Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Light at End of Evangelical Tunnel

Church staff didn't notice that many worshippers were embarrassed by the Focus on the Family voter registration table on the sanctuary patio after services. People walked around it; they clearly and consciously avoided it. Its presence made them feel badly that their biblically-based views diverge from the radical conservative stances espoused by James Dobson and ilk, and apparently pushed by our pastors.

After my Tuesday morn Bible study, women shunned the church info table, due to the ultra-conservative Voters' Guide pamphlets piled on it. The table was like the proverbial dead elephant in the middle of the room that all walked around, no one even glanced at, but no one mentioned.

It's been my strong sense these past weeks that our church is turning off many members and frightening away potential members by forcing a Jerry Falwell-like agenda on parishioners. Staff make the assumption that all evangelicals think alike, or perhaps, that all "real" or "better" Christians think alike. Reality is that our congregation has a multiplicity of viewpoints, and that the church is sending an unmistakable negative message that "If you don't hold ultra-conservative political stances, you don't belong here."

And then.....Hallelujah! A ray of light in political darkness.

Today, The Los Angeles Times published an in-depth article by Paul Wallstein, "Conflicted Evangelicals Could Cost Bush Votes," that corroborates my family's experiences. The thesis is that Republican leaders consider all evangelicals a "near lock for President Bush,"....but that reality is a far cry from wholehearted evangelical support for the radical right agenda.

Here are a few quotes from that article.....

"I'm very anti-abortion, but the reality is the right to life encompasses a much broader field than just abortion. If I'm a proponent of life, I have to think about the consequences of not providing prescription drugs to seniors or sending young men off to war," says Pastor Joe Urcavaic of the evangelical Green Bay Community Church in Wisconsin.

Wendy Skroch, a 51 year old mother of 3 who attends the evangelical Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee blames Bush for failing to fix a "broken" healthcare system and for "selling off the environment to the highest bidder."

Tim Moore, a evangelical who teaches at a Christian school near Milwaukee said "There's no way I'm going to vote for Bush." He says he shares Bush's religious convictions, but is angry over the tax cuts for the wealthy and the administration's shifting rationales for invading Iraq.

The diversity of heartfelt biblically-based viewpoints has made effective campaigning to evangelical chuchgoers more complicated than GOP strategists anticipated, per the Times. Said Pastor Marc Erickson of the Eastbrook Church in Milwaukee, "If I become political in any direction, I'll become 50% less effective."

The respected Pew Research Center estimates that a full 30% of evangelical Christians do not plan to vote to reelect George W. Bush to the US presidency.

As church leaders zealously parrot James Dobson's legally-crafted terminology from the they self-righteously hand out clever guidelines pushing support for this war-happy, fear-mongering self-messianic administration, I wonder if they realize that 30% of their congregation is becoming more and more offended?

As they disrespect others' rights to differing viewpoints in this democratic society, I wonder if they know that 30% of the people are thinking, "What am I doing here?." It's odd that church staff don't correlate half-empty pews and decreased volunteerism with right-wing politization of the church.

Yes, there is light at the end of the evangelical tunnel. Evangelical Christians can't be fit into one narrow political ideology. "You can't shoehorn the Bible into one political party's ideology" comments Richard Cizik, VP of the Nat'l Assn of Evangelicals. Evangelicals do not blindly follow misguided leaders...they think and pray and care, and they love God.

There is light at the end of the evangelical tunnel...but sadly, that light is not coming from churches actively and exclusively promoting far right political agendas.

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