Evangelicals casting wider political net
Evangelicals say it's time to put the Bible back into American politics and culture. Alarmed by recent trends, a number of leading evangelicals say their churches' historic separation of religious and secular affairs has allowed Western civilization to slip to ``the brink of self-destruction.''
Growing numbers of church leaders urge that evangelicals rapidly expand their activities in all aspects of American life. There is a vital need, they say, to reverse materialism, covetousness, and greed in such crucial areas as the communications media, entertainment, government, and the schools.
Five hundred evangelicals are now crafting a series of policy papers, based on their study of the Bible, which they hope will guide their fellow Christians in this struggle for reform.
The evangelicals, meeting under the aegis of the Coalition on Revival (COR), want to expand their political agenda beyond the well-known issues, including abortion and school prayer, promoted by ministers such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson. The Rev. Ray Allen, president of the American Christian Task Force and one of the leaders of COR, says the group is searching for Bible truths to apply to all human problems. Their goal: ``a consistent, Biblical world view that establishes a new standard for justice, which is called Biblical justice.''
In the next year, COR will release policy papers covering such areas as medicine, the media, the arts, education, economics, law, business, science, technology, families, psychology, and moral activism. Many of these policy papers will support conservative positions that often seem close to the policies of President Reagan.
Evangelical leaders make it clear, however, that they are not attempting to join either the political left or the political right. Their views will be Bible-based.
And they criticize Reagan policies where they deem it appropriate. One target of their criticism is the President's failure to control the nation's debt.
Both publicly and privately, evangelicals say, Americans are living ``beyond our means by misusing credit, so trading our liberty for financial bondage.''
America's 48 million evangelicals have traditionally stayed aloof from politics. They have historically had low levels of voting and have shunned an active role in the political world. Now growing numbers of evangelicals say that was a mistake. A manifesto adopted by the COR meeting here during the past few days declares:
``We have neglected our God-ordained duties to be the world's salt, light, teacher, and example; as a result, the world is in desperate trouble and Western civilization stands on the brink of self-destruction.'
Evangelical churches became ``self-centered,'' the COR manifesto states. Evangelicals focused on ``our own needs,'' rather than ``sacrificing ourselves for the needs of our . . . fellow humans.''
Today, churches have ``become irrelevant,'' the manifesto declares. They have allowed ``those who hate or neglect God and His righteous standards for society [to steal] the America of our Founding Fathers out from under our slumbering eyes.''
COR, although primarily evangelical, includes activists from some other denominations, including a few Roman Catholics.
Among those leading the COR effort are Dr. D. James Kennedy, a television evangelist; Dr. Tim LaHaye of the American Coalition for Traditional Values; Dr. Rousas John Rushdoony of the Chalcedon Foundation; Dr. Jack Van Impe, a Baptist evangelist; Dr. Harold Lindsell, editor emeritus of Christianity Today; and Dr. Adrian Rogers, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The director of COR is Dr. Jay Grimstead.
While strongly supporting traditional policies, such as the fight against abortion, COR leaders also urge a wider field of action. In the social area, for example, they want greater efforts against drug abuse, racial discrimination, and government usurpation of parental rights.
A. James Reichley, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, says the expanded outlook by evangelicals should be no surprise.
Many conservative Christians entered politics in the 1970s and '80s with little experience. Now maturing politically, they will be seeking their own policies, even where those differ with their old friends like President Reagan, says Mr. Reichley.