I’ve spent a couple of posts criticizing one-sided or needlessly inflammatory portrayals of a Christian viewpoint, so I want to point out this post showing what a more nuanced perpective might look like. Gary Stern, religion reporter for the Westchester Journal News, has been blogging from the Religion Newswriters Association convention. He summarized a presentation by scholar D. Michael Lindsay on common myths about evangelicals:
—That they see themselves as a political force (they see themselves as a cultural movement).
—That theology drives their political agenda. Lindsay said: “Most evangelicals are like most Americans. They don’t know what they believe or why.”
—That they are all white suburbanites (when growing numbers are Hispanic or Asian).
—That “moral values” issues alone drive them. Evangelicals are becoming a force on international issues, he said.
—That they are all conservative. The truth, Lindsay said, is that they are all across the political board—but many have been turned off by the Democratic Party’s growing secular camp. Of course, Clinton, Obama and Edwards are trying to change this perception.
—That evangelicals are “poor, uneducated and easily led.” The truth, he said, is that evangelicals are increasingly wealthy and educated. And they know that they use the GOP and the GOP uses them.
In another post, Stern hears Hillary Clinton’s advisor on faith issues, Burns Strider:
Strider knows he’s going uphill, even as he insists that Hillary is a deeply religious Christian and has been her whole life.
“You’re talking about a tough sell,” he said. “I’m not denying it. It’s a challenge. But we’re working on it.”
But Strider insists that Protestants are taking real interest in issues other than abortion and homosexuality, issues like Darfur, AIDS, human trafficking, religious freedom internationally.
Strider obviously has a political agenda, but his comments show how the politics of religion can be made more constructive than they have been. Christians have certain goals in common with many Democrats, even liberals, just as they do with Republicans. They lose their independence as a religion and as a moral voice in society if they become enveloped by either party. But if political involvement is more fluid, we can work together on the issues that unite us rather than just bicker over what divides us. Secular people can do their part as well by avoiding stereotypes of conservative Christians.
I may not be a Christian, but from what I’ve heard about Jesus, I think he would approve.