George McGovern, an antiwar politician in the 1970s and Democratic candidate for president in 1972, died yesterday. See some helpful commentary here, here, and here. McGovern is important in the narrative of the evangelical left. In fact, the group Evangelicals for McGovern led directly to Evangelicals for Social Action, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary next year. Here’s an excerpt from Moral Minority:
In August 1972 Messiah College professor Ron Sider opened a letter that asked for donations toward Mark Hatfield’s re-election campaign for the U. S. Senate. After sending in some money, Sider asked himself, “Why can’t we do the same thing for the Democratic Presidential candidate, George McGovern?” In September, Evangelicals for McGovern (EFM) was born among a small circle of evangelical social activists in Sider’s Philadelphia home. As the effort turned national in the following months, many in both the press and the evangelical communities took note. Not only was this the first explicitly evangelical organization in postwar American politics to officially support a presidential candidate, EFM was endorsing a liberal Democrat.
Progressive evangelicals found McGovern’s political ideology far more congenial to their own reformist impulses than Nixon’s. “We like the way McGovern is getting his feet dirty. He’s concerned about hunger, war, poverty and ecology,” explained Wheaton professor Robert Webber to a Newsweekreporter. Jim Wallis, who served as a regional manager for McGovern’s campaign, called the candidate “a first ray of hope in the midst of widespread despair.” Official EFM documents praised McGovern’s evangelical background, his religious rhetoric, and his stances on school busing, poverty, and the war. “A rising tide of younger evangelicals,” asserted an early news release, “feels that the time has come to dispel the old stereotype that evangelical theology entails unconcern toward the poor, blacks and other minorities, and the needs of the Third World.”