The topic of Grant's post is fairly self-evident, but the main thrust is evangelical concern about public discourse. Grant writes, "such is evangelicalism. It is a tradition that wants to engage in public debates in which evangelical arguments are met with hostility." In the 1950s, evangelicals (represented by the National Association of Evangelicals or NAE) were afraid that the U.S. government's newly friendly relationship with Roman Catholic leadership would erode religious freedom; but more so, they were beginning to feel that explicitly Christian discourse was increasingly unwelcome in these public debates. (This is now kind of ironic given Fr. John Neuhaus' prominence in evangelical circles for the promotion of ecumenical efforts in public theology - check out First Things.) They complained about a "code of platitudes" governing public discourse, in the same way that many leaders today complain about "political correctness." They also pushed for the U.S. to withhold aid from countries that limited religious freedom, which seems somewhat reasonable depending on the circumstances, but runs counter to certain New Testament teachings about loving concern for enemies and persecutors.
Suppose I have a friend, Fred, who is (in my carefully considered opinion) always right. If I tell you I’m against stem-cell research because “my friend Fred says it’s wrong and that’s all there is to it,” you will just look at me as if I was missing the point of the discussion. This is supposed to be a consideration of reasons, and I have not given you a reason that I in good faith could expect you to appreciate. (From Brian Hines' Church of the Churchless site).
Does this mean that all public dialogue on public policy must be framed in "secular" terms? The debate is ongoing. On one hand maybe Christians shouldn't be so pragmatic. Speak the language of faith and deal with the results. On the other hand, when it comes to ethics, insisting on the language of faith sometimes seems to assume that Christian ethics are totally arbitrary, rather that assuming that Christian ethics stem from a God who may have reasonably discernible human well-being in mind.
Randall Balmer's lament is summarized as follows:
"He says blind allegiance to the Republican Party has distorted the faith of politically active evangelicals, leading them to misguided positions on issues such as abortion and homosexuality.
"They have taken something that is lovely and redemptive and turned it into something that is ugly and retributive," Balmer says.
He argues that modern evangelicals have abandoned the spirit of their movement, which was founded in 19th-century activism on issues that helped those on the fringes of society: abolition, women's suffrage and universal education.
"I don't find any correlation in the agenda of the religious right today," Balmer says.
Balmer's book describes how he discovered that the Religious Right of the late 70s and the 80s was not founded on concern about abortion, but concern about religious liberty stemming from IRS attacks on Bob Jones University for its outmoded "anti-miscegenation" policy that forbade interracial dating. Balmer, a somewhat disaffected evangelical historian was invited to attend a fairly high-level meeting of Religious Right leaders in 1991, in which this reality was clearly stated. He points out that certain prominent Southern Baptist leaders (for instance) welcomed more permissive legislation on abortion in the 70s and he laments that late-20th century white-evangelicals were on the wrong side of civil rights in the 60s in particular.
This is a fascinating excerpt and I have not read the book, but the excerpt misses a couple of things. First, the "pro-choice" (anachronism noted) Baptist leaders of the 70s were about to walk into a brutal maelstrom of ecclesial tension in the 80s. Those guys represented an "old guard" that was on the way out. Second, even if Religious Right leadership came late to abortion as an issue with potential traction to mobilize their base, it might still be the case that evangelicals (ie. church-goers, not politicians) saw in abortion an issue worthy of the legacy of 19-century activism. The methods and ideologies used by activists, then and now, might still be deeply problematic as well, but to dismiss the pro-life movement because of the idiosyncrasies of its foundation, its sometimes crude scientific misunderstandings and uncompromising ideology is to miss the bigger point. People in our country regularly dismantle living humans in the womb, often because women feel they have no other "choice." What kind of choice is that and is this reality unworthy of the attention of Christians? I understand that Balmer is partly frustrated because Religious Right leaders created a false narrative, and it is well worth Balmer's revision to set the story straight. Therefore, maybe his lament should be less concerned with the missed opportunities for heroic activism on the left (this issue, not that one) and more concerned with evangelical truth-telling and power-politics in general.