Talking Politics with Dr. Tony Evans
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.”