Evangelicals Move to Forefront in Social Issues

WASHINGTON – Evangelicals are now at the forefront of many social justice initiatives and human rights campaigns. With the launch of a major evangelical Darfur campaign on Wednesday, prominent U.S. evangelical leaders explained why the White House, congressmen, and world leaders will listen to the evangelical voice.

“We are the growth factor in American religion,” said Richard Land, the president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention during a Darfur teleconference Wednesday. “America is a religious country; it has always been a religious country.”

He pointed to a recent article by Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mead pointed out that evangelicals have been growing at a remarkable pace while mainline Protestants have been declining. In the article, Mead noted that in 1980, 10 percent of the senators and congressmen identified themselves as born-again evangelicals. In 2006, however, the number shot up to 25 percent. The general evangelical population in America is higher, consisting of an estimated 34-40 percent of the U.S. population.

“So as a consequence, you have evangelicals making up a much larger percentage of the American population,” explained Land as he highlighted that the United States is a democracy or a representative government.

The Rev. Richard Cizik, the vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, emphasized evangelicals’ influence on the opinions and decisions of the American people.

“I believe that evangelicals and conservative Catholics are the moral voice of gravity in America,” he said. “To the extent we reflect our constituency is the extent to which the rest of society follows.

“Why would anyone listen to us?” Cizik continued. “I believe what evangelicals say is important because religion and faith is a leading indicator of the rest of society and also of politics. So what we think politically as a movement is what is going to be reflected in culture, society and then also politics.”

Giving examples, Jim Wallis, the head of the nation’s largest progressive Christian network, Sojourners/Call to Renewal, highlighted past successful evangelical-supported movements including slavery, woman suffrage, and child labor law reforms.

“Darfur can be one of those issues for us now again,” said Wallis.

The Evangelicals for Darfur campaign was launched this week to press President George Bush toward getting a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur and ending the violence that has persisted since 2003.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Jr., the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, concluded that the evangelical church is moving beyond its traditional base and into the role of providing a moral voice in social issues.

“We are going to continue to see issues such as Darfur and issues of social justice and compassion be more at the forefront,” said Rodriguez. “So what we are seeing here with Darfur is actually the beginning and not the end of a brand new era of the evangelical church.”