A true believer


AS AN EVANGELICAL Christian, I was delighted when the newly elected Congress officially took office this week.

I welcome the prospect of a cut in taxes and a smaller, less TC intrusive government, and I am overjoyed by the thought of congressional resistance to President Clinton's social liberalism.

In the midst of all this happiness, I have a concern. I worry that this conservative Congress may misinterpret the widespread electoral support it enjoyed among evangelical Christians in the midterm elections.

I can see how elected representatives, swept into power on a tidal wave of conservative rhetoric, could misread the religious conservatism of evangelical Christians. The evangelical agenda, of course, has much in common with the overall conservative movement -- rejection of economic and social liberalism. We believe the traditional family unit is the foundation of society. We will never accept homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. We abhor abortion.

Evangelicals also want a reformation of moral values in America. We agree with Newt Gingrich that children having babies, teens killing teens and high school graduates who can't read is a prescription for the demise of our nation.

We support welfare reform and an end to government giveaway programs that keep people bound in a cycle of poverty. We believe the Bible when it says that work is honorable.

But do not leap from these beliefs to the conclusion that evangelicals want to eliminate legitimate, demonstrably necessary social programs for the poor and needy among us. Proverbs 14:21 says that to "despise the poor is sin."

Nor do we want to undo legislation that protects minority rights in America, civil and religious. We have no desire to overturn the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson irresponsibly suggested the day after the election.

What this newly elected conservative Congress needs to understand about evangelicals is that our social conservatism has its roots in holy scripture, not in secular politics.

True, there are extremists among evangelicals, just as there are in any group, left or right. Some of my brothers and sisters want to take over government and remake America into a theocracy. But they are a distinct minority among us and have less influence than the secular media would have the public believe.

Incidentally, those who want a theocracy are also riding the larger conservative wave, their own biblical vision commingling with the wider economic, social and cultural flow of ideas and events. I join these fellow believers in longing for the righteousness that exalts a nation, but I know it will never come through politics.

I have lived a lifetime in and around the evangelical community and I can tell you that most evangelical Christians want simply to be free to worship and witness as we wish and to live out our faith in daily life without fear of governmental regulation.

We want our children to be safe on the streets of our cities, to get a good education, and to learn honesty, decency and morality during the six hours or so that the state has them each weekday.

We don't want the countercultural values of the 60s and 70s pushed on us by government, big or little, and we will vote every time for the candidate who promises not to do this.

In the end, we know that changed lives, not changed political systems, are our nation's salvation. Our deepest commitments are to faith and family, not political ideology.

Our conservative voting patterns are rooted in these desires and any elected representative who reads anything else into them does so at his or her re-elective risk.

Tom Bisset is General Manager of WRBS-FM, an evangelical radio station in Baltimore.

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