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Matt Bennett, Vice President for Public Affairs
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mbennett@thirdway.org

Press Release

10/10/07

Progressives, Evangelical Leaders Seek “End of the Culture Wars”

Third Way Paper Offers New Insights on Evangelicals,

Washington, DC – Third Way today released a new paper that for the first time charts a way for progressives and Evangelicals to bridge the divide on some of the most polarizing cultural issues of the day. In seeking common ground on matters ranging from abortion to gay and lesbian issues to religion in the public square, the paper, titled Come Let Us Reason Together: A Fresh Look at Shared Cultural Values between Evangelicals and Progressives, offers what its authors and supporters are calling “the beginning of the end of the culture wars.”

The paper was issued at a Washington press conference co-hosted by Faith in Public Life, that brought together several national Evangelical and progressive leaders and offered statements of support from many more. At the event, the group discussed the findings on the paper and the significant opportunities they have found to bring Evangelicals and progressives together.

Rachel Laser, Director of the Third Way Culture Program, leader of the project and co-author of the paper, noted in her statement that the two sides had made significant strides on some of the most divisive issues of the day: “When we started this process, the progressive and Evangelical communities had begun to come together on issues like Darfur and the environment – we believed we could go further and talk with each other, and not at each other, even about the toughest cultural issues. This paper has achieved what many thought was impossible – it has taken the first steps forward on issues at the heart of the culture wars.”

The Third Way paper includes original analysis of the most recent public opinion research on Evangelicals and a corresponding set of recommendations on how progressives and Evangelicals can develop lasting and deeper coalitions. The paper also outlines new, common ground approaches to issues such as reducing the need for abortion, affirming the human dignity of gay and lesbian people, working for responsible progress in the treatment of human embryos, and respecting the role of religion in the public square. (See the Appendix for more on the agreed policy and language on these issues.)

In producing the paper, Third Way partnered with Evangelical leaders who have begun reaching across the cultural divide. One co-author, Dr. Randy Brinson, founder of the Evangelical group Redeem the Vote, emphasized the desire to move beyond the rancor of the culture wars: “There is a new spirit that craves a new way – a path forward that prioritizes Americans living better lives and fulfilling their God-given talents and purpose over political divides that stymie consensus.” Another co-author Joe Battaglia, President of the Evangelical media company Renaissance Communications, added: “I pray this paper will bring about good fruit and be received with open minds and hearts by my fellow Evangelicals and by those in the progressive community who want to get beyond politics, polemics and polarization.”

Another national Evangelical leader highlighted at the press conference was Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter, pastor of the 10,000-person Northland Church in Florida and one-time President-Elect of the Christian Coalition. Dr. Hunter said: “Evangelicals have been addressing the problem of climate change in our natural environment, and with this paper, we can now also work for climate change in the political world. I wholeheartedly endorse Third Way’s paper, because its call for courage from both Evangelicals and progressives helps our country move beyond the culture wars and achieve the good we can do in front of us.”

In addition to tackling tough cultural issues, Come Let Us Reason Together debunks the myth that Evangelicals, who constitute about 25% of all Americans, are monolithic in their political and cultural views. Dr. Robert P. Jones, co-author of the paper and religion scholar, noted: “One of the key findings of the paper is a new formula for understanding the diversity of the Evangelical community. As we point out, Evangelicals are roughly one-fifth progressive, one-third moderate, and one-half conservative, and this formula holds true across a number of different political and cultural measures.” The authors found that while Evangelicals are more conservative than the general population, nearly half have views that can coexist comfortably with progressive ideas.

Another participant in the press conference was Dr. David Gushee, a Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and a columnist for Christianity Today, the leading Evangelical magazine in the United States. Dr. Gushee said: “Third Way’s excellent paper confirms the emergence of a strong Evangelical center that cares about transforming hearts and institutions, that supports a broad policy agenda, and that is committed to building bridges with others of good will –something my own work has also found.”

Laser concluded: “Come Let Us Reason Together answers the plea from the vast majority of Americans who want an end to the rancor and divisiveness. This is a path forward together.” ###

APPENDIX

Shared Principles for the Role of Religion in the Public Square

We believe that most Americans want their leaders to respect religion and to acknowledge its importance in American society, while preserving both First Amendment principles of religious liberty: non-establishment and free exercise. We also believe that everyone has a responsibility to heal this divide, for in the absence of dialogue, misperceptions and fears rule the day. We have faith that a new conversation might begin to repair some of the broken trust and help create a healthier atmosphere in which to work together to find common ground.

Toward that end, we recommend the following basic principles as a first step in bridging the divide over the role of religion in American public life:

1. Respect for religious beliefs and religious diversity is vital for a healthy society.

For many, religious beliefs and practices provide a sense of guiding purpose, sustain hope in difficult times, and ground a sense of obligation to others. In addition to their primary religious functions, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious organizations fill critical roles such as providing disaster relief, social services, and health care, especially to the least and last among us. One of America’s greatest strengths is its religious vibrancy and diversity. The government can play a healthy role in fostering respect for rights of belief and conscience.

