Leaving the Religious Right

ByABC News
November 7, 2006, 12:50 PM

Nov. 7, 2006— -- I spoke last week in the chapel of Bethel University, a conservative evangelical school in the Minnesota heartland of the American Midwest.

Bethel has been long regarded as a safe and secure place for conservative Republican politics and as fertile ground for recruiting by the Religious Right.

In the last two elections, most Bethel students would certainly have voted for President Bush.

But the wind is changing at Bethel and among a new generation of evangelical students and pastors across the country who are defying the old conservative paradigms.

My Minnesota visit in the heat of this election season was a dramatic demonstration of a fundamental change, one that could be a very critical indicator of the future of faith and politics in America.

In Bethel's chapel, I challenged a new generation to clear up the confusion in this nation about what it means to follow Jesus.

I asked them whether they wanted to be true evangelicals, defined by the root meaning of the word "evangel," which literally means "good news."

I told them that any gospel that wasn't good news to the poor -- which was how Jesus defined his mission -- simply wasn't the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It was clear from the response in the packed chapel service that a new generation of evangelical Christians wants to be like Jesus.

Because of that, their agenda is now much broader and deeper than just abortion and gay marriage, the two things the Religious Right continues to talk about as the only "moral values" issues.

The Bethel students, like me, still believe that the sanctity of life and healthy family values are critically important, too important to be turned into partisan wedge issues to get votes at election time.

We need a deeper moral discussion of both those questions.

But younger evangelicals will no longer accept the mistaken notion that scripture somehow speaks to only two hot-button social issues. They now care about a wider range of moral issues, such as poverty and economic justice, the environment, HIV/AIDS, genocide in Darfur, human rights, sex trafficking, and matters of war and peace, especially Iraq.

Jim Wallis is author of the best-seller "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It" and executive director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.