This piece is also available at my On Faith page:
After a week or so of basking in the afterglow of the presidential election, I am starting to get a little grumpy. It’s not about President-elect Obama. Like many other Americans I wept tears of joy when he addressed the nation on the evening of November 4. What is irritating me is much of the post-election analysis, especially as it focuses on religious issues.
Lisa Miller’s Newsweek piece, “A Post-Evangelical America,” is one of the things that has put me in a foul mood. As an evangelical I hadn’t realized that I had been “post-ed” as a result of the Obama victory. Miller seems to think that the election returns have reminded us all of something that had been forgotten by many in the media–that we white Evangelicals are not the only significant religious presence in American life.
I follow the media quite carefully, and had not noticed that we evangelical types were being treated as if we were the only game in town. Nor have I been aware that my fellow white evangelicals have been under any delusions on this point. I, for one, have been deeply involved in interfaith dialogue–an activity that has become increasingly important in recent years at Fuller Seminary, the school that I help to lead. We have been building friendships with many folks with whom we disagree on issues of faith: Jews, Mormons, Muslims, as well as people who claim no faith at all. And, with a student body representing a hundred or so denominations, we have been working hard to keep the dialogue going on the tough issues being debated within the Christian community.
Lisa Miller isn’t the only one who has caused my irritation. In his column in the New York Times on the weekend after the election, Frank Rich exulted over all of the wonderful things he saw in the election returns: no “Bradley effect,” large Hispanic turnout for the Democrats, Jews who helped Obama’s cause in Florida, and so on. There is only one serious matter still to work on, said Rich. We have to continue to combat those horrible folks in California and elsewhere who, having been duped by the Bush administration’s “demagogic exploitation of homophobia” (did the Cheney family know about this?), supported the ban on same-sex marriages –with the help, Rich acknowledges, of 70 percent of the African-American voters.
Were these commentators really listening when President-elect Obama called for the kind of civility that really listens to folks with whom we disagree? Do they really think that the sober tone of his victory speech was a declaration that it is time to ridicule those of us who hold to some conservative values on the so-called “social issues,” in the hope of silencing our voices in the public debates?
I am an evangelical who does not always get very high marks from the Religious Right for the stands that I take. But I do share some of their views on some key issues of public policy. If there is a lesson to be learned about evangelicalism these days, it is not that we have been banned from the public square because of the Obama election, but that we are not as easily stereotyped as the Lisa Miller and others want to think. We have come to an evangelical faith as people from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and economic levels. We reside in urban and rural areas, and we live in countries across the globe. We represent every “tribe and tongue.”
This means too that we do not all occupy the same place on the political spectrum. To be sure, a vast majority of evangelicals (myself included) are concerned about abortion-on-demand and “traditional family values.” But we are also involved in a rich variety of causes that promote the common good. While the liberal commentators stereotype us as single-issue theocrats, the young people from Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan are in Rwanda working on clean-water projects, the Saddleback folks are addressing issues of HIV/AIDS, inner-city rescue missions are preparing beds and meals for the homeless, and our Fuller Seminary students are advocating for a “greener” campus. And there are many more stories to tell about peacemaking, economic empowerment, and efforts to liberate the victims of the sexual slave trade.
Many of the world’s efforts to care for others have been initiated by evangelicals, often times working in partnerships with people of other faith communities. These efforts and more are motivated by a desire to respond obediently to the call of the Gospel: to love our neighbors regardless of any boundaries.
In my part of the evangelical world, folks have been celebrating the election of Barack Obama. This is true even for those who voted for his opponent–there are many Republican evangelicals who see his leadership as a symbol that America is taking great steps forward from our too-often racist past. Folks like us are praying for our president-elect. And even in my grumpy mood I am praying for some of the same things that Lisa Miller and other commentators have been wishing for. In my prayers I am asking the Almighty to enable us, evangelicals included, to engage in the kind of probing national dialogue that will set aside the polarizations and incivilities that continue to plague us.