While the open-ended question led to a variety of answers, 63 percent of evangelical leaders named religious freedom and 46 percent listed immigration/refugees when answering, “What will be the most important public policy issues for evangelicals to address in 2017?”
“If the first weeks under the new administration are any indication, evangelical leaders accurately identified key policy issues and pressure points for the year,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). “We have a great opportunity to stand for religious freedom for all, and on behalf of refugees and immigrants in our communities.”
In a January 31, 2017, statement, President Donald Trump affirmed the Obama administration’s executive order prohibiting federal contractors from taking sexual orientation and gender identity into account in their hiring decisions. The order does not include a religious exemption for faith-based organizations to hire employees who believe and practice the organization’s faith commitments.
Public opinion and legal norms around religion and sexuality have shifted significantly in the past decade, and many believe evangelical and other religious convictions will be pushed to the margins.
Randall Bach, president of Open Bible Churches, said, “Evangelicals have been pushed back on our heels by accusations of hatred and bigotry. We cannot submit to such intimidation but should lovingly and assertively work toward policies and implementation of policies that respect and protect, rather than deteriorate First Amendment protections.”
Anderson said, “Pluralism is pervasive and growing in the United States. We are a country of people from everywhere who believe just about everything. Some who once were minorities and marginalized have new voice and influence. Some who once were majorities and mainstream are losing voice and influence. The challenge of our generation is to do our best to respect the views and protect the rights of everyone.”
Trump’s January 27 executive order halting all refugee admissions for four months and banning the resettlement of Syrian refugees indefinitely raised alarm among evangelical leaders. “America is pretty much a nation of immigrants and their descendants. More than any country in the world we should be known for our welcome and treatment of refugees and immigrants in our generation,” Anderson said.
Other public policy issues mentioned by evangelical leaders in the survey included poverty, abortion, racial tension, court nominations, marriage/family, and health care.
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.