Faith Of Our Fathers

So what does it mean to be an "Evangelical Christian" in 2006?

If you talk to Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, you'll get an answer that likely includes opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

If you talk to Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and author of a new book "God's Politics," you'll get an answer that likely includes a solution to world hunger and security for the people of Darfur.

Both men proudly proclaim they are Evangelical Christians. Wallis' Evangelicals were active Abolitionists during slavery. He'd like to see a return of that kind of 'faith journey' and a focus on human suffering.

Perkin's version helped put President George W. Bush in the White House. He sees Evangelicals as having a powerful voice in American politics with a focus on family and traditional family values.

Both men are articulate, passionate and thoughtful. And both men think they're right and the other guy 'needs help.'

At the very least it's an interesting debate. For many years now "Evangelicals" seemed to speak with one voice... and could be categorized in one group: 'The Religious Right.' Wallis thinks it's time for a duet. Maybe even a chorus of faith-based voices.

Wallis argues 'the right has gotten in wrong.' What it means to be an '"Evangelical Christian" goes well beyond the two issues: gay marriage and abortion.

For our story that airs tonight on this issue... we went on the road with Wallis for a day in Seattle, Washington. He spoke at a beautiful church to a group of about 200-people: Seniors, middle-aged and a large group of 20-something's.

Talking to some of the 20-something's after the program, I thought they seemed to really embrace Wallis message of a more inclusive faith. Wallis used a term they embraced: '"Red Letter Christians." That is, people who believe all the words of Jesus written in red in the Bible.

One woman said she felt "embarrassed" to be called an "Evangelical" because it had come to represent, in her mind, an extreme right wing view of the world.

So after our trip out to Seattle, we went down to Washington, DC, and talked to Perkins. He rejects Wallis' notion of what it means to be an Evangelical Christian. He's all for solving poverty and ending genocide. But he sees as THE main issues facing Evangelicals to be gay marriage and abortion PERIOD.

Perkins considers Wallis and all who think as he thinks... as lefty liberals pretending to be Evangelicals. When I asked Perkins about "Red letter Christians." His response was "We believe in the whole book.'"

That made it clear to me.

I can't think of many issues that fire up people more than issues related to faith or religion.

I have to admit, for most of my career I've avoided such stories because my own faith is so very important to me and so very personal. But '"faith" is now a part of my beat and so I take that responsibility very seriously. I hope and pray my faith and career journey are both journeys in search of truth. That they can compliment each other and not conflict.

O.K.. Enough about me. My mom and have been having that discussion for 20-plus years now. And she still worries.

But anyway, we tried our very best in this story to give a fair voice to two views of what it means to be an "Evangelical Christian.'"

Maybe at the very least it'll spark discussion in a few church parking lots after Bible Study or Choir rehearsal.