In his new book, How Should Christians Vote?, the Rev. Dr. Tony Evans says the Bible offers the guidance we need to make wise voting decisions, but he also says those decisions should reflect kingdom principles rather than allegiance to any political party. Evans is senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, founder and president of The Urban Alternative, a national urban renewal ministry, and host of The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, which is heard on more than 500 radio stations. UrbanFaith talked to Evans about his new book, his views on same-sex marriage, and political engagement generally. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
UrbanFaith: You were recently interviewed by both NPR and CNN about your disappointment in President Obama’s statement of support for same-sex marriage. What kind of response have you gotten to those interviews?
Tony Evans: Mostly positive. We’ve had some negative, where people feel like it’s narrow minded and bigoted, but it’s been mostly positive from my constituency, which would hold to that view.
The editor of the media criticism site Get Religion has noted that because of this issue, the press is suddenly interested in what African American pastors have to say. Do journalists call you to talk about the work of Urban Alternative, its national Adopt-A-School initiative, for example?
No. That is the correct statement. We tend to be substantive with regard to the political issues of the day, not for what we do in improving people’s lives.
Why do you think the press is so interested in what black pastors have to say about same-sex marriage?
Because of its political implications. Will it affect the black vote or black support of the president? It’s a big cultural issue now in regards to the definition of the family and gay rights. So, because of its political clout, the African American tank becomes very important. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way most of the media is right now.
In your interview with NPR, you said race isn’t a choice and implied that homosexuality is a choice. Increasingly we’re hearing that race is to some degree a social construct. Are race and sexuality really so dissimilar?
They’re apples and oranges. For a person to enter into a homosexual relationship, it is their decision to do that. They have autonomy over that decision. How a person is born or the group to which they are a part of when they are born is something that the Creator has authorized. Homosexual marriage is not something the Creator has authorized. In fact, he’s condemned it. Since God has spoken on his created work and on his condemning work, and has been clear on both of those, we should not put those in the same category.
And so, when people compare the history of interracial marriage to same sex marriage, you don’t think those issues are similar?
No, they’re not similar because the way [same-sex marriage] was regarded before was wrong, and the Creator states that it is wrong. God would never have endorsed what the culture is allowing.
In your book, you says Christians should be like NFL referees when it comes to politics in that they should represent a kingdom perspective rather than identifying primarily with a political party. How can we really know what God’s will is on issues like health care or immigration law?
I believe that there are biblical positions on every issue, but no party fully represents all God’s views consistently on all God’s issues. Christians are going to vote differently because they will prioritize issues differently. My concern is that we’ve so aligned ourselves with the parties of this world that we’re missing the kingdom of God. The proof of that is that we’ve let political parties divide the kingdom of God. My illustration regarding referees is simply to say that while they sometimes vote for one team and sometimes vote for another team, they’re obligated ultimately to neither team, because they belong to another kingdom called the NFL. So, we should never let the party divisions interfere with the unity of the church, causing the church to lose its influence in the culture.
And yet, white evangelicals are very much identified with the Republican party and black Christians are often identified with the Democratic party. How do they come to such different perspectives on issues?
It’s more priority of issues. For example, the white evangelical community will emphasize right to life in the womb. The black Christian community will emphasize justice to the tomb. For me, those both are one issue, whole life, not term. Since that is one issue with two different locations, Christians can agree on the whole life issue even though they vote differently, and come out with a whole-life perspective that if we were unified both parties would have to interface with and take seriously. Because they can split us up along party lines, we do not have a single voice on the issues that represent the kingdom of God.
How can Christians become more unified despite their different political perspectives?
There should be a Christian manifesto that gives God’s view on all the prominent issues that is represented by Christians across race, cultural, and class lines. Christians should hold both parties [accountable to] speak to that manifesto.
Are you calling for something like the Manhattan Declaration?
Yes, like that, but specifically to reflect the comprehensive view, and not only to reflect it in a manifesto statement, but in how Christians come together and relate to each other, not going back to our own dug outs and separating after the manifesto is over. There should be an ongoing statement. Ultimately I think we should put forth a Christian-based candidate who is kingdom minded, who reflects a comprehensive Christian worldview.
Because President Obama grounded his advocacy for same-sex marriage in his Christian faith, would your idea of a Christian manifesto include a perspective like his?
No. It would not authorize anything that is unauthorized by God, and the definition of the family is one of those things. You can’t define the family differently than its creator defined it for cultural and political correctness. That would not be acceptable.
