Perkins: Evangelicals facing new issues

by Katherine Kipp, posted Tuesday, April 01, 2008 (10 years ago)

WASHINGTON (BP)--Conservative evangelical Christians continue to influence government policies, but they also are facing the challenge of responding to additional issues, pro-family leaders said in a National Press Club panel discussion.

Speaking on whether religious conservatives have lost their clout, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said they have not.

"Religious right and evangelical, social conservatives are having a pronounced impact on the shaping of the policy in this country," he said. "I think evangelical, Bible-believing Christians who are concerned about their community and their country have always had a broad perspective of the issues.

"It's just that the issues are changing, and [evangelicals] are working through trying to come up with responses to those issues," Perkins said.

Those issues include the "value of life, immigration, poverty and justice, racial reconciliation, religious liberties, rebuilding the family, the environment and global warming," said Harry Jackson, chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham, Md.

Jackson and Perkins were joined in the panel discussion by Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners. The March 12 exchange focused on ideas in a new book coauthored by Jackson and Perkins, "Private Faith, Public Policy."

"Historically, the white-led evangelical church in America has been focused on righteousness issues —- issues that deal with same-sex marriage, abortion and have a lot to do with our personal relationship with God," Jackson said. "The black-led church in America has oftentimes been occupied with justice issues -- the fact that poverty and other issues ... concern us and we've had to fight our way through over the last centuries in being equally understood. But, it looks like both of these parties have been polarized. My point was righteousness and justice, the Bible says, are the foundation of God's throne."

Jackson said the evangelical community's priorities entail more than "just a push for public policy. There is great depth in personal commitment and involvement in trying to solve these issues. We should continue, we should do more, but we should not be afraid to talk about it."

Rodriguez said he believes a demographic shift is taking place in the evangelical world. He calls it "browning" -- a move away from evangelicalism as a predominantly white movement to a community encompassing more Hispanics and African Americans.

In continuing to work with the religious right and public policy, Rodriguez said, "We want to be able to prophetically address both parties, and not from a driven social, political worldview but from a biblical worldview. That's where I believe the agenda is going to shift. I believe the future of American evangelicalism will not be left or right, but will be centered."

Wallis, emphasizing the importance of evangelicals in this election year, said, "Red and blue, left and right are not biblical categories; they are political ones, and religious people don't easily fit the labels, nor should we. Nor should we be squeezed into them… God is not a Republican or Democrat, and people of faith should be in the pocket of no political party."

Poverty has not become a main concern of the religious right, Wallis said, but it along with environmental issues should be added to "same-sex marriage" and abortion, two major concerns of the church for years. Wallis said he struggles to understand why the religious left is more concerned with health care and jobs than the religious right.

Perkins, who has attempted to gain passage of federal legislation to change abortion and health care laws, noted, "The founders had a priority when they put in the preamble in the Declaration [of Independence that] we're endowed by our Creator with certain rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They put life first. Obviously if we don't have life, nothing else matters."


Katherine Kipp is an intern in the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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