Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A new liberal Christian group announced its entry into the national political debate yesterday as a voice to “reclaim” Christianity, the latest in a line of Democrat-leaning organizations trying to fight the conservative political message of prominent evangelical leaders.

But unlike other groups, the Christian Alliance for Progress does not think Democrats need to alter their message to appeal to religious conservative voters. Rather, the group’s leaders said they want to present a biblical justification for socially liberal positions.

“The language spoken by the religious right is Christian. Our view is, this requires a Christian response,” said Patrick Mrotek, the group’s founder, at the National Press Club in Washington yesterday.

The alliance, based in Jacksonville, Fla., wants to go head-to-head with conservative Christian figures such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson, arguing that the Gospel calls for liberal policies.

“Jesus said that your spirituality goes through the front door of your neighbor. If your neighbor doesn’t have health care and you’ve got it, you need to be working to see to it that the same advantage that has accrued to yourself also accrues to this other person,” said Rev. Timothy F. Simpson, the group’s director of religious affairs and a Presbyterian pastor. “That’s how you test your ethics, that’s how you test your spirituality.”

The group also specifically supports abortion rights and homosexual “marriage,” arguing that the latter is part of a biblical call for equality and justice. And they said progressive politics used to be linked with evangelical Christianity.

“If you look back on the history of American fundamentalism, 30, 40 years ago there were plenty of moderate folks theologically and politically in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mr. Simpson said, also pointing to William Jennings Bryan’s “railing against the corporate interests” as an example of progressive Christian activism.

Evangelical voters were credited with helping President Bush and Republicans to solid victories in November’s election, and with helping pass referendums in states across the country codifying the definition of marriage.

In the months since, some Democrats said their party needed to craft a message to attract those voters. The book “God’s Politics” by Jim Wallis, arguing that Democrats must adjust, was among the most popular reads for Washington politicos earlier this year.

But Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said those groups have not made a dent in evangelical Christians’ political backing of Republicans.

“What I’ve seen is the opposite,” he said, adding that evangelical voters have also remained much more engaged since November’s election.

He also said neither Republican or Democrats have a lock on evangelical voters — “It’s really not about labels, it’s about really the issue.

“For an organization created under a new name to reach a particular group with the same worn-out policy positions that have been rejected by values voters is not going to get them anywhere,” he said.

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