You advocate limited government in your book. How does limited government reflect biblical values?
In my view, the Scripture is clear that civil government is limited. Number one, because it’s not the only government. There is family government, church government, and ultimately the best government is self-government, because the more people that govern themselves, the less civil government we need. When God created Adam and Eve, there was total freedom except one narrow regulation, one tree they couldn’t eat from, but there were dire consequences. God says in 1 Samuel 8 that civil government is getting out of hand when it requires in taxes more than God requires in tithes. The mere fact that civil government should submit to God’s government means it’s going to limit itself to what God has given it responsibility for. All of these argue for limited government, freeing the other governments to do their job, not expecting civil government to intrude on the other governments God has established.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the major parties in terms of the size of government; rather, it seems to be more a matter of where resources are directed, with one party focusing on national security and corporate welfare and the other prioritizing social supports. Does either party represent limited government?
No. First of all, we would be changing welfare on the Republican side for corporate welfare and on the Democratic side for social welfare. All of those would be reduced. All of those would be limited in a biblical worldview. A biblical worldview would never subsidize dependency. It provides help, so I’m for a safety net that, for able bodied people, demands the incurring of responsibility. For example, if your child gets federal money through Head Start, you should have to volunteer in that school. You shouldn’t be able to sit home and get the benefit without incurring responsibility.
Personal responsibility is an important value, but, these days, many people can’t find jobs that offer health insurance and they can’t afford to buy it on their own, for example. How do personal responsibility and communal responsibility interplay from a biblical perspective?
My view is that a just free market would address most of those. The problem with the free market on one side is that it often can be unjust. The problem with government is that it gets too big and therefore too cumbersome and it can’t address things properly. But a just free market—which means there are staggering consequences for breaking the law—would address most of those. If you had insurance across state lines, then competition that’s opening up the free market would reduce costs for insurances. It wouldn’t be prohibitive for businesses then to offer it. So, I believe that a just free market answers most of those concerns.
Doesn’t the combination of limited government and social conservatism just land you in the Republican party?
No, it doesn’t, because I believe that we have conservative, blue-dog Democrats who would hold to non-abortion, who would hold to the definition of a family as a man and a woman, and who would at least hold to a smaller government than now exists. I don’t believe you get locked down that way because then you become owned by that party.
You wrote in the book that you were friends with President George W. Bush. He ran on a platform of “compassionate conservatism” and tested some of these ideas. Do you think that worked out?
He got distracted by a big war in Iraq. He pushed faith-based initiatives and I do believe the more local charity becomes, the more beneficial, impactful, and accountable it becomes. The war distracted that emphasis and I was sorry to see that.
You advocate something you call “interposition,” which is “when righteous agents of God advocate on behalf of those facing imminent judgment or danger,” but critics have charged the Religious Right with not only alienating non-Christians, but also our own children. Are you concerned that the kind of political engagement you advocate will lead to alienation from the gospel?
Not if it’s done properly, if it’s done with love. One of the things I disagree with the Right about is the dishonor shown to the president. You can disagree honorably. I believe that many disagree dishonorably. You can engage in a loving way that demonstrates the heart of God, but that demonstrates the truth of God. Love must always be married to truth and truth must always be married to love. So I believe our methodology is a big part of the problem.
You provide a lot of detailed advice in the book about political engagement, but when people ask you how they should vote, what do you say?
I say, “Vote for the candidate and the party that will most give you the opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. And even though people may vote for that differently, if the kingdom of God and its advance is your primary concern, then you’ll be Democrat lite or Republican lite, so that in either party you’ll be the L-I-G-H-T.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder promised to uphold voting rights in his keynote address this morning at the Conference of National Black Churches annual meeting in Washington D.C. The three-day event is being held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus and focuses on issues of concern to members of the nation’s nine largest African American denominations.
The Attorney General promised to defend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, especially Section 5, which requires Justice Department clearance before changes can be made to voting laws in Southern states and those that have a history of disenfranchising Black voters.
“This process, known as ‘preclearance,’ has been a powerful tool in combating discrimination for decades. And it has consistently enjoyed broad bipartisan support – including in its most recent reauthorization, when President Bush and an overwhelming Congressional majority came together in 2006 to renew the Act’s key provisions – and extend it until 2031. Yet, in the six years since its reauthorization, Section 5 has increasingly come under attack by those who claim it’s no longer needed,” said Holder.
