On breaking up

breaking upThere’s turmoil over at the Christian Coalition. Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, who supports raising the minimum wage, opposes the death penalty and wants to take on global warming, was scheduled to take over Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition in January. But according to The Washington Post‘s Alan Cooperman, the organization’s chairwoman, Roberta Combs, has decided to rescind that offer.

What’s this? There are megachurch pastors out there who are not walking in lockstep with the political movement that has been dubbed the “religious right”? Check out Cooperman’s interview with Jason Christy, who was the group’s executive director for three weeks in late 2005:

Christy added that his political views are far different from those of Hunter, author of a book called “Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won’t Fly With Most Conservative Christians.”

“In terms of Hunter, they picked the wrong captain for the wrong ship,” he said. “The title of his book alone tells me that they did not do their due diligence.”

Hunter said he made clear from the moment that Combs approached him about the job in April that he wanted to pursue a broad agenda of “compassion issues.”

“I hope we can break out of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative.’ I’m not sure when compassion became fitted under ‘liberal,’” he said. “There are many Christians, especially in their twenties and thirties, who don’t care about liberal and conservative. They just see that if you’re going to love your neighbor, you have to address things like the environment.”

Initially, Hunter added, Combs “seemed to be interested” in his approach. “But I think it’s very difficult once you have poured your life into an organization to transfer authority to someone else,” he said.

The Los Angeles Times picked up on a slightly different angle than the Post:

In an interview Tuesday, Hunter said that the coalition’s board had initially signed off on this approach, but appeared to get cold feet. He said the board also backtracked on supporting his vision for the group to focus more on grass-roots organizing rather than on Washington-based advocacy.

“They have just been Washington-focused since their inception,” Hunter said.

time's evangelicalsAre we picking up on hints, as Newsweek suggests, that there is an “Evangelical Identity Crisis“? Post-election bickering is out in full force and the agenda carved out so neatly within the Republican Party platform is beginning to split open. As the deck in Miller’s article asks, is it going to be “sex or social justice”? Could we also be talking about sex and social justice? A question for pollsters and religion writers: are the two incompatible? Is this a broadening or a shifting of the evangelical agenda? Here’s Newsweek:

But now, more than three decades after Roe v. Wade propelled religious conservatives fully into the arena, a new generation of evangelical believers is pressing beyond the religious right of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, trying to broaden the movement’s focus from the familiar wars about sex to include issues of social and economic justice. The result is a new hour of decision for evangelicals: How much do they have to show for the decades of activism? And if they are to turn from what Roger Williams called “the garden of Christ’s church” to fight the battles of “the wilderness of the world,” what should those battles be?

For the first time in a long while, then, there is a serious rethinking of the politics of Jesus in America — or at least the efforts of different elements in the country, from believers of progressive, moderate and conservative bents, to claim they are acting in his name in the public sphere. “In this world ye shall have tribulation,” Jesus told his disciples — a decided understatement. Though he added the reassurance that they should “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” those disciples and their heirs down two millennia still face tribulation and trouble, and currently stand at a crossroads. Can they move beyond the apparent confines of the religious right as popularly understood, or are they destined to seem harsh and intolerant — the opposite of what their own faith would have them be? The search for an answer to that question goes to the heart of what American life and politics will look like as we face a landmark midterm election this week and a wide-open presidential race two years hence.

Some Christians, exhausted by divisive wedge politics, are going back to the Bible and embracing a wider-ranging agenda, one that emphasizes reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised. Almost unanimously, these evangelicals cite as a model Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Members of his church sign up for missionary stints in Africa, resolve to feed the homeless and see themselves as part of a global Christian community. Over the past six months, Warren has added his name to a public letter condemning abortion and embryonic-stem-cell research, as well as to one demanding an end to atrocities in Darfur and another denouncing torture. “Rick Warren … has a lightness of being,” says John DiIulio, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania and former Bush White House staffer. “How do you get coordinates for a guy who talks about poverty like a liberal Catholic?”

Then there is this whole separate story, as reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette, that the Republican Party is dumping the evangelical vote. If evangelicals are already heading toward emphasizing the minimum wage, global warming and opposing the death penalty, why would they consider the GOP their home anyway?

Lastly, check out this story in The Orange County Register in which Purpose Driven Life pastor Rick Warren is taking heat from religious conservatives for inviting Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to attend an AIDS conference. One radio host and blogger has called Obama the anti-Christ for his support of abortion. Note that Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, is also participating.

What to make of all of this? There are, of course, more than enough conservative Christians out there who really do not like Warren. It would be interesting to compare the political influence of Warren with someone like James Dobson or even Pat Robertson. We have been watching the implosion of the GOP for quite some time now, but are we seeing the separation of the Christian right from evangelicalism? Are the 25 conservatives on Time‘s “Most Influential Evangelicalslist still on the same team?

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  • webwalker

    It seems that the MSM are struggling with the idea that the ‘evangelical movement’ is not a heirarchical structure like a denomination. In truth, a case could be made that the evangelical subset of the global Christian religion has more in common with modern Islam (in terms of structure) than it does with denominations with rigid heirarchies. (Before anyone goes kazoo, THINK about how the major brands of Sunni & Shiite Islam appear as loose coalitions of generally like-minded believers. Its the structure I’m discussing, not the theology.)

    I think the tag line at the end is the most insightful of the whole post:

    are we seeing the separation of the Christian right from evangelicalism?

