Common ground revisited

HunterxJoel preachingIn a Web-only interview with the Rev. Joel Hunter (pictured), Newsweek's Eve Conant introduces a new 44-page study, "Come Let Us Reason Together," that tries to define common ground for evangelicals and progressives. Such projects are not new. Perhaps the best-known previous effort was called the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice. One difference in this paper, sponsored by the nonprofit progressive group Third Way, is that it better identifies the political landscape among evangelicals (one-fifth progressive, one-third moderate, one-half conservative). The paper's authors clearly acknowledge that "we are writing primarily for progressives who too often have an impoverished understanding of Evangelicals."

In this paragraph, Conant hedges on Third Way's odds of making much of a difference in the discourse between evangelicals and progressives:

Third Way, a nonprofit group founded in 2005, does not have a high profile with the public, but it targets policy-makers -- and in that arena it is beginning to make some waves. And there's reason to believe the group may be on to something.

The difficulty in such efforts is that they appeal to insiders. Activists on both sides come to know each other as worthy opponents, begin meeting for dialogues and issue statements about what they discovered in these dialogues. "Come Let Us Reason Together" tries to offer more -- first by citing the Ryan-DeLauro bill, which "calls for sex education with an abstinence emphasis and medically accurate contraceptive information, better access to contraception for low-income women, after-school programs for kids, and help for parents on communicating their values to their teens."

On gay rights, the paper calls on Christians to remember that all people are made in the image of God and says that "protecting the human rights and dignity of all, even for those with whom one disagrees, is not only a consistent thing to do; it is a proud American tradition and a high moral and religious calling."

Conant rightly asks Hunter where common ground can be found in the debate on gay marriage:

You're endorsing this paper, which talks about common ground between evangelicals and progressives, but what about the nuts-and-bolts question of whether you could approve of gay marriage? Or do you want them to give up the fight for it? I don't see the common ground here.

There is no compromise here on how we feel about gay marriage. I am not endorsing it or compromising on it. The question on this issue -- on all the social issues -- is really about how much conversation we can have, about how much we can finally just talk with each other, without either side giving up their basic moral tenets.

The conversation envisioned by "Come Let Us Reason Together" is bound to attract activists who understand the importance of forming friendships across political differences. I find it hard to imagine any long-term commitment to political activism without forming such friendships, but maybe that's just a matter of temperament.

Do this paper's proposals translate into "making some waves" among policy-makers? That depends on the political climate, and amid an ideologically charged presidential campaign it's tougher to feel much hope that "Come Let Us Reason Together," as noble as it is, will represent the wave of the future.

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