Last week college economics professor David Brat trounced House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary for Virginia's seventh congressional district. Prognosticators thought that Brat, a favorite of Tea Party supporters, was a long shot. How could he win? Hadn’t the Tea Party been on the wane? Now, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson warns, the Tea Party “should no longer be thought of as just a faction of the GOP. It’s calling the shots.” What's clear is that Tea Party voters turn out in droves and care passionately about politics. Many of those Teapublicans are also fervent Christians of the evangelical stripe.
Last week, evangelical congregations across America began screening a documentary called The Stranger: Immigration, Scripture and the American Dream, produced by a group called the Evangelical Immigration Table. Among EIT's advocates are a host of uncommon bedfellows: Mathew Staver of the Liberty University School of Law and Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and popular pastors Max Lucado and Wilfredo de Jesús. Immigration reform has attracted such a spectrum of advocates that it shows how it is a fortuitous issue for American Protestants.
Jimmy Carter rode to the White House in 1976 on the twin currents of his reputation as a “New South” governor and a resurgence of progressive evangelicalism in the early 1970s. Progressive evangelicalism, which traces its lineage to 19th-century evangelicals and to the commands of Jesus to care for “the least of these,” represented a very different version of evangelical activism from that of the religious right.
“When I started out I was focused on whether God was or was not out there. Now I am much more comfortable with ambiguity.”
American evangelicals and mainliners often seem worlds apart when it comes to engagement with social issues. Take prisons as a case in point. The rhetoric diverges along the lines that one might expect: mainliners rail against the American mass incarceration system, the new Jim Crow that locks away minorities and the poor and is sustained by in-prison private labor and for-profit facilities. They want to fight this sinful system through activism (protests and petitions), academia (lectures and scholarly books), and artistic endeavors (photo essays and poetry). Evangelicals seek inmate conversion.
Be sure to read Amelia Thomson-Deveaux's article on the emerging evangelical-Catholic alliance over contraception. I think her historical analogy is entirely fair: evangelicals haven't always been opposed to contraception, but then they weren't always galvanized against abortion, either. And I appreciate that she doesn't simply endorse one of the two standard narratives on how evangelicals came to hate abortion—that either they came around to this opposition organically as they learned about the facts OR they were cynically manipulated by political operatives. There's truth in each of those stories; they aren't mutually exclusive.
States are backsliding one by one in allowing marijuana legalization, the president is comparing the drug to alcohol, and Christian Right stalwart Pat Robertson reversed his harsh views on weed—what’s an evangelical to do in these high times? Are evangelicals undergoing a sea change in their thought about marijuana usage? Maybe. Or maybe not.
Afterwards, Larry Engel thanked Mike Breininger for running a productive meeting. Breininger was startled: "I don't recall a liberal pastor ever complimenting me."
The scene at the Church of the Reformation several weeks ago—just a couple blocks from the U. S. Capitol—was a mixture of resolve and celebration, equal parts political rally and family reunion. People milled about on the front steps posing for photographs, greeting old friends and making new acquaintances.