He also said that between 1965 and 2010, only eight challenges to Section 5 were filed in court, but in the last two years there have been “no fewer than nine lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of that provision.” Each challenge “claims that we’ve attained a new era of electoral equality, that America in 2012 has moved beyond the challenges of 1965, and that Section 5 is no longer necessary,” he said, adding that “nearly two dozen new state laws and executive orders” enacted in more than a dozen states “could make it significantly harder for many eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”
“We’re now examining a number of redistricting plans in covered jurisdictions, as well as other types of changes to our election systems and processes – including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, to early voting procedures, and to photo identification requirements – to ensure that there is no discriminatory purpose or effect. If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change. And, as we have demonstrated repeatedly, when a jurisdiction fails to meet its burden of proving that a proposed voting change would not have a racially discriminatory effect – we will object, as we have in 15 separate cases since last September,” said Holder.
The Attorney General also promised to protect the voting rights of military personnel and other Americans living abroad, as well as veterans, citizens with disabilities, college students, and language minorities at home, but said “no form of electoral fraud ever has been – or ever will be – tolerated by the United States government.”
Coincidentally, in a statement published by The Hill today, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), the ranking members of the Committees on the Judiciary and House Administration, announced that they were joining other Democrats in introducing the Voter Empowerment Act, which they say “protects the integrity of elections by improving eligible voters’ access to the ballot box” by modernizing voter registration, “automatically and permanently enroll consenting eligible voters,” providing for online registration, allowing same day voter registration at the poll, and simplifying the registration process for members of the military serving overseas, among other things.
What do you think?
Are voting rights in danger or are Democrats engaging in “get out the vote” scare tactics?
HIGHER GROUND: Pilots of a Tuskegee Airmen unit, circa May 1943, likely in Southern Italy or North Africa. The Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. (Photo: Wikipedia)
This week’s observance of Memorial Day, along with the recent release of the film Red Tails (now available on DVD and Blu-ray), brought back memories of a highlight from my life and career. Two years ago, I had the honor of interviewing four extraordinary men for a local paper in San Antonio: Buck Sergeant Warren H. Eusan, Mr. John “Mule” Miles, Lt. Colonel Gene Derricotte, and Lt. Colonel Granville Coggs. I was noticeably nervous going in, knowing that I’d be interviewing a part of history — a remnant of the illustrious Tuskegee Airmen.
The men, all well into their eighth decade, looked distinguished and refined. I was captivated by their profound stories. With every question I asked, the reality of just how special they were began to unfold. As the first African American aviators in the U.S. armed forces, their courage and success during World War II helped open doors to military service that were once off limits to certain minority groups. Their experiences spoke of a confidence born of great achievement against enormous odds. Indeed, after they took flight, the whole world watched, with everyone, for the most part, believing they would fail.
Although at times life as an airman seemed insurmountably difficult, 90-year-old Eusan, who later became a public school teacher, recalled: “It made us stick together, and there was a pride in all of us that said we had to make it.”
LIVING LEGENDS: Surviving Tuskegee Airmen (from left) Warren Eusan, Gene Derricotte, Granville Coggs and John Miles continue to meet as the San Antonio, Texas, chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. (Photo: Wanda Thomas Littles)
I was transported by their remembrances to the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in 2007, when they and more than 300 other Tuskegee Airmen or their surviving family members stood to witness the ultimate words that they had longed to hear — their names called as collective recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor some 65 years after all the victory celebrations, parades, and ticker tape joyfully lavished on other soldiers had faded away. It was an honor way overdue.
Lt. Colonel Coggs, now retired from the army said, “The honor and recognition we are now receiving is unimaginable … I just wish that those who died without seeing it could be here.”
As we moved on, my questions to them referenced the unabashed racism they faced as young airmen near Tuskegee, Alabama, and I could sense an agreement in spirit that said they had survived and had overcome the harsh reality of an America that was unwilling to regard them as intelligent and capable human beings.
However, these men didn’t allow the mistreatment and disrespect to outweigh the greater mission, for which the fate of the whole of Black America hinged. Although all of them at times thought about it, and probably came close to laying out more than a few white antagonists who taunted them with racist epithets, they did not.
FLY BALL: John 'Mule' Miles played baseball in the Negro League following WW2.
Eighty-eight year old Miles said, “The key to not retaliating was my faith in God; because if it had not been for the Lord on my side, where would I be?” Miles would go on to play ball for The American Negro Baseball League in Chicago after the war.
