Seeking A ‘Third Way’: Inauguration of Obama May Bring Unity

Andy Birkey

Is the 'Third Way' a charm? The aptly named think tank thinks so. A coalition of progressive and evangelical leaders organized by the organization calls on President Elect Obama to find common ground on social issues.

A coalition of progressive and evangelical leaders are calling on Congress and President-elect Barack Obama to work toward ending the culture war and finding common ground on issues like gay rights, abortion, immigration and torture. Organized by the think tank Third Way, the coalition announced its road map to ending the culture war, called “Come Let Us Reason Together” (PDF), and has already held meetings with congressional leaders, progressive organizations and evangelical churches.

The central aim of the agenda is to find areas of mutual agreement among evangelicals and progressives. For gay rights, that means a focus on employment nondiscrimination laws for the LGBT community with an exemption for religious institutions. In reproductive health, it means finding ways to reduce the need for abortions by “preventing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women and new families, and increasing support for adoption.”

The agenda takes an encompassing approach to immigration: “We agree that we need secure, compassionate, and comprehensive immigration reform. We support policies that create an earned path to citizenship and protect families, while securing our borders and treating American taxpayers fairly.”

Torture is one area where both sides seem to have found common ground. The coalition rejects torture as un-American and immoral.

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Among the dozens of evangelical leaders who have signed on is Tony Jones of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. In his letter of support he wrote, “My hope is that President-elect Obama and the new Congress will embrace this governing agenda, which includes policies that represent real progress on historically divisive issues: reducing abortions and ensuring workplace equality for gay and lesbian persons.” Jones continued, “Together, this growing group of faithful persons represents a new path forward in America that models a positive religious presence in the public square.”

Tony JonesTony JonesAnother signatory is Paul de Vries, a member of the board of the National Association of Evangelicals. “There is one Lord Jesus Christ, and he has many issues,” wrote de Vries. “Tragically, while the Democratic and Republican parties each have at least an attenuated sense of some of his issues — each party seems tone-deaf to some others. Nowhere has the failure to be faithful to Truth and to listen to one another been more acute than on issues underlying the so-called ‘culture wars.’”

During a recent conference call with reporters, a number of evangelical leaders explained why they agreed to be a part of this effort to end the culture war. Probably the most profound example was Jonathan Merritt, founder of the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative.

“As a committed Southern Baptist, I know all too well the ‘culture war’ mentality. It is a mentality that often speaks without listening, divides rather than unites and promotes destructive partisanship,” he said. “At the same time, I am proud of the unwavering moral stances that conservative Christians, including Southern Baptists, have taken. We remain committed to important issues like the traditional marriage and protecting life conception.”

He continued, “Yet conservative Christians must also live out the other tenets of our faith, including compassion, charity, human dignity and the pursuit of peace. Therefore, I support this agenda because I am a Southern Baptist, not in spite of that fact.”

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