The EFM Feature

As my bio attests, my dear wife and I are ostensibly going to be featured in a new PBS documentary called Generation Next, which airs next week. Well, that is, unless I ruffle too many feathers with this post–which I am writing not because it is about me, but because it draws upon what we are trying to do here.
Earlier this week, PBS aired–on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer–a “teaser” of the documentary addressing religion. Here is how it is (unfortunately) billed on the Generation Next website:

Young adults’ views on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality have led them to question their elders’ political leanings. Judy Woodruff provides a report on young people’s attitudes toward religion on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

The gist of the segment is that young evangelicals lean left compared to their forebears, and the usual hot-button issues of homosexuality and abortion are cited. But before showing footage of some young evangelicals who don’t seem to think Scripture condemns homsexual activity (or, I guess, that it matters) or that abortion is murder, they feature yours truly saying (not so eloquently) the following:

Chris and I call ourselves evangelicals. I don’t like to say conservative Christian, because that tends to imply — when you say “conservative,” people think politics. I believe what the Bible says, but, you know, that doesn’t mean, you know, I’m a conservative Christian, and so I’m a Republican.

First of all, “Chris” there should be “Charissa”–my wife. But more importantly, my words there are used to make it seem like I’m some kind of theological-political liberal–which I ain’t. And the producers knew that. We discussed this website, the Senate race in Pennsylvania (where we then lived and where we said we would have voted for Rick Santorum), and my previous political activity in the state, which included publicly supporting the very conservative then-Congressman Pat Toomey (now president of the Club for Growth) over Senator Arlen Specter in the 2004 GOP primary and leading a campus conservative group that ruffled enough feathers that regular attempts were made to suppress it. I wasn’t claiming to be a liberal, and the producers knew that.
What I was saying–drawing on a sermon by our then-pastor–was that the link between conservative politics and evangelicalism can be a stumbling block for some folks. (This is especially the case in a place like Philadelphia. Accepting Jesus is enough of a leap, but if folks think they have to become Republicans too…) And I was also saying that there is more to a true “pro-family”/socially-conservative/consistent-with-what-I-think-God-would-have-us-do politics than being pro-life and opposed to “gay marriage.” Among the friends here, we call it “Evangelicalism 2.0,” and it looks a little like this:

We don’t want a Republican nominee who’s simply against the same things we’re against—same-sex “marriage,” abortion, and embryonic stem cell research—because there’s more to being a person of faith than standing against injustice. We want a president who embraces a comprehensive and positive values agenda: defending religious liberty and basic human rights at home and abroad, combating poverty and disease (including the scourge of AIDS in Africa) within the world’s poorest communities, and fighting for better quality of life for our citizens. We also believe the War on Terror is not simply a national security issue, but also a values issue. The enemies of our country who are responsible for 9/11 hate our very way of life. They hate our freedom, our values, and our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Needless to say, that’s a far cry from this bit from a young West Coast evangelical, which my comment unfortunately set up on the show:

I used to be very pro-life, but I don’t know if I can really take a strong stance on it, just because it’s just such a heated issue.
It’s hard, because I think, personally, I want to just say, like, OK, abortion is wrong, you know, it’s not right. But then I’ve had friends that have been in situations where that became a really real part of their lives, you know?
And I know what they’ve been through and the reasons why they would have to make, you know, a choice. And I think, in certain situations, it might be appropriate, you know?

Yes, it is hard. But it’s also hard to turn Evangelicalism 2.0 into “we don’t quite believe what God’s Word says on tough issues so we are turning left.” It’s disappointing that PBS seemed to do this the other night–but it’s also pretty common.
Evangelicalism 2.0 isn’t “Evangelicalism 1.0 turned on its head.” It’s an updated version, not a repudiation. It’s the same positions that have become part and parcel of conservative politics plus other crucial issues, with a positive tone.
Now, does that description bring a possible messenger to mind?

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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