The Omission of the “New” Evangelicals

Much is being made of the fact that some significant evangelical leaders are not following the lead of the more right-wing figures like James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition. Prominent ministers, most notably Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, are far more interested in issues of poverty and the environment along with the so-called liberal evangelicals like Jim Wallis who also focuses on the problems of the poor.

Both Warren and Wallis skillfully employ the numerous biblical references to the poor, a number that dwarfs references to homosexuality. With such an approach they distance themselves from Dobson and the Family Research Council who are consumed by opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. These developments please a lot of people; the press gets a new narrative and the Democrats eye a widening pool of potential evangelical voters.

Two recent books, Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right by E.J. Dionne and The Party Faithful: How And Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap by Amy Sullivan, both describe a changing situation in which evangelicals and other serious religious people will not automatically vote Republican. What is omitted from this scenario, often so pleasing to liberals and progressives, is a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.

Abortion rights is talked about as an unfortunate issue that they wish were not there. As a point of fact, these more moderate evangelical leaders are still opposed to a woman’s right to choose. On the night before the 2004 election, Rick Warren went on the radio to denounce abortion. Jim Wallis does not see abortion rights as an issue for which he wants to advocate. Economic justice, not reproductive justice, is to be central. But the plain fact is that if women do not have control over their reproductive lives, they cannot get economic justice. It would be a huge oversight if a key fact of women’s lives were increasingly slighted in the desire to forge a new kind of political liberalism.