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James L. Evans

The last temptation of the church

A new book out this week claims the Bush administration has used its unique and highly visible connections to conservative evangelicals merely for political gain.

David Kuo, author of "Tempting Faith," served for three years as special assistant to President Bush in the office of Faith-Based Initiatives. He describes himself as a Christian conservative. He joined the Bush administration hoping to address some of the social concerns connected with his faith, in particular people who live in poverty.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened. In fact, according to Kuo, the administration was less interested in promoting faith causes than it was in using faith issues to energize and mobilize Christian conservatives to vote for Republican candidates.

But that's not the worse part. Kuo alleges that not only were Christian conservatives cynically used by the Bush administration, they also were regarded with scorn and ridicule behind their backs.

Kuo writes, "National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as 'ridiculous,' or 'out of control,' and just plain 'goofy.' "

Reactions to Kuo's charges have come fast and loud. Christian leaders loyal to the party and to the Bush administration have dismissed the book as purely political. James Dobson, for one, points to the timing of the book's release. He suggests the book is intended to hurt Republicans on the eve of midterm elections.

From the other side of the aisle, Democrats hope the book will pry conservative Christian support away from Republicans. They are saying what many have been saying for years — that the Republican Party is interested only in religious issues at election time. Of course, that's a charge that could be laid at the feet of politicians in both parties on a whole range of issues.

For Kuo's part, he is calling for a "fast from politics." He suggests that when the mayor, or the sheriff, or the governor or even the president approaches members of the faith community for support, Christians ought to reply, "No, not this year. I'm fasting from politics for a season."

Fasting from politics may not be the best or most faithful course right now, but I understand what Kuo is trying to accomplish. More helpful and probably healthier would be for Christian conservatives to use these revelations as an opportunity to become politically mature.

What would political maturity look like? For one thing, a politically mature faith group would see through the repeated use of certain hot-button issues designed to get out the vote. Seriously, have you not noticed that the ban on gay marriage only comes up during election time?

Furthermore, a politically mature faith community would have its own voice and its own range of issues. Those issues include the conduct of the war in Iraq, the environment, poverty and corruption of our political system, and each connect in various ways with a faithful view of the world and society.

Political party leaders try to distract us from these kinds of issues by tricking us into chasing issues they don't intend to do anything about — like gay marriage or prayer in schools. A politically mature faith community will stay on message and pursue political outcomes that are consistent with authentic faith.

The wine of political influence has been an intoxicating experience for the Religious Right, but now comes the hangover. But this does not have to be the final word. A politically mature faith movement might yet find its true purpose in the body politic.

James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn. He can be contacted through his Web site, www.jimevanscolumn.com.

James L. Evans James L. Evans

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