Progressive evangelical leader urges Biden to talk to evangelicals about abortion, religious freedom

Former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden (R) prays with community leaders at Bethel AME in Wilmington, Delaware, on June 1, 2020. | Biden for President/Adam Schultz

A longtime progressive evangelical leader who's urged white evangelicals to rethink their vote for President Donald Trump is now calling on 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to do more to appeal to evangelical voters and address their concerns about abortion and religious freedom.

Ron Sider, a theologian, professor and social activist who founded the group Evangelicals for Social Action in 1973 and authored the popular 1978 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, published an op-ed in USA Today on Monday.

Ron Sider, professor emeritus at Palmer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, speaks at the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C. on January 21, 2016. | (Photo: Screen Grab/Evangelicals for Life)

In the piece, Sider, 80, explained how and why it's important for Biden to do something that his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, did not do in 2016. 

With the Democratic Party sliding further left when it comes to stances on LGBT issues and abortion, Sider argues that white evangelicals — a major voting bloc for Trump — need Biden to show that he understands and respects “our concerns.” 

“There are millions of evangelicals (and Catholics) in swing states who want to vote for Biden,” Sider argued. “We agree much more with Biden than with Trump on numerous issues: racial justice, economic justice, the environment and climate change, tax policy that demands more of the rich, health care for all — and much more. We want to vote for Joe Biden!” 

“But on two issues — abortion and religious freedom — we need to hear that Biden’s campaign understands, respects and can talk to us about our concerns, even though they do not fully agree,” he continued. 

Sider, an emeritus professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy at Palmer Theological Seminary Pennsylvania, is also the editor of the new book, The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump.

The book consists of essays written by 30 evangelical Christians from various backgrounds calling for white evangelicals to rethink their vote for Trump in 2020 after exit polls showed that 8 in 10 white evangelical voters voted for Trump in 2016. 

“Former President Bill Clinton personally told a very close friend of mine that the reason his wife Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania (and the presidency) in 2016 was because of her stand on abortion,” Sider wrote. “In 2008, she said abortion should be ‘legal, safe and rare.’ In 2016, she refused to say it should be rare.”

In 2016, Clinton was urged by progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis to state publicly a call for abortion to be “rare.” But she never did. Some Trump supporters would also argue that Clinton’s support for late-term abortion was one of her downfalls. 

“In 2016, she refused to say it should be rare,” Sider explained. “That kind of stance ignores basic polling data.”

Sider cited a Gallup poll showing that about 29% of Americans say abortion should be legal in every instance, 20% believe abortion should never be legal, and about 50% said abortion should be legal with some restrictions. 

“I expect that Biden will keep saying he'll guarantee that abortion continues to be legal and safe,” Sider said. “But Biden could also say that as a Catholic, he understands those who want it to be less frequent.”

Sider went on to argue that “important Democratic policies actually foster fewer abortions,” citing figures suggesting that the number of abortions fell under President Barack Obama. Sider argues that Obama’s policies “improved economic support for low-income persons, including insurance coverage for contraception.” 

“Millions of evangelicals and Catholics in swing states do not think abortion trumps all other issues,” Sider contends. “We think universal health care is a ‘pro-life’ issue. So are capital punishment, climate change, racial justice and effective poverty reduction programs here and abroad.”

“We want to support Biden for these and other reasons,” he added. “But it would make it much easier if Biden would show some understanding of the tens of millions of Americans who think abortion should be grieved, not celebrated.”

Sider went on in his op-ed to say that the issue of “religious freedom” is also crucial, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 to make same-sex marriage a national right. 

Sider criticized the fact that some prominent Democratic figures have argued that “any faith-based organization that believes it must be faithful to its traditional view of marriage in its hiring practices should lose all government funds.”

“That would mean that many thousands of religious colleges, universities and faith-based social service agencies serving millions of people would lose both government funds (for example Pell grants and work-study funds) and even lose their tax-exempt status,” Sider wrote. “If that view prevails, it will vastly weaken and probably destroy vast numbers of faith-based organizations and harm millions of poorer Americans.”

Sider stated that he supports adding federal discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity but stressed that religious freedom for faith-based organizations should also be protected. Sider voiced his support for the Fairness for All Act, legislation introduced last year that is backed by the National Association of Evangelicals.

“Millions of Christians in key swing states want to defeat Trump this year. Some of us will vote for Biden regardless of what he says on these two issues,” Sider explained. “But others will not. And that loss of votes might cost Biden the presidency — and far more important, mean another four years of Trump’s devastating policies. I hope Joe Biden will do what he can to hear our deeply felt concerns on abortion and religious freedom.”

The Christian Post reached out to Sider to inquire if he has reached out directly to the Biden campaign. A response is pending. 

Sider’s plea comes after Public Religion Research Institute polling data showed in late April that favorability among white Christians in battleground states had dropped by 27 percentage points since mid-March. The PRRI data at the time suggested that Trump’s favorability among white evangelical Protestants declined 11 percentage points since March to 66% in April. 

In late May, PRRI found that 62% of white evangelicals hold favorable views of the president. 

However, recent data from Pew Research show that about 82% of evangelical registered voters say they plan to vote for or are leaning toward voting for Trump in 2020. 

As previously reported, the Biden campaign believes that it can appeal to younger millennial evangelical voters and moderate evangelical voters even if the majority of white evangelical voters still vote for Trump in November. 

John McCarthy, the deputy national political director for the Biden Campaign, told Just The News that he thinks evangelicals who voted for Trump will be “open” to Biden’s message. 

In 2008, President Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president, won 26% of the white evangelical vote and 21% of the white evangelical vote in 2012. By comparison, Clinton won just 16% of the evangelical vote in 2016.  

“Broad swaths of the faith community did not feel like the Democratic nominee was interested in their vote,” former Obama campaign faith adviser Michael Wear said of Clinton in an interview journalist David Brody.

"I've been very clear that the invitation was not given in 2016,” Wear added.

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