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MSNBC on Progressive Evangelicals

Snippets from this MSNBC article:

“People like Karl Rove and people like Ralph Reed have done a brilliant job of wedding the evangelical community to the Republican Party,” said Tony Campolo, a spiritual adviser to President Bill Clinton in the White House. “And so when you begin to think about evangelicals, you begin to think in terms of the values of the right wing of the Republican Party.”

Like Jimmy Carter, Tony Campolo is a tireless campaigner for social justice, especially for the poor, for the environment and for oppressed populations in the Third World. Like Carter, he is also an evangelical Christian — a Baptist minister, in fact.

Although many Americans see evangelicalism as a monolithic construct, “in reality, there are a whole lot of us evangelicals who think differently,” said Campolo, who founded the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education.

Campolo puts the proportion of “progressive” or liberal American evangelicals at 35 percent to 40 percent. Other scholars say that is probably too high; the leading authority on religious populations in America, John Green of the University of Akron in Ohio, puts it closer to 20 percent.

Whoever is correct, one thing is clear: There are millions of progressive evangelicals. And yet, the conventional wisdom resolves to a very simple equation: “Evangelical” = “religious right.”

“In a nutshell, we hold to the same kinds of theology. We just read the Bible differently than our right-wing friends. When we read the Bible, we see a Jesus who is much more radical,” Campolo said.

Where he and other progressives see Jesus most differently is in the importance placed on compassionate treatment for the underdogs in society.

Campolo praised the good works done by Focus and other conservative evangelical groups, saying he believed they acted from a sincere faith. With its soup kitchens and tutoring programs, he said, “the religious right is doing a great job with the poor.”

But while “we see some very good people who are doing a very loving thing in reaching out to people at the grass-roots level,” he added, “they’re not really asking the kinds questions that need to be asked about the policies our government has that in many cases have facilitated poverty.”

But “it’s time for us to stand up and say Jesus is not a Republican; Jesus is not a Democrat,” he said. “I hope that the answer to the religious right is not to create a religious left in which we get a bunch of Christians who are saying if you don’t vote Democratic, you’re out of the will of God.”
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