Progressive Evangelicals: Bipartisan Conciliation or Moral Concession?

In a move to reach out to progressive evangelicals, Barack Obama extended an olive branch to Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to speak at today’s presidential inauguration.

Significantly, Warren and Obama differ on two vitriolic issues: homosexual marriage and abortion. Already, Warren’s selection has provoked the ire of several liberal organizations, some of which refuse even to attend the inauguration. To his credit, however, Obama realizes that he needs the support of evangelicals if the Democratic party –and the nation– is to press forward in its social agenda.

Evangelicals, too, understand that a Republican majority, while favorable, is not sufficient to permanently advance its socially conservative agenda. There are certainly areas for evangelicals and liberals to reach a common ground, especially on issues that do not stir the waters of abortion or same-sex marriage. But compromise in the former does not oblige evangelicals to reciprocate in the latter.

Arguably, there needs to be bipartisan cooperation in advancing a unified agenda. Republicans and Democrats both desire to recession-proof the economy, strengthen social justice, and secure our national borders. While the means of accomplishing such goals will vary, Republicans and Democrats needn’t be seen as strange bedfellows. Best epitomized was the national and bipartisan cohesion after the September 11th terrorists attacks.

But unilateral cooperation must be measured with a healthy dose of caution, especially with the emergent group of progressive evangelicals who are concerned about the environment, AIDS and education. Emphasis toward such laudable goals should not come at the expense of relinquishing the protection of the unborn or ceding ground to same-sex marriage proponents – basic bedrocks of the evangelical movement.

By focusing on the “important” issues of the current generation, Obama managed to sweep nearly a third of white evangelicals between 18 and 31 years old – double what John Kerry attained in the 2004 presidential election. The problem for conservatives is that by putting tangential goals (e.g. global warming) in the forefront, progressive evangelicals are side-tracked into supporting an underlying liberal agenda. In other words, social conservatives win the battle but lose the war.

Rick Warren’s speech should certainly be viewed as one step forward for the progressive evangelical movement. But given that Obama stands diametrically opposite to evangelicals on key issues, his administration may unfortunately result in two steps back for the conservative agenda.

3 thoughts on “Progressive Evangelicals: Bipartisan Conciliation or Moral Concession?

  1. Hi Katherine,Very well said and I do wholeheartedly agree with your comment.A world of gray suggests that black and white do exist. Indeed, slogans like “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” merely frustrate the conservative movement.As primitive as it was, Obama at least had a vision: change. No more status quo. Since 2000, conservatives managed to climb the political mountain, but upon reaching the summit, they seemed to lose direction, focus (and ultimately the House, Senate and Presidency).But regaining focus can be difficult when many evangelicals have bought into the liberal agenda. At the inauguration, Rick Warren proudly delivered a soft-hitting let’s-all-get-along message, “Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us.” Therein lies the problem: ignoring differences to focus on commonalities. Now, I don’t intend to demonize Mr. Warren, but I recognize that delivering speeches like the one today serves to sway evangelicals. After all, if Rick Warren can get along with Obama, what can be so terrible? (Or so the thinking goes)Until conservatives regain and rally behind core conservative principles, the liberals will continue camping on the mountain.

  2. Vision wins men’s votes, not persuasion; even if the vision is destructive, and the opposing sound doctrine is persuasive. I think this is one of the things the election showed us. Moderation wins even less votes. The concept of conservatism is an absolute. Just as one cannot be moderately dead or moderately Christian, one cannot be moderately conservative. One is either conservative or not. The practice of conservatism in moderation seems to be trammeling the conservative movement. As the authors suggested, conservatives lose votes by putting core conservative principles and the issue of how those principles are to shape policies and institutions in the background, and placing tangential goals in the vanguard. As a result, young evangelicals who vote liberal, think they are being moderately conservative. To refuse to uphold any one conservative principle, however, is equivalent to rejecting them all. We should be encouraged to ask ourselves what we are and what we are not. Are we conservatives or are we not? Are we a Christian nation or are we not? That we are a “center-right” nation says very little about us. The term center-right is ambiguous. The term liberal right, or evangelical liberal, is oxymoronic. Conservatives should declare themselves in precise terms, under a precise vision.A key question is how can conservatives keep a set of beliefs, values, principles, ideals non-negotiable yet adaptable. The renovation of social and economic systems comes from the practice of conservatism in the absolute.

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