Marcia PALLY. The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge/UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011, pp. 268. ISBN 978-0-8028-6640-0.
Reviewed by Anneris GORIS, La Esperanza Center, 502 West 165 Street, NY, NY 10032

The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good by Marcia Pally describes an American religious group whose practices and beliefs comprise a new kind of Christian social conscience (p.107). The book addresses the question: What are the doctrinal beliefs and political practices that advance religious life, liberal democracy, and economic justice? Pally conducted research from 2005 to 2011; utilized a cross-sectional sample of religious, political leaders and other sectors of the population representing different age groups, gender, geographic areas, and Christian denominations; and conducted secondary data analyses. In-depth interviews were used to give prominent figures of the movement a voice.

The “New Evangelicals” are not new (p.238), but are people with a new political synthesis (p.243) who have broadened their concerns on different issues, use a range of approaches (p.150), and move along a continuum taking position among them and/or between them (p.220). The shift between the Religious Right (“Old”— not labeled as such by Pally) and “New” dates to 2005 (p.18), and reflects a different religious discourse (p.19). The changes are attributed to a new generational shift, and a reconsideration of ethics (p. 21).

Unlike those associated with Religious Right, the “New” retain basic religious beliefs, and embrace citizen participation (p.13), belief in freedom of conscience for all (p.23); conduct policy assessment on an issue-by-issue basis; are guided by ... their framework or frameworks (p.19); and no longer feel that the state should impose religious views on the nation and that it should do more to help the poor. They recognize that many Christians have been guilty of sinning against Muslims and asked for forgiveness; continue to work on loving God and caring for one another (pp.115-116); issued an Evangelical Manifesto (p.118); and work with modified “social justice” ideas (p.119). Some oppose the endorsement of political candidates (p. 107); vote Republican or Democrat (p.114); address the “prototheocratic yearnings” of Conservative Evangelicalism (p.13); practice service-unto-sacrifice; and resist oppression while following positive law (p.154).

The position taken on social and political activism reflect their concern with religion's compatibility with liberal democracy and economic fairness (p.150); and their belief on God’s Kingdom as an alternative to the Kingdom of the world (p.151) with Christians constituting a pilot community or contrast society (p.204) and where they are "resident aliens" (p.153). Some do not accept government funds for Christian projects or associate God's Kingdom with fallen governments (p.156). Others have moved away from the health and wealth gospel (p.192), and are helping to shape the government's proper role in serving people (p.164). While, for some, school vouchers cause some concerns (p.157), others have issued resolutions on immigration and the need to reform the system (p.190).

Some “New Evangelicals” have moved from thinking that man‘s relationship to the planet is one of stewardship to calling for environmental protection (p.222), but are divided on signing on to international environment treaties (p.223). Abortion is addressed under a range of conditions (p.225) including what is best for the mother and father (p.226); having a Christ-like relationship with pregnant women (p.224); and claiming that being pro-life requires caring for the poor, championing human rights, and opposing capital punishment (p.224). Different positions exists on gay issues ranging from coming down at their centers to working side by side on common concerns (p.234). The “New Evangelicals” emphasize the separation between the church-state, but take both the Scripture and the US Constitution seriously (pp.237-238).

For Pally, religion grounds many of the premises that liberal democracy endorses (p.16), and liberal democracy represents the type of government which best protects religious beliefs and practices for all citizens (p.18). Religion has advanced through economic fairness and distribution, anti-militarist, anti-consumerist, poverty relief, immigration reform, and environmental protection (p.17), and it has not been an enemy of progress, change, or reason (p.15).

Pally’s book is an important source for understanding the socio-historical, cultural, political, and religious landscape of the United States. It is also a powerful model for addressing polarizing issues, and working with groups which do not totally embrace one’s ideology; the strategy is to expand the vision or to move along, take position, or come down at the center of a (political, social, cultural, global, financial, educational, or religious) continuum. This approach can be liberating.

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