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Pulling Away From Politics

Pulling Away From PoliticsIn a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Tufts graduate David Ku -- former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives -- wrote that some conservative Christians are stepping out of the political arena to focus their attention on their "spirituality priorities."

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.04.06] The recent political power shift on Capitol Hill has commentators buzzing about the country's narrowing "God gap" and the possibility of a weakening religious right. Exit polls showed that a large group of evangelicals threw their support behind Democrats, suggesting a shift in the group's political leanings. But Tufts graduate David Kuo pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed that conservative Christians are shifting their attitudes toward politics, not their ideals.

"There has been a radical change in the attitudes of evangelicals," Kuo, who served as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives from 2001 to 2003, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times. "Evangelicals aren't re-examining their political priorities nearly as much as they are re-examining their spiritual priorities."

The shift underscores an increasing frustration among evangelicals with the corruption, partisanship and rhetoric of politics. Some believe it's time for religious conservatives to shift their focus.

Kuo, who earned a degree in international relations from Tufts in 1990, cited the results of an online survey conducted by Beliefnet.com, a spirituality-focused website for which he is a contributing editor. In a poll of more than 2,000 people, 40 percent of evangelicals indicated that they would be in favor of "a two-year Christian "fast" from intense political activism," he wrote. "Instead of directing their energies toward campaigns, evangelicals would spend their time helping the poor."

Evangelicals might be motivated to engage in a "fast," Kuo explained, because their involvement in politics appears to be undermining their ability to spread their message.

"Evangelicals are beginning to see the effect of their political involvement on those with whom they hope to share Jesus' eternal message: non-evangelicals," Kuo wrote. "Tellingly, Beliefnet's poll showed that nearly 60 percent of non-evangelicals have a more negative view of Jesus because of Christian political involvement; almost 40 percent believe that George W. Bush's faith has had a negative impact on his presidency."

Kuo also noted that the Bush administration has failed to live up to its billing.

"Conservative Christians (like me) were promised that having an evangelical like Mr. Bush in office was a dream come true," Kuo wrote. "Well, it wasn't. Not by a long shot. The administration accomplished little that evangelicals really cared about."

The issue of abortion provides a case in point, Kuo wrote. "Despite strong Republican majorities, and his own pro-life stands, Mr. Bush settled for the largely symbolic partial-birth abortion restriction rather than pursuing more substantial change."

Kuo added that the Bush administration also reneged on its commitment to provide funding to faith-based charities. "Evangelicals are not likely to fall for such promises in the future," he wrote.

Also in the future, Kuo predicts a decline in the number of evangelicals that take an active role in the political realm. While some advocates working on "special interest" issues such as abortion and gay marriage will remain, he wrote, there will be "far fewer in coming years than in years past."

And that means that Republicans and Democrats alike shouldn't count on evangelical voters to boost their prospects in 2008.

"If anything, they are becoming more truly conservative in their recognition of the negative spiritual consequences of political obsession and of the limitations of government power," Kuo wrote in the Times.

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