2. Religion plays an appropriate public, not just private, role in American life.

a. We affirm the important role of religion in informing many people’s public interactions and shaping their views on government and policy.

b. We affirm the rights of churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious organizations to engage in public debate. We recognize the central role religious institutions have played in some of the most important movements for social change in American history, such as the abolitionist and civil rights movements. Religious organizations, along with other organizations in civil society, play important roles in holding government accountable for its actions and keeping our country’s moral compass true.

3. All citizens have a constitutionally protected right to articulate the religious or moral basis of their political views in the public sphere, and protecting these expressions does not conflict with a commitment to the non-establishment of religion.

a. In addition to this constitutional right to religious expression, we further affirm that no religious citizen operating in the public sphere should be expected to act as if their faith did not matter to them. The views of religious citizens, like the views of all citizens, should be welcomed and respected. The act of explaining the motivations and foundations of one’s political views—whether or not religious—should be understood as a laudable democratic practice that strengthens understanding and civic friendship.

b. We also affirm that the constitutional principle of non-establishment of religion is fundamental to the continued health and vitality of both democracy and religion in America. We believe that government and political majorities should not be deciding theological questions or choosing which sacred symbols to promote. We recall that Baptists like Roger Williams, John Leland, and other religious leaders were the original promoters of these principles. These religious leaders feared that government-sponsored religion would be oppressive to religious minorities and bad for religion itself. The success of this American experiment can be seen in its results: we have more religious freedom than in perhaps any other country in the world, and this fertile environment has nurtured the remarkable vitality and diversity of contemporary American religion.

Respecting the Human Dignity of Gay and Lesbian People

Progressives’ and Evangelicals’ shared commitment to human dignity, and also the Golden Rule, has hopeful implications for creating a foundation of mutual respect with regard to one of the most difficult cleavages between these two groups—attitudes about public policies that relate to gay and lesbian people. One of the deepest areas of disagreement between Evangelicals and progressives relates to legal rights for gay and lesbian people. These differences are deep and real, and they are rooted in a variety of interrelated factors, including theological and/or philosophical beliefs about the morality of homosexuality, opinions about whether homosexuality is innate, and the likelihood of having a close friend or family member who is openly gay or lesbian.

In addition to these real differences of belief, opinion, and social experiences, progressive-Evangelical coalitions have been hindered by Evangelical worries that expanding legal rights of gay and lesbian persons would compromise their own religious beliefs and undermine religious liberty. We believe, however, that the forced choice between protecting religious liberty and protecting the human rights and dignity of gay and lesbian people is a false one. We believe that in the midst of real differences, there are shared principles that are rooted in respect for human dignity, and commitments to both the Golden Rule and religious liberty. These shared principles will not resolve the very real differences with respect to many policies, but should provide a shared foundation for more productive discussion.

1. Human dignity is innate. For Evangelicals and many other religious people, human dignity is grounded ultimately in a belief that all are created in the image of God; for others, it is an innate feature of our shared humanity. For all, human dignity is not a function of what we do but of who we are: all members of a common human family.

2. Protecting the human rights and dignity of all, even for those with whom one disagrees, is not only a consistent thing to do; it is a proud American tradition and a high moral and religious calling. America was founded on the principle that all have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and one of the deepest insights that is common to virtually all faith and moral traditions is that we should want for our brothers and sisters the same protections, public benefits, and opportunities we want for ourselves.

3. No legislation to protect the human dignity of gay and lesbian people should or need abridge the religious liberty of religious communities. Religious liberties and civil liberties are grounded in the same constitutional principles and must go forward together. Religious groups have a constitutionally protected right to manage their own communities, regulate their own religious practices, and express their beliefs publicly on issues around homosexuality.

Reducing the Need for Abortion

The issue of abortion has arguably been the most divisive cultural issue of our time. Certainly, there are real differences between progressives, who are majority “pro-choice” and Evangelicals, who are majority “pro-life.” Even here, however, there is ample room for common ground and a shared desire from all parts of the nation, including Evangelicals, to find it on this issue.

Progressives and Evangelicals can both agree that given the high number of abortions that occur every year in America, we should join together to reduce the need for abortion throughout the nation. This conversation has already begun around the Ryan-DeLauro “Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” which recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in large part as part of the FY 2008 Labor-HHS appropriations bill.

For two years now, Third Way has been engaged with pro-life and pro-choice members of Congress to find common ground around the idea of reducing the number of abortions in America through reducing the need for abortions. Pro-life Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) and pro-choice Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), with the backing of other pro-life and pro-choice members, first introduced the “Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act” last year.

This legislation is the first bill to join together the most effective strategies, regardless of their identification with the pro-choice or pro-life side, to minimize the need for abortions. The legislation finds common ground on reducing the number of abortions in America by both preventing unintended pregnancies and supporting pregnant women who wish to carry their pregnancies to term. The following are among its central provisions:

Preventing Unintended Pregnancies (examples): Supporting Pregnant Women Through to Parenthood (examples):

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Contact: Matt Bennett (202) 775-3768 x212


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