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James L. Evans

Unnecessary divisions in body of Christ

With midterm elections just days away, every political action group in America is working full throttle to get out the vote for their candidate, party and favorite issue. Not least among these politically active are members of the Christian community — from the left and the right.

Of course the politically active Christian right has been at it longer and frankly has had more success. They are better organized, better funded, and have done a better job of framing their concerns in ways that communicate and motivate.

There is concern this year that Christians on the right might sit out this election. There are rumblings of dissatisfaction that politicians who have received the blessing of conservative believers have not delivered. No gay marriage ban, no reversal on Roe v. Wade, no prayer in school and so on. There also may be some concern about the conduct of the war in Iraq, though Christian conservatives generally remain strong supporters of President Bush.

The Christian left has just begun to find its voice again in the new political reality of the 21st century. In the 1960s the religious left was out in front in the civil rights movement. They were against the war in Vietnam and for the war on poverty.

But the resurgence of the political and Christian right beginning in the 1970s left the Christian left reeling for a message and a mission. Declining memberships among mainline Christian groups forced many Methodists and Presbyterians to think more about church growth strategies and less about social justice.

Beginning with this election cycle, however, there exists among Christians on the left a more concerted effort to reclaim the moral high ground. Being careful not to alienate or denigrate fellow believers on the right, Christian leaders such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and even Southern Baptist mega-church pastor Rick Warren have been slowly trying to re-direct the conversation.

For instance, where anti-homosexual initiatives have been framed by the Christian right as "saving marriage," Christians on the left have pointed out the impact that poverty has on families and children. If it's marriage you want to save, help families become and remain economically viable.

Where Christian conservatives champion the value of life by opposing abortion, Christians on the left say they want the same thing. They point out that studies have shown that abortions decrease when mothers have access to health care and day care. Progressive Christian leaders suggest we work for a comprehensive "culture of life" where families will feel secure bringing life into the world.

Wouldn't it be ironic if it turns out that the Christian left and right have more in common than they realized? What if it turned out that in large part both groups want the same thing, but simply use different language to talk about it?

And suppose it turns out that it has been cynical political strategists who have pitted Christian groups against each other by framing certain issues so as to create a wedge between them. Maybe we should start framing our own issues in our own language and challenge all political parties to rise to the call of justice.

This much seems obvious to me, at least as far as Christians are concerned. If we start with Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith, I don't see how it is possible that we will end up too far apart at the end of the story.

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

James L. Evans James L. Evans

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