The Tuskegee Airmen fine-tuned the art of restraint through another type of courage called self-control. And through this restraint, through remaining strong under unthinkable pressure, they proved the whole world wrong about their capabilities.
The most outstanding part of being a Tuskegee Airman was the position they took that said, “No matter how hard they make it, we can take it. There is no room for failure. We must succeed.”
And succeed they did.
Being totally on one accord at every level, from ground to air, this unity of purpose was truly their greatest contribution in destroying the myth that African American men did not have what it took to hold positions of responsibility.
The Tuskegee Airmen, who actually saw battle as fighter pilots, flew 15,553 combat sorties and completed 1,578 missions, providing fighter escorts to strategic targets in Europe. These were men who served with distinction over North Africa, Italy, and Germany. White bomber crews ultimately called them “Red Tailed Angels” because of the red paint on their tail assemblies; but most importantly because they protected the white pilots on their missions. Under the leadership of then-Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, who trained the first black pilots at Tuskegee Institute in a unit called the 99th Squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen showed the world what a people who had been written off as intellectually and mentally deficient were capable of.
After nearly 30 years in the shadow of obscurity and lies, the truth was finally told. With the founding of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. in 1972 in Detroit, Michigan, 50 chapters sprung up all over the U.S. and the record was set straight. Now the organization’s collective aim is to help further the education of young men and women of all races in math, science, and aviation through scholarships and a variety of programs to honor of the Tuskegee Airmen.
OFFICER & GENTLEMAN: Lt. Colonel Gene Derricotte.
Lt. Colonel Derricotte, the youngest of the group at age 84, who served in both the Army and Air Force before becoming a dentist, explained, “Essentially no one knew there was such a thing as the Tuskegee Airmen. Now when I speak at schools, and in the community, people tell me how sorry they are for the way we were treated and tell me how proud they are of me — of us.”
The Tuskegee project, according to the men, began when a law passed by Congress allowing African Americans to train in civilian life as pilots was passed. After this bill took effect, an experimental Negro branch of pilots in the Army Air Corps was formed. To date there are roughly 278 Tuskegee Airmen living, with about 90 having been pilots; however, no one knows for certain how many of the estimated 19,000 “Tuskegee Experience” participants are still alive today. What we do know is that they all played an important role in the war. While men like Lee Archer, one of just three Tuskegee pilots with four “kills,” and Roscoe C. Brown, who flew over 79 missions in his career, were making remarkable history in the thick of battle, the men and women back home were building a legacy by following the precedent established to maintain superior support of the men abroad, outstanding deportment, and high achievements in flight should they have to deploy.
PROUD SOLDIER: Buck Sergeant Warren H. Eusan.
The NAACP, the black press, and even then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who flew with a black pilot at Tuskegee, worked hard to get the Tuskegee project off the ground and to support its development. These men and women were the cream of the crop from black colleges and universities across the land. They were men and women who’d studied to be doctors, lawyers, educators, even aviators, who jumped at the opportunity to serve our nation. They were salutatorians, valedictorians, and men and women who were in the upper tenth of their class. They were men and women who were simply the best.
Miles said, “We worked hard all day and went to school at night.”
Even now, the bond forged between them is strong. The men joked, bantered, and reflected on their past lives and Buck Sergeant Eusan asked, “Did you know Derricotte was a student of mine that I trained to master the instrumentation on our planes?” When asked by Derricotte what kind of grade he got, Eusan said, “You’re here right now, aren’t you? You must have gotten an A.”
SKY'S THE LIMIT: Lt. Colonel Granville Coggs.
They laughed — a beautiful thing to hear, which speaks of the resilience of men who turned disrespect, bigotry, and injustice into an occasion for something positive.
Lt. Colonel Coggs reflected, “The only way you could describe the Tuskegee Airmen is that we were a cut above.” And they were, because President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order ending segregation in the military after seeing just how far above the racist labels and stereotypes they were.
It’s interesting to note that all but two of the San Antonio chapter members thought that George Lucas’s Red Tails was the best, most accurate film to date on the Tuskegee Airmen; and they’ve seen them all. The two dissenting Airmen felt the film underplayed the intense racial struggles that they faced in favor of a more glamorized “Hollywood” tale. Nonetheless, earlier this year the seven San Antonio Airmen celebrated the film made in their honor by signing autographs and sharing memories with the local press at San Antonio’s Rialto Theater. Inside the theater, after being introduced as members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, they received a standing ovation from moviegoers and staff.
Vintage photos courtesy of the San Antonio Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.