- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The bond between the Republican Party and white, conservative Christians is so strong that other Americans often think of them as synonymous. Yet a document circulating among evangelicals warns that being too enmeshed in partisan politics could undermine Christians’ moral agenda as they seek to become even more engaged in civic affairs.

“What they’re trying to say is, ‘Don’t link the Christian message with a party, so that people link your religion with a political ideology,’” said Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Washington think tank. “They’re warning, ‘Don’t confuse the Gospel with a political movement.’”

The National Association of Evangelicals has released the draft statement, titled “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.”

Written by a team of evangelical leaders, and under review by top Christian thinkers, the document is part of a multiyear project mapping out a strategy for future political involvement. It will be presented to the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals in October, and a book on the subject is scheduled to be released next year.

The authors of the draft statement encourage evangelicals to join political parties but caution that “they must be careful not to equate Christian faith with partisan politics.”

The drafters also advise against unquestioning patriotism, saying Christians “must keep their eyes open to the potentially self-destructive tendencies of our society and our government.”

“They’re not arguing that individual level partisanship is necessarily a bad thing,” said John Green, a University of Akron political scientist and observer of religion and politics. “They’re warning against the overidentification — not of people but of the evangelical community — with the Republican Party.”

Mr. Green said evangelicals are much more diverse than most people realize, and the document shows that.

The statement explores a range of evangelical views on issues such as U.S. trade policy, environmental protection, abortion and homosexual “marriage.” Some of the policy goals — such as reducing global poverty and providing proper health care and education for all Americans — could fit with either major party platform.

“There is broad agreement that it is our obligation to care for the poor. There’s broad agreement that it is our obligation to care for the environment. But there are disagreements about what responsibility to give to the government,” said Diane Knippers, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, and a leader of the evangelical project.

The Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a Washington advocacy group that has been critical of the Christian right, called the document “a recognition of reality” about uncomfortably close ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party.

“My own experience is that scores of people in the evangelical tradition have long resented the rhetoric of their leaders indicating an affinity only for the Republican Party,” said Mr. Gaddy, who is a Baptist.

But Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptists’ public policy arm, said the Democratic Party has to bear some blame for any Republican tilt.

According to a poll released in April by U.S. News & World Report and PBS’ “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly,” 69 percent of white evangelicals say they are Republican or lean Republican.

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