    I think a reasonable case could be made that the variety of ‘Christian’ points of view in this country alone are seen with the same bewildered eyes of the MSM as when everyone had to learn what the difference between Sunni & Shiite was and why it mattered. Most MSM are still fuzzy on that. So It doesn’t seem surprising that they would be vague on the vast spectrum of Christian perspectives in this country. So why do they keep trying to stuff it in to the heirarchy box with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell at the top? Anyone? Suggestions why?

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  • Tom Stanton

    So why do they keep trying to stuff it in to the heirarchy box with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell at the top? Anyone? Suggestions why?

    Not being a journalist – I’d have to assume that it would be easier to put a public and sound-bite-given face to any group just for the purposes of helping people know what you’re writing about.

    As to the matter at hand, I certainly hope (given that I attend a woefully “conservative” Evangelical church) that there can be some inclusion of a wider range of Christian issues. Those which center on the Gospel not Adam Smith or Jeremy Bentham.

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  • http://www.spaulspots.blogspot.com Don Neuendorf

    The problem is that Christian conservatives were lumped under the label of evangelicalism in the first place. Christians have a wide range of views on doctrine – and the same people have a wide range of views on politics and economics. But those two scales are not necessarily parallel with one another.

    The “new” idea that evangelical should now focus on social justice simply shows that evangelical Christians are mostly educated in public schools like everyone else and have a grasp of economics that ranges from abysmal to zero.

  • Jerry

    This is a very interesting development. I agree with the points that Christians, whether evangelical or not have wide ranging views about what their faith teaches and how they should respond. This is not a simple question with a simple answer. Name calling like saying Obama is the anti-Christ for his position reflects on the name caller not Obama.

    Even the definition of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is not really meaningful. One can be a ‘libertarian conservative’ or a ‘statist conservative’ for example. The same applies to ‘liberal’. On top of that you can be an economic libertarian and a social statist (that is where much of the Republican party has been). See http://www.friesian.com/quiz.htm for more info.

    There was a song during the 60′s, the John Birch Society, that reflected the rigid rules that some operate under: “There’s no one left but thee and me and we’re not sure of thee”. Hopefully we can get to the point of disagreeing on particular issues while being able to work together on others.

    Thinking of myself as I say this: there is a great image in the Bible having to do with beams in one’s eyes and motes in other’s eyes. Valuing the virtue of humility would be really helpful when engaged in debates.

  • http://thepoint.breakpoint.org/2006/10/title.html Roberto Rivera

    As the deck in Miller’s article asks, is it going to be “sex or social justice”? Could we also be talking about sex and social justice? A question for pollsters and religion writers: are the two incompatible?

    In theory, no. In practice, the answer is “yes.” That is, people are going to emphasize one at the “expense” of the other. I don’t know why, apart from the possibility of temperament, this is the case but, from my front-row seat, it’s definitely the case.

    The other factor at work here is a generational one. If you line up the various parties and factions — “sex” versus “social justice” — there’s a generational divide. Not so much in age as in when the various actors came of age: when they assumed positions of leadership within the broader evangelical world.

    In other words, some of the “break-up” is a fitful and often-reluctant passing of a torch, not just between individuals but also institutions.

    The controversy over Warren is illustrative. He is (at least this week) the undisputed 800-pound gorilla in the evangelical world. He is (again, this week) the most likely successor to the Dobsons, Colsons, etc. Everyone wants and needs him on their side/team because of his supposed influence.

    It’s against this backdrop that the weeping and gnashing of teeth over his invitation of senator Obama must be seen. If Warren makes common cause with Obama (whom, full disclosure, I like), it not only elevates the profile and importance of AIDS and other “social justice” issues, it also sends an unintentional message about the primacy of the “sex” issues and, in turn, threatens the standing of the groups and institutions most strongly identified with these issues.

    Mind you: it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. But it is. Nothing in the history of the past 30 years suggests otherwise.

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t individuals that practice both/and rather than either/or, e.g., Sam Brownback. But Evangelical activists as a whole don’t. Hence, the “break-up.”

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  • John

    It’s a amazing to read of how many people know what Jesus would do. Would Jesus support abortion? Or would Jesus “warren” people who strongly support the killing of babies in the womb? Warren has made a big mistake. Call it error in judgement or whatever. Good thing he has to respond to God not me.

  • Dominic Glisinski

    Purpose Driven Peters Out: Warren wandering?

    I tried submitting this on the other link for the purpose, no luck.
    I read this article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/december/5.15.html
    Entitled “Painful Decline”, portrays a series of staff cutbacks and “attrition”, senior pastor “Purpose Driven…is done”.

  • Jerry

    A note in Time’s web site makes a lot of sense to me. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1565076,00.html

    The key section to me:

    For years, Billy Graham was lambasted for inviting theological liberals — as well as people unpopular in the Evangelical South, like Martin Luther King, Jr. — to his crusades. He invariably responded that the attendees were endorsing his cause, not the other way around. Graham knew that he would alienate some co-believers, but they were people he was happy to alienate. He was in the business of leading evangelicalism back into the American mainstream by distinguishing it from hard-core fundamentalism, one of whose most irritating characteristics was “second-degree separation,” a philosophy of ostracizing other Christians simply for dealing with people considered less spiritually pure. Graham’s national reputation flourished while that of his opponents suffered.