According to an entry on the Dallas Morning News religion blog, Jim Wallis, noted liberal evangelical, has "ripped" Dobson for his criticism of Obama. This is not surprising, since Wallis is a known left-winger, and has become something of a darling of the left for allegedly squaring evangelicalism with leftism and proving that not all evangelicals are rabid right-wing troglodytes. Thus he has become useful in the left-wing quest to weaken the influence of Christianity in our society. But wait, isn't he an evangelical? And isn't the very definition of an evangelical to be a patriotic, pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, pro-prayer in schools, etc., etc., conservative American?
Not when the meaning of the term "evangelical" is shifting. The word comes from the Greek "evangelion," meaning good news. In the strictest, perhaps original sense, it simply means one who is concerned with spreading the good news of the Christian gospel, namely that Jesus Christ, the son of God, came to earth to pay with his life the debt we could not pay for our own sin, purchasing for us eternal life. Now, in theory, this is something a Jim Wallis, a mainline protestant, or a Roman Catholic could sign on to just as well as James Dobson. So how did "evangelical" come to mean conservative, generic, non-denominational (or not particularly denominationally oriented) low-church Protestant? I speak only from my own memory here, but I believe that the term was not in common use in this sense until the 1990s. When I was a child in the 1980s, the term the media used for such people was "fundamentalists." That word had a negative connotation, and was not entirely accurate because only a small subset of conservative Protestants are true fundamentalists, so, by my understanding, this group of which we speak mounted a large PR campaign to replace the f-word with "evangelical," a more positive word that emphasized the seemingly benign mission to spread the gospel.
This campaign was largely successful; the media, and those outside the conservative Protestant world, actually began using this word instead of "fundamentalist." But a funny thing happened on the way to the church: instead of swapping meanings, liberals, secularists, and the mainstream media swapped only symbols, leaving the underlying meaning intact. "Evangelical" simply came to mean exactly what "fundamentalist" used to mean, negative connotations and all. (I had a coworker, a secular Russian Jew about my age, who like many in my generation got all his information about the world from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, who used to say the word "evangelicals" with a sneer in his voice, just the way an older leftist would speak the word "fundamentalist.")
It was inevitable that this would happen. Since conservative Christianity is defined as bad in the worldview of liberalism, any word which conservative Christians adopt to describe themselves must take on negative connotations. This makes it extremely dishonest of the media to describe Jim Wallis and other liberals as "evangelicals," since for them the word implies holding to a level of religious "fanaticism" that goes beyond what is legitimate. I'm not exactly sure why they would use a word that has negative connotations to describe someone they view as good, but I think what they are trying to do is discredit conservative Christians' claim to be true Christians; by co-opting the word commonly used to describe conservative Christians and applying it to liberals like Wallis, they're trying to say that he is the one really spreading the good news, and the Dobsons of the world are spreading hate, intolerance, judgmentalism, etc. (Note: I know that Wallis himself embraces the label "evangelical," but since he is on the same side as the left and the mainstream media, I'm including him under the pronoun "they.")
The other major point of dishonesty in the entry is the following:
Older Religious Right leaders are now being passed by a new generation of young evangelicals who believe that poverty, "creation care" of the environment, human trafficking, human rights, pandemic diseases like HIV/AIDS, and the fundamental issues of war and peace are also "religious" and "moral" issues and now a part of a much wider and deeper agenda.For the past several years, news stories on religion have been peppered with statements like the above, saying that the younger, rising generation of evangelicals believes that typical left-wing concerns are "also" religious and moral issues, that they take the liberal line on poverty and environmentalism "in addition to" opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. The effect is to make it sound as though these young liberal evangelicals are, to invert a common libertarian catch-phrase, socially conservative and fiscally liberal; that they are in fact conservative on cultural issues but merely add income redistribution and environmentalism to those issues; that their concerns form a superset of the older evangelicals' concerns (i.e., "part of a much wider and deeper agenda.") What they want us to believe is that older evangelicals care only about abortion and same-sex marriage, while the new generation, in addition to caring about these things, also cares about human rights and AIDS.
This is a bald-faced lie. These liberal evangelicals don't care about left-wing causes in addition to the standard right-wing social and cultural concerns; they care about left-wing causes instead of right-wing social and cultural concerns. How often do Wallis or Tony Campolo or other liberal evangelical leaders call for abortion to be illegal, or same-sex marriage to be resisted? Answer: never. Instead, they say they are personally opposed to these things, but refuse to call for a public morality enshrined in law that opposes them. Here is an interview with Campolo where he says that abortion should remain legal and takes the pathetic "get the government out of the marriage business" line on same-sex marriage. And here is an article by Wallis in which he says that liberal Christians "find it painfully difficult to vote Democratic" given that party's stance on abortion, similar to Campolo's description of himself as a "reluctant Democrat." But notice what he's saying: it may be painfully difficult for them to vote Democratic, but they still do it. And why not? The Democratic party's stance on abortion is what allegedly troubles them so much--but their own stance is that abortion is regrettable but should remain legal, a stance indistinguishable from that of most Democratic politicians! How many times did Bill Clinton say that abortion should remain "safe, legal, and rare?"
So, we see that liberal evangelicals aren't some new amalgam of liberals and conservatives, independent thinkers offering a "third way," people who are suffering great personal anguish at being horribly torn between two sides, agreeing more with one on certain issues and with the other on other issues. Instead, they are garden variety left-wingers who completely sign on to the Democratic party platform and have nothing but scorn for conservative positions.
Left-wing dishonesty knows no bounds.