Nicholas Kristof writes that liberals don’t give conservative evangelicals enough credit for their efforts to end poverty, stop genocide, fight HIV/AIDS, and further a host of other causes conventionally seen as progressive. It’s a valid point: There’s plenty of disdain for Christian evangelicals in some urban Democratic bastions, not to mention in large swaths of academia and media, and yet even in big cities like New York the numbers of evangelicals are strong and growing, especially among immigrant communities.

In the nation as a whole about one in three Americans, or 100 million, can be described as evangelical, though that number is debated and includes substantial numbers of African Americans, who tend to be more liberal, as well as numerous other moderate and progressive evangelicals who don’t fit into the Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson mold.

In any case, Kristof notes that a recent CBS poll shows that the top issue that white evangelicals believe they should be involved in is fighting poverty. Restricting abortion was a distant second. Without question, evangelicals have been on the forefront of this crucial issue of poverty, both here and abroad, and more recently a number of courageous pastors have also been challenging the Republican Party’s orthodoxy denying climate change.

It seems that secular liberals could find common cause and also inspiration from these evangelical activists, if they’re willing to overcome their own prejudices. (Incidentally, I’m saying this as someone who isn’t religious.) When the lions lie down the lambs, we might see something done about the billion people who live on less than $1 a day, or the 37 million Americans who live under the poverty line.

On a somewhat related note, it’s interesting that all of the five remaining major candidates, Democratic and Republican, seem to be bring something new to the table, diversity-wise. Obviously, Clinton and Obama would be breaking down gender and racial barriers, but Romney would be the first Mormon president. McCain would be the first president entering the office at the age of 72 — breaking down a glass ceiling for the growing ranks of seniors in this country.

And Huckabee, the Southern Baptist minister, would be representing a kind of evangelicism that has been given short shrift during the Bush years, in spite of the younger Bush’s God talk: born-again Christians who care about social issues but also worry about growing economic inequality and factories and jobs moving overseas. We haven’t seen that kind of evangelical president since — dare I say it — Jimmy Carter.

Victor Tan Chen is In The Fray‘s editor in chief and the author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy. Site: | Facebook | Twitter: @victortanchen

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