As “Meet the Evangelicals” pieces go, Time‘s cover package this week is high-quality work. It revisits familiar faces (Billy and Franklin Graham) but also introduces names that would be less familiar even in some evangelical circles (Luis Cortes, Douglas Coe). The photographs show these evangelicals in their natural elements, looking relaxed, friendly and smart.
One remark, which introduces theologian J.I. Packer, is telling:
When it comes to doctrine, Evangelicals practice the equivalent of states’ rights. Encompassing huge, philosophically distinct denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention, the Pentecostal Assemblies of God and thousands of independent “Bible churches,” the movement has no formal arbiter.
Time‘s list reflects that states-rights assumption, including two Roman Catholics (Richard John Neuhaus — the president calls him “Father Richard” — and Sen. Rick Santorum), proponents of prosperity theology (T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer) and, in Jakes, a pastor who comes from a Oneness Pentecostal background and is affiliated with a Oneness network of churches.
The package claims that “except for his public disavowal of racial segregation, Billy Graham, 86, has stuck to soul saving and left the political proselytizing to others.” That would have been news to Richard M. Nixon, and Graham himself has said he regrets being drawn too deeply into politics by his friendship with Nixon.
Time echoes the doubts expressed in Slate about whether James Dobson is ready for political prime time:
It’s not certain, however, whether Dobson, 68, can translate his considerable influence into political muscle. White House officials consider his demands too absolutist and impractical. “We respect him greatly,” says a Bush aide, “but his political influence is not everything people might think.”
And it presents megachurch pastor Ted Haggard as having a vision beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage:
At a meeting with President Bush in November 2003, after nearly an hour of jovial Oval Office chat, the Rev. Ted Haggard, 48, got serious. He argued against Bush-imposed steel tariffs on the grounds that free markets foster economic growth, which helps the poor. A month later, the White House dropped the tariffs. Haggard wasn’t alone in faulting the policy, and he doesn’t claim to be the impetus, but as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, he gets listened to.
A companion article (“What Does Bush Owe the Religious Right?”) shows a similar nuanced understanding, closing with these observations:
Working with liberal groups, religious conservatives forced the Bush Administration to intercede in the Christian-Muslim civil war in Sudan. They also put political muscle behind global aids funding and legislation against international sex trafficking and lately are becoming increasingly worried about Third World debt.
That’s just the beginning. “You will continue to see this agenda of Christian conservatives broaden out,” says Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, and as it does, the results will sometimes be unexpected. At last week’s annual antiabortion march, activists from the National Association of Evangelicals drew quizzical looks as they paraded under a banner reading stop mercury poisoning of the unborn. It was a protest against water pollution by coal-burning utilities — a cause Ralph Nader or Al Gore would also support. “You can build from the left and build from the right and get something done,” Brownback says. Which, in the end, may be what having power is all about.
The editors of Time show this week that it’s possible to depict evangelicals’ political and theological diversity without staging another name-calling argument between Jerry Falwell and Jim Wallis. Good for them.