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Evangelical Leaders Gauge Direction of Movement in 2008

Conservative and liberal evangelicals are divided over the question of how much the evangelical movement is moving towards the center.

At a panel discussion Monday morning sponsored by the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, Richard Land, an influential evangelical in the conservative movement, rejected the contention of some, including fellow panelist and editor of Sojourners Jim Wallis, that evangelicals are moving beyond their long-standing social-issue agenda to other topics such as the environment, the Iraq War and poverty.

Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, part of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that social issues continue to be the glue that holds the movement together.

Wallis, however, maintained that a fundamental shift is taking place among evangelicals. “Progressive evangelicals vote both ways across issues. It’s not a monolithic movement,” said Wallis, who was one of the earliest prominent voices for a liberal strain of evangelical thought and activism.

While acknowledging that a shift is underway, Steven Waldman, editor of, maintained that the religious right is still a core movement, and that its impact is still strongest within the Republican Party. Moreover, he doubted that an issue such as abortion would ever lose its prominence within the evangelical movement.

Wallis suggested, and Waldman concurred, that Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) will likely win more evangelical votes than prior Democratic nominees have. However, most analysts expect Republicans to continue to win a solid majority of evangelical votes.

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