Some Evangelicals Look To The Left

Author and preacher Jim Wallis calls himself a 'progressive evangelical' who says Christians should focus on injustice around the world, CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts reports.

"I want to announce tonight that the monologue of the religious right is finally over," Wallis says. "With 30,000 children dying every day needlessly from poverty and disease, I can't imagine Jesus thinking the top issue on our agenda ought to be gay marriage amendments in Ohio."

But Tony Perkins, president of the politically powerful Family Research Council, argues that abortion and gay marriage are the driving concerns for most evangelicals.

"I think more and more people are standing on our side, on the side of sanctity of human life, the preservation of marriage," Perkins says. "I don't mind having these debates because when the truth is on your side, you ultimately win."

Wallis, however, says "the country is hungry for a politics of solution and a politics of hope."

Wallis says he's against abortion, but argues that the agenda of the religious right is too narrow and divisive.

So, is this a new movement, or simply an old movement that is new again?

"The evangelists were abolitionists. They led the battle against slavery. They were revivalists and reformers. They fought for women's suffrage. They fought for child labor laws," Wallis says. "I want to build the same kind of social movements today. That means global poverty, it means Darfur, it means HIV/AIDS, it means global warming."

In the last presidential election, 78 percent of white evangelicals voted for President Bush. So now, we're seeing more and more Democrats - from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton - talking about their faith and issues like poverty and the environment.

"Liberal Christians are not cohesive. They can't agree on anything," Perkins says.

"I think it's a hunger for a new moral center. Don't go left. Don't go right. Go deeper," Wallis says, adding that he's not advocating fence-straddling.

"This is not a mushy political middle or center. The hunger, though, is for a moral center where we find the moral choices and challenges that lie right beneath our political debate," Wallis explains.

But Perkins doesn't agree. "People are going to have to stand on one side or the other. These are decisions that you can't stand in the middle," Perkins says.

He considers Wallis an extreme. "I consider him to be on the left. I'm no more extreme on the right than he is on the left. I mean, he's out there," Perkins adds.

Wallis considers himself, however, to be square dab in the middle.

"Well, you know what's usually in the middle are dead cats and skunks that have been run over. That's usually what's in the middle of the road," Perkins says.

And so the debate continues, perhaps coming to a church near you.
  • Melissa McNamara

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