paraphrase the apostle Paul, is a changed life – a life of commitment to reality and to love.
“It doesn’t really matter a hill of beans whether you accept a particular theory of the atonement or favor a particular version of End Times theology, so long as you have love.”
It is an absolutely perfect and beautiful sentiment. If a political action committee or lobbying group existed to conduct a poll, I suspect Mr. Cox’s creed would wildly supported.
As evidenced by the rabid debate between HBO host Bill Mahrer, actor Ben Affleck, and former Christian-now Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, the murderous nature of religious fundamentalists among Arab and Muslim nations is simply not sustainable. Whether we like it or not, it is up to secular Muslims and even Western Liberals, to take a stand and rise against this horrific outlier.
At the same time, Evangelical Liberals must continue to speak out against the oppressive, intolerant, and extremely harmful nature of traditional Christian Evangelicals, and the politicians, and fringe groups they support. The Right to Life, and others, movement has lobbied for laws and policies that deprive middle-class and poor Americans healthcare. The National Rifle Association upports a massive lobbying campaign that has allowed public school children to be massacred 87 times since the Sandy Hook shootings. Like it or not, these aspects the traditional Evangelical are violent and horrific outliers as well.
Respectful and spiritual people can embrace a life purpose that supports all of God’s hopes for mankind. To care for our world and its environment. To respect and protect each other. To give each child a healthy, loving and well-informed life. To hold one another accountable with a firm, but kind heart. To treat ourselves and others with the same love, respect and admiration defined by Christ, Buddha, Allah, and Yahwey, among others.
To embrace a peaceful, and sustainable quality of life. This is a Evangelical rise I hope you, and I, can pray for. Amen.