Likewise, if only 10% of evangelicals supported evil like torture or racism, I would chalk that up to the individual. But 60%? Something stinks.
In that vein, Greg has a great post on moral authority, and, in this case, Mark Driscoll's latest book on true marriage. I have no interest reading that particular book, but like how Greg connects Driscoll's parsing to this issue of moral authority. And I especially like how he explains how people who say they look to God exclusively as their moral authority are probably not being completely honest.
When people say God is their moral authority, I'm absolutely certain they don't understand what they're saying. First, God is not immediately available to talk to them, and as for those (like one student) who said a relationship with Jesus was key to understanding the Bible, I simply ask why you have so many denominations and traditions if that relationship steers you the right direction. It's simply a way of avoiding the dilemma. God is not your authority because God is not telling you what to do. A book is. The authority people believe is resident in God is mediated through a text, and that text must be interpreted; God, over against Elijah's assertions, is not readily available to answer questions. That leaves a community, or in most cases, an individual to ascertain which portions of the Bible function as moral authority. All this to say, if an individual is making the assessment about particular texts, then the locus of moral authority is the individual's conscience and desires, not God and not the text.Evangelical churches (from what I hear, and probably not just evangelical churches, btw) have decided to not engage on many of today's moral issues. In the case of some of my friends, they see those moral issues as too political, or as too liberal. Can't really talk about environmental issues because it is simply too easy to become too liberal. And as Tony found out, talking about torture critically could also result in being tagged a liberal.
As Greg notes, moral authority is a difficult thing. It takes, I think, a community of people engaging on these issues. Otherwise, it is left up to individual desire and bias. That Pew poll on torture revealed exactly that, by the way. Those evangelicals who supported torture said that they based it largely on sources other than the Bible or their faith. When they were asked, as a part of the poll, in a mini act of accountability, to view torture through their faith, support went down.
If you leave race issues up to South Carolina's evangelicals--on their own--they will respond to Newt Gingrich's dog whistle campaign with great approval. They are not being asked to really confront that kind of hatred. If you leave torture questions to the average conservative evangelical, you will find that their conservative part outweighs their Christian part.