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By PHILIP ELLIOTT
Liberal evangelicals, weary of a Republican-centric image, launched a campaign Monday to promote Christian values beyond the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.
Red Letter Christians, a project of Sojurners/Call to Renewal, announced plans to establish a grass-roots network of 7,000 moderate and progressive clergy members.
"A debate on moral issues should be central to American politics, but how should we define religious values?" said Jim Wallis, an activist and executive director of the Christian ministry, which also publishes the liberal Sojourners Magazine.
The project’s name comes from the color of some Bible’s type, with words directly attributed to Jesus appearing in red.
Wallis said Christian conservatives have limited the discussion to abortion and same-sex marriage, two fears that mobilized voters in 2004, and that voters care about more than two the issues.
"We must insist that the ethics of war — and whether we tell the truth about going to war — these are moral values issues too," Wallis said. Democrats have pinned part of their midterm strategy on voters’ restlessness with the war in Iraq.
The Red Letter Christians campaign plans to use voter guides for congregants and briefings for their leaders to argue education, poverty and the environment are all evangelical issues. Wallis also launched a new blog this week at BeliefNet.com, debating with former Christian Coalition head and failed Republican Georgia lieutenant governor candidate Ralph Reed.
The faith-based group also hired a full-time coordinator in Ohio, where conservative Ken Blackwell is running against Rep. Ted Strickland, a former Methodist pastor. Another coordinator is soon to arrive in Pennsylvania, where Sen. Rick Santorum faces a tough re-election bid.
Faith-based get-out-the-vote efforts registered scores of new voters during 2004’s presidential election. The Southern Baptist Convention’s iVoteValues.com campaign alone reached 400,000 voters, the majority of whom voted for President Bush.
And later this week, the Family Research Council will have its Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. Speakers will include Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Wallis said the Christian conservatives have lost their independence with too-cozy ties to the Republican Party. He also is quick to note his group is not an extension of the Democratic Party. He is openly critical of Democratic politicians and titled his best-selling book "God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It."