Progressive, Conservative Evangelicals Debate Divisive Issues

WASHINGTON – Two prominent evangelical leaders representing the right and left side of the movement squared off Friday for a debate on faith and politics at the Values Voters Summit .

Dr. Richard Land, president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of the progressive ministry Sojourners/Call to Renewal, challenged each other on the issues of abortion, poverty, and global warming.

The two leaders both agreed that faith should shape American public life, but differed on how religion would be interpreted in public policies.

Wallis, who represented progressive evangelicals, said he was "alarmed" at the high rate of abortion in America which he considers a "deeply" moral issue.

"I believe it is time, finally time, to work together to dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and that is an urgent moral priority," the best-selling author of  God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it said.

He urged the two sides of the evangelical movement to find common ground to save unborn lives.

"I certainly want to have common ground," said Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Unlike Wallis, however, the Baptist leader called for a federal law that would ban abortions nationwide.

"The fact is if we didn't have laws against segregation we would still have segregation, if we didn't have laws against slavery we would still have it, and if we don't have laws that say no human being – even a mother – has the absolute right to life or death over another human being, we are not a civilized society and we will still have abortion," Land argued.

Wallis offered ideas to reduce abortion including reducing unwanted pregnancy, reducing teen pregnancy, offering compassionate alternatives to abortion, making adoption more accessible, and imposing possible reasonable legal restrictions on the practice.

"Faith triumphs politics," declared Wallis, who said he tries to challenge the left with his belief as he hopes the conservative audience will challenge the right.

Land agreed saying their conversation will make "Democrats better democrats, Republicans better Republicans, independent better independent and America a better nation."

Although the leaders differed on specifics, their conversations have the same starting point – faith, the conservative representative said.

"It is a pretty good starting point for common ground [also] in America because 85 percent of Americans say they are Christian," Land.

Poverty, racism, and environmental concern were also touched upon by the two leaders, though Land tended to tie it back to the pro-life issue.

On the environmental issue, Land agreed Christians have a responsibility to care for the earth but said there was disagreement from there.

"I have full confidence and I have had full confidence that evangelicals can walk and chew gum at the same time," he said. "We can stand for the sanctity of human life, and stand for marriage as defined by God, be concerned about human rights and concern for environment as well."

The progressive-conservative debate took pace at the highly anticipated "Washington Briefing 2007: Values Voter Summit," Oct. 19-21 in the nation's capital. More than 2,500 values voters and thousands more online participated in the summit which featured nine Republican candidates who addressed their views on abortion, same-sex "marriage," and other key issues for conservative Christians.