Friday, 7 November 2008

Evangelicalism and the Election: A Review of a Discussion Between Duane Litfin and Richard Mouw

On Wednesday, November 5th, at 7:00 PM at Wheaton College, Duane Litfin, President of Wheaton College, and Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, discussed evangelicalism, the election and the future relationship between evangelicals and politics.

Dr. Brian Howell has kindly agreed to write a short review of the event for us here at ESRH. Many thanks Brian!

The dust of the election has barely settled. Some still have tears of joy in their eyes and others just have tears, but for evangelicals on the right and left it is a good time to take stock of the political landscape. In keeping with the theme of the incoming administration, the tone of the CACE center’s discussion between Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary, and Duane Litfin, President of Wheaton College was generally hopeful.

The evening began with a discussion of the Evangelical Manifesto. Both presidents said their support for the document came from a concern that evangelicals had become too linked to Republican politics. They intimated that the political sea change of November 4 might be an opportunity to build on the growing political diversity of evangelicalism.

As could be expected from the author of Uncommon Decency, President Mouw was consistently irenic in his comments. Even when the last questioner of the evening accused him of “arrogantly accusing [conservative evangelicals] of being arrogant,” Mouw repented of any “tone” he may have inadvertently conveyed, while gently reminding the accuser of some shameful parts of the evangelical past (e.g., pastors denouncing the civil rights movement and calling Martin Luther King a communist.)

Throughout his remarks, Mouw encouraged us to consider the theological implications of our past and future activism. A philosopher, prolific author, and (full disclosure) one of my favorite professors from my days at Fuller, Mouw’s challenge to bring theological intelligence to our political activism - of whatever stripe - was clear.

President Litfin sounded some themes familiar to those of us in the Wheaton community, but like Mouw, he engaged the topics with a spirit of humility and charity. Litfin noted the problem of trying to reshape U.S. society to become “comfortable” for the Christian, at one point asking, “By what right do we think that America should be comfortable to us as Christians?”

Since the evening was not a debate, there was nothing in the way of disagreement. This was to be expected, but I left feeling that some of the more interesting events from the recent campaigns were not picked up as they could have been.

For example:

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Action political group put out a controversial “letter” - a fictional account of life in the U.S. at the end of Obama’s first term - that offended many evangelicals. How should we handle “in house” controversy? Is it better to start facebook groups and make public protests to communicate the diversity of our community to the outside world? Or should we work it out among ourselves, preserving the unity of Christian fellowship?

In 2004, many evangelicals made a lot of George Bush’s faith. In this election, Obama was, by some measures, more articulate about his faith than McCain. McCain, however, clearly matched up better with traditional evangelical concerns around abortion. Should evangelicals support policy over faith? (Mitt Romney, anyone?)

The most prominent aspect of this election must be race. White evangelicals did not support Obama in numbers larger than their support of Bush in 2004. Black evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Obama, surpassing their support for Kerry in 2004.[2] Illustrating Emerson and Smith’s thesis of Christian racial division, do White evangelicals have an opportunity to respond to Obama’s presidency in a way that could heal racial division? If so, how?

If nothing else, the evening was an encouragement for all Christians to prayerfully consider our theology and our actions as we engage the world. Now seems as good a time as any.


[2]; cf.

No comments: