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Press Release

10/16/07

Family Research Council Event, Third Way Paper Reveal Growing Divide among Evangelicals

A new generation of leaders look to halt the culture wars

Washington, DC – As conservative Evangelical leaders gather in Washington this week for the Family Research Council’s (FRC) “Washington Briefing,” they face a new generation of leaders in their movement who are looking to halt the culture wars, along with an increasingly fractured rank and file. This new approach was brought fully to light last week, when several leading Evangelical figures stood with the progressive think tank Third Way for the release of their new paper, Come Let Us Reason Together: A Fresh Look at Shared Cultural Values between Evangelicals and Progressives.

The Third Way paper was released at a press conference on October 10 that featured, among others, Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter, pastor of the 10,000-congregant Northland Church in Florida and one-time President-Elect of the Christian Coalition. The paper offers what it calls common-ground approaches on matters ranging from abortion to gay and lesbian issues to religion in the public square. So far, it has garnered the support of more than twenty leaders in the Evangelical and progressive communities.

The split in Evangelical ranks was evident two days after release of the paper, when Tony Perkins, Director of FRC, stated that the only possible end to the culture wars was a scenario in which “we win, you lose.” These sentiments are a striking contrast to those expressed at the Third Way press conference by Rev. Hunter, who said: “None of us want to compromise our moral beliefs, nor will we. But all of us need to learn to cooperate in ways that can advance parts of our agenda together, and in ways that can counterbalance the growing polarization of our country. Ideology ought to mature into practical progress in ways that every one gets some of their goals met, instead of insisting that there can be no progress until I have all of ‘my’ goals met.”

Dr. David Gushee, a Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, went on to say: “The leaders of the religious right organizations have tended to be an older generation that is now passing from the scene, and I think this next generation of younger leaders is not invested in the older way of doing things and more aware of some of the costs of that older way of doing things… At a national level it’s the reemergence of something of a statesmanship vision as opposed to just a victory at all costs.”

In addition to this new generation of leaders, the Third Way paper found real diversity among Evangelical Americans. As Robert P. Jones, co-author of the paper explained: “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.” That means that as many as 25 million Evangelicals are open to moving forward on shared goals with progressives. These findings about the diversity of Evangelicals and the waning power of the culture war leaders also mirror findings last year from the American Values Survey at People for the American Way Foundation that showed that even among born again respondents, less than half (43%) said that Pat Robertson or James Dobson represented their political views.

Rachel Laser, a co-author of the paper and Director of the Third Way Culture Program, noted the significant differences in substance and tone between the leaders of the FRC and the voices at the Third Way event: “As Dr. Hunter, Dr. Gushee and our Evangelical partners, Dr. Randy Brinson of Redeem the Vote and Joe Battaglia of Renaissance Communications clearly stated, a huge number of Evangelicals want an end to the rancor and divisiveness. They are much more in line with the spirit of cooperation voiced in our paper in the name of moving the country forward than with the voices of divisiveness expressed by some in the FRC.”

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Contact: Matt Bennett (202) 775-3768 x212


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