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by Ronald J. Sider

Can We Agree to Agree?

Evangelicals today probably have more political influence in the United States than at any time in this century. But we are largely squandering this historic opportunity. Why? Because today's evangelical political voices are often confused, contradictory, and superficial. Evangelicals lack anything remotely similar to Catholicism's papal encyclicals and episcopal pronouncements on social and political issues, which have provided Roman Catholics with an integrated framework for approaching each concrete political decision. Evangelicals have jumped into the political fray without doing our homework. That our confused, superficial activity has had little lasting impact should not surprise us.

Take the issue of "school prayer." Evangelicals are all over the waterfront on this issue. Popular evangelical preachers blast the Supreme Court for "outlawing prayer in the schools," simplistically blaming this legal decision for America's moral decline. Congressman Ernest J. Istook (R-Okla.) wants a constitutional amendment to protect voluntary school prayer. Others want constitutional, or at least legislative, action to guarantee equal benefits to adherents of all religious groups. (One devout evangelical congressional aide was attacked by her home congregation as an apostate because she and her evangelical boss in Congress preferred the latter proposal to the Istook amendment.) Still other evangelicals think all of the above proposals would violate the First Amendment and destroy the boundary between church and state.

It is hardly surprising that this level of naivete and confusion leads nowhere. In fact, as Ralph Reed points out, it easily results in evangelicals being used. In Active Faith, Reed reports on the way Ronald Reagan manipulated the issue of school prayer to mobilize the evangelical vote in 1984. As Reagan's advisers prepared for the 1984 campaign, they realized they had "tossed only a few morsels to the Moral Majority." So they decided to stage a fake drive to pass ...

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