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George Hunter: "Evangelicals must not remain in the 'pocket' of one party..."

From George G. Hunter, United Methodist Church, Distinguished Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth, Asbury Theological Seminary, and member of the Clergy Leadership Network. Excerpts below:

"Prior to 1980, I knew many evangelical Christian leaders who were card-carrying active Democrats, and many who were Republicans. Evangelical Christian leaders (most visibly Billy Graham) were involved with both parties (local, state, and national) as "salt" and "light;" they conversed, loved, and prayed with people in both parties, and they worked (often with some success) to influence both parties toward policies closer to our understanding of God's purposes.

The 1980 presidential election suddenly revealed that this de facto strategy had shifted to the Right. Most evangelical Christian leaders abandoned Jimmy Carter (well known to be a "born again Christian") and supported Ronald Reagan...

Some evangelical leaders now point to recent surveys that show a large majority of active professing believers supporting Republicans and a large majority of non-Christians supporting Democrats; they now interpret that data as a compelling new reason for evangelical Christians to shun Democrats even more and to be involved with Republicans, only.

I am suggesting that it is possible, and perhaps more faithful, to interpret that data another way....

Since Christians were entrusted with the Gospel for the sake of other people, and since Evangelicals once abandoned the Democrats who are now less likely to believe, then the judgment of the Lord may be more upon us than upon them, and there are compelling reasons to repent and change our ways.

I propose that we are called, in our apostolic mission, to love, serve, and witness in every population sector (including both of the major parties and the smaller special interest parties) and to join in any and all common causes that help move society, or the world, more toward God's revealed purposes.

Furthermore, both major parties need more people who are "Ambassadors for Christ" first, who "know better" than to be co-opted by the ideological wing of either party.

In any case, strategic evangelicals must not remain in the "pocket" of one party. For too long, the Republican Party has been able to take the support of Evangelical Christians for granted,
and has advanced little of the evangelical agenda in return.

Some evangelical wisdom from our valiant past should, perhaps, focus our vision this year. In the European history of the last three centuries, for instance... most of Europe's "free" or "nonconformist" churches have been theologically right of center while, on many issues, advocating policies to the left of center. In early twentieth century England, to cite one case, evangelist and pastor Hugh Price Hughes became politically involved with the issues that Dickens' novels dramatized; he led a movement called "The Nonconformist Conscience," and he reminded his country "What is morally wrong cannot be politically right."

American Evangelicalism has similar roots. Charles Grandison Finney led the Second Great Awakening AND was a national leader in the cause to abolish slavery. Some of Finney's contemporaries (and detractors) thought that becoming a Christian was, for Finney, "becoming a follower of Jesus Christ AND becoming an abolitionist!" Nearly a century later, William Jennings Bryan championed several politically progressive causes that were, he believed, rooted in evangelical Christian conviction. Do we need to rediscover those roots, and run such risks, as Evangelical Christians today?"

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