Evangelical Christians Seek Freedom for All
The National Association of Evangelicals represents Christians from many denominations, and the diverse churches, schools and ministries that they have formed in order to bless our nation. We seek to be an influence for good, and to help our leaders foster thriving communities and navigate complexity with biblical clarity. Much of our work is guided by the principles in our document, “For the Health of the Nation.”
The word “evangelical” means “good news” and points to the healing and transformation that God makes available to people of all races and ethnicities who become followers of Jesus Christ. We long for everyone to experience the forgiveness, love, and power of God in their lives and so we take every opportunity to invite our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens to take advantage of this remarkable opportunity.
Evangelical Christians believe that all people bear the image of God, and he grants every human being the freedom to accept or reject him. We, therefore, renounce coercion, and strongly advocate for the freedom of all people to practice their faith without interference. In recent years the NAE has joined amicus briefs defending the rights of Muslims, Sikhs, and others to use distinctive dress or grooming, construct houses of worship, and employ religious workers of their choice to lead their institutions, without government interference. We seek the same freedoms for people of all faiths, in the United States and around the world.
An important flashpoint in recent years has been the intersection of religious rights with concerns regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. On such sensitive subjects, one-sided attempts to impose win-lose solutions are deeply problematic. We are encouraged that a broad range of religious leaders and a growing number of congressional leaders have begun to embrace an approach known as “Fairness for All” that seeks to preserve the religious rights of all people while also protecting LGBT Americans from unjust discrimination.
In recent years there has been a resurgence of tribalism both within and beyond the United States. We face not just the traditional fault lines of race, religion, and political party, but divisions within each of those categories. The antagonism between progressive and moderate Democrats, for example, or between Trumpist and never-Trump Republicans, can be just as intense as that between members of the two parties.
The violent assault on our nation’s Capitol on January 6 laid bare the tragic polarization in our society which some politicians and even religious leaders have harnessed and manipulated. The NAE and many other groups have issued strong statements denouncing the attack on American democracy, and lamenting the loss of life, the misuse of religion, and the traumatic disruption of public order. These wounds will not easily heal. It is incumbent on all faith leaders, and particularly on Christians, to show by our example that we are people of peace who uphold the truth.
In too many cases, religious beliefs and commitments have been overshadowed, and even dominated by political and racial cleavages. Some Christians, for example, have had their views on immigration policy or poverty alleviation shaped more by cable television pundits and social media than by the Bible. Interest groups have often used hot button moral concerns as wedge issues to divide citizens rather than working together to win/win solutions that most of the electorate could support. When politicians seek to run on controversial issues rather than actually resolving them, we all lose.
Racial injustice remains the most profound and intractable challenge to our body politic. Despite robust constitutional protection and venerable civil rights laws, substantial racial disparities in wealth, income, education, health care, criminal justice, and voting rights remain stark reminders of how far we are from the meritocracy envisioned by our founders, much less the beloved community of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.
The challenge for interfaith advocates is not to seek a secular public square, nor a bland civil religion based on a lowest common denominator creed. The opportunity is rather for each American to live their faith freely and fully while contributing to the common good and respecting their neighbors with whom they may disagree on many — though rarely on all public policies. Pick any two Americans at random and there will be at least one area of common conviction where they can cooperate for the betterment of our nation and world. Cross-spectrum and interfaith coalitions can be powerful engines for social progress.
In 2021 the NAE will be looking for bipartisan cooperation on immigration reform, rebuilding our refugee resettlement and asylum programs, protecting the unborn and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans, further action on criminal justice reform, protection of voting rights, establishing paid family leave and other measures that strengthen families, and practical solutions that address our changing climate. In the continuing struggle to end the coronavirus pandemic, we will advocate for responses that prioritize the most vulnerable, both at home and abroad. We will educate our constituents on the COVID-19 vaccines, and encourage continued compliance with all necessary public health measures. We also plan to expand our work with churches and communities to correct the effects of racial injustice.
Galen Carey has served as Vice President for Government Relations with the National Association of Evangelicals since 2009, based in Washington, D.C. He is the co-author of “Faith in the Voting Booth: Practical Wisdom for Voting Well.” Previously he served for 26 years with World Relief, the humanitarian service arm of the NAE, in Burundi, Croatia, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique and the United States.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.