In a fantastic op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday, Joseph Loconte and Michael Cromartie pleaded for an end to the inaccurate stereotype of evangelicals:
Evangelicals led the grass-roots campaigns for religious liberty, the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. Even the Moral Majority in its most belligerent form amounted to nothing more terrifying than churchgoers flocking peacefully to the polls on Election Day. The only people who want a biblical theocracy in America are completely outside the evangelical mainstream, their influence negligible.
So as Jerry Falwell and other ministers were jumping into politics, leaders such as Charles Colson–former Nixon aide turned born-again Christian–were charting another path. In 1976 Colson launched Prison Fellowship, a ministry to inmates, to address the soaring crime problem. Today it ranks as the largest prison ministry in the world, active in most U.S. prisons and in 112 countries. “Crime and violence frustrate every political answer,” he has said, “because there can be no solution apart from character and creed.” No organization has done more to bring redemption and hope to inmates and their families.
Evangelical megachurches, virtually unheard of 30 years ago, are now vital sources of social welfare in urban America. African American congregations such as the Potter’s House in Dallas, founded by Bishop T.D. Jakes, can engage a volunteer army of 28,000 believers in ministries ranging from literacy to drug rehabilitation. Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” has organized a vast network of churches to confront the issue of AIDS. “Because of their longevity and trust in the community,” Warren has said, “churches can actually do a better job long-term than either governments or” nongovernmental organizations in tackling the pandemic.
They also point out that:
It is surely no thirst for theocracy but rather a love for their neighbor that sends American evangelicals into harm’s way: into refugee camps in Sudan; into AIDS clinics in Somalia, South Africa and Uganda; into brothels to help women forced into sexual slavery; and into prisons and courts to advocate for the victims of political and religious repression.
Indeed, probably no other religious community in the United States is more connected to the poverty and suffering of people in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations argues that evangelicals offer moral ballast to American foreign policy. “[E]vangelicals who began by opposing Sudanese violence and slave raids against Christians in southern Sudan,” he wrote recently in Foreign Affairs, “have gone on to broaden the coalition working to protect Muslims in Darfur.”