WASHINGTON Hundreds of Washingtonians filed their way into the Ronald Reagan Building Amphitheatre Thursday evening to hear four seasoned panelists give their take on the definition of an Evangelical and how this powerful voting block helps shape the foreign policies of the Bush administration.
Titled Evangelicals and the New Global Mission, the public town hall meeting began with the acknowledgement of the Evangelical movements involvement on domestic policies related to abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage.
However, as Pew Forum President Luis Lugo explained, the main goal of the panel discussion was to unveil the story of American Evangelicals involvement in the international scene.
Tonights town hall meeting [will be] addressing Evangelicals increasing influence on global human rights issues such as religious freedom, sex trafficking, and aid for Africa, explained Lugo, whose organization sponsored the event. In the process of the discussion we will bring the historical, theological sources of Evangelical involvement in these international issues.
Throughout the 90-minute discussion, the four speakers Deborah Fikes, Executive Director of the Midland Ministerial Alliance in Texas; Professor Allen Hertzke, director of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma; Dr. Paul Marshall, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House; and Ambassador Robert Seiple, founder of the Institute for Global Engagement and former President of World Vision attempted to address these theological issues, but were largely inconclusive.
Ambassador Seiple described Evangelicals as those who hold a high view of scripture and the desire to share what we feel is good news. Hertzke interjected with an additional standard: a born again experience. According to Fikes however, Evangelicals are merely the followers of Christ.
Despite these differences, the panelists agreed that the definition of an Evangelical stretches much further than the traditional understanding as a white, middle-class citizen, and struggled to break the often misconstrued image of Evangelicals as a group of narrow-minded Christians with a narrow set of values.
Many times evangelicals are viewed as people who evangelize and convert and are interested in numbers, said Fikes.
But if you truly are a follower of Christ and you take the scripture seriously, you must be engaged, she added.
Hertzke explained that this engagement involves a greater awareness of the wider gospel message on global justice and human rights.
Panelists also touched-up on why Evangelicals choose to engage themselves in certain issues and turn from others.
As one example, host Kojo Nnamdi asked why Evangelicals are so involved in stopping Northern Sudans Islamic governments violence against Southern Sudans largely Christian population, when 10 years ago little was said during the genocide between two Muslim populations in Rwanda.
Marshall explained that two critical factors determine the Evangelical choice of engagement: communication and identification. In the case of Southern Sudan, he explained, local churches helped communicate the evil occurring in the area in more effective ways than the local media. In addition, since the violence ensued against brothers and sisters in Christ, the identification factor came into play for many Evangelicals.
On a similar note, Fikes later addressed why Evangelicals are less involved in the mostly Muslim conflict in Darfur than they were in the Christian-Muslim conflict in Southern Sudan.
The difference in Darfur is that we did not have the contact in Darfur to do what we did in Southern Sudan, she said, pointing to the communication factor. We had sister churches we can partner and work with in Southern Sudan, but Darfur is a Muslim region.
The panelists also briefly addressed critical issues such as the U.S. governments abstinence-only approach to the Ugandan HIV/AIDS crisis, the Evangelical support for the state of Israel, and the post 9/11 understanding of Muslim-Christian relationships.
The Thursday evening program, which was jointly sponsored by the Pew Form, American Abroad Media and American University Radio, ended with a thought-provoking statement regarding the conundrum in the Judeo-Christian identity of America.
We are as a nation in a sense trapped, said Marvin Kalb, a veteran journalist and co-moderator of the program. We are very religious, but we have a structure of government that is designed to keep religion out of that decision making process.
The town hall meeting was recorded for a special broadcast on WAMU 88.5 FM radio in Washington. For more information on when the program will air, visit: www.wamu.org.