What Are the Emerging Consensus Issues in the Intersection of Religion and Public Policy/politics between Evangelicals and Jews?

By Tonkowich, James W. | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

What Are the Emerging Consensus Issues in the Intersection of Religion and Public Policy/politics between Evangelicals and Jews?


Tonkowich, James W., Journal of Ecumenical Studies


Introduction

Lists of emerging consensus issues at the intersection of religion and public policy/politics between evangelicals and Jews have already been proposed, and the large number of issues is both daunting and dubious. The following form the bulk of the lists: Darfur, international religious freedom, domestic religious freedom, environmentalism, energy independence and security, immigration, the Establishment Clause, sex trafficking, AIDS in Africa, pornography, secularism, antifamily individualism, and commercialism. Where I have seen these lists, however, there is no indication of how these issues would be points of consensus between evangelicals and Jews rather than points of contention. Sorting out the consensus versus contention on these issues is the task of this essay.

Let me begin with what is beyond a doubt the single factor that makes sorting out these issues a difficult job--identifying who we are talking about when we try to find consensus between evangelicals and Jews.

I. Which Evangelicals?

Several weeks ago in an interview about evangelicals and environmentalism, I was asked, "Who speaks for evangelicals?" The simple answer came as a surprise to the interviewer: Absolutely no one--least of all, as a friend of mine says, those who claim to. The impression left by the media is that certain evangelical celebrities speak for the rank and file of the movement. Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and (when he was alive) Jerry Falwell immediately come to mind as the triumvirate of media favorites. Jim Wallis, Rick Warren, and Joel Hunter are among those appearing as the new, improved--meaning politically more liberal--spokespersons. Others suggest that the National Association of Evangelicals (N.A.E.) is the voice of the movement.

However, the pontifical quality of evangelical leadership, the significance of the N.A.E., and the homogeneity of the movement have all been highly overstated. After all, when Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jim Wallis, Joel Osteen, Michael Cromertie, John Howe (the Episcopal bishop of Central Florida), Eugene Rivers and Bishop Harry Jackson--both African-Americans, South American evangelist Luis Palau, and, according to Time magazine, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus are all evangelicals, it is safe to say (1) the term is rather elastic, and (2) no one could possibly speak for us all--not on theology, personal morality, or, least of all, politics. "Evangelical" as it is typically used is a shorthand term, not a reality. Leaving aside the question of whether Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians can be evangelicals, it is vital to this discussion of consensus on public policy or politics to understand the breadth of those persons who can be identified as evangelicals.

Evangelicals include those who are typically thought of as evangelicals: the members of Bible churches, independent churches, Southern Baptist Churches, and other theologically conservative denominations. My organization, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, works in large part with evangelicals who are members of the Protestant mainline or old-line denominations: the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, and so on. They may not like to be called evangelicals, but that is what they are, nonetheless. Meanwhile, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) is not an evangelical church, though there are evangelicals within the ECLA. Most African-American churches are evangelical, as are most Asian churches and most non-Catholic Hispanic churches. The National Association of Evangelicals--that is, "the National Association of Some Evangelicals," since many evangelicals are not members--recently received into membership several large Hispanic evangelical bodies.

That is just in the United States. Henry Luke Orombi, Anglican archbishop of Uganda, wrote in an article titled "What Is Anglicanism?" about the need for "a commitment to the authority of the Word of God, a confidence in a God who acts in the world, and a conviction of the necessity of repentance and of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. …

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