In a lead article that dissects the growing rifts within evangelical ranks, Newsweek writer Lisa Miller parses evangelicals into the classic categories of conservative, moderate and progressive. She asks, 'How much do they have to show for the decades of activism? And if they are to turn from what Roger Williams called "the garden of Christ's church" to fight the battles of "the wilderness of the world," what should those battles be?'
In my view, there is no real 'politics of Jesus'. The issue is not whether God votes Republican, Democrat or Green. Nothing in Jesus' life, ministry or death suggests support for specific political parties or partisan positions. Jesus was not apolitical but anti-political (in the sense that the things of Caesar were definitely not the Kingdom of God).
There is much to be said for Greg Boyd's position that while Christians should engage vigorously in the public and political spheres, Jesus Christ transcends democratic politics — and it cheapens the gospel to suggest that there is a 'politics of Jesus' or a distinctly Christian political position.
Miller compares the culture war scaremongering of religious leaders like James Dobson to a much different message from suburban Kansas megachurch pastor, Adam Hamilton:
He was helping his 14,000 members parse the parables in Matthew 13—the wheat and the weeds, the good fish and bad. "Our task is not to go around judging people—Jesus didn't do that," he tells NEWSWEEK. He encourages his congregation to vote, he says, but when they do they're neither predictably Republican nor Democratic. On the issues, many are increasingly frustrated with the war in Iraq; they're conservative on abortion, but they "express compassion" for homosexuals. The religious right has "gone too far," says Hamilton. "They've lost their focus on the spirit of Jesus and have separated the world into black and white, when the world is much more gray." He adds: "I can't see Jesus standing with signs at an anti-gay rally. It's hard to picture that."
The fact that evanglicals are finding more nuanced positions on social issues and returning to the core of Jesus' social justice teachings should not come as a surprise. It should also not be seen as some sort of 'swing' to the left, as some commentators seem to posit. As Miller points out:
Some Christians, exhausted by divisive wedge politics, are going back to the Bible and embracing a wider-ranging agenda, one that emphasizes reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised.
I see this more as a spiritual issue than a political one. Evangelicals are coming out from under the shadows of a fundamentalism they have been unrighteously shackled to for the past two to three decades. As the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition flounder, as Focus on The Family and minsitries like it become more and more extreme and single-issue obsessed, people are beginning to ask what any of that has to do with the gospel.
My favorite personal Bible is my faux-leather bound version of Eugene Peterson's The Message. Embossed on the front cover is a small bird-like face, underneath which is one word: THINK. The emergence of intelligent thought in a young person is a sign of a maturing outlook. I'm sure it's the same with today's evangelicals.