I was too slow to express my interest in posting about David Kirkpatrick’s epic New York Times Magazine essay, so Terry beat me to it, and with greater thoroughness. Still, Terry graciously invited me to write an additional post if I had a different perspective on Kirkpatrick’s reporting.
I felt no loss in the level of doctrinal detail that Kirkpatrick chose to explore. Political fragmentation among evangelicals is a popular story these days, and I believe Kirkpatrick demonstrates effectively that evangelicals can agree to the Nicene Creed or the National Association of Evangelicals’ statement of faith and still come out at different points on the political spectrum.
In a brisk and detail-rich story for Time last week, Amy Sullivan described how Mike Huckabee won over the audience at the Values Voters Summit. She ended the article with the observation that if many evangelicals heed Huckabee’s call to vote for him, “the battle between the purists and pragmatists in the Christian Right may well be settled in Iowa.”
I think Sullivan identifies an important hot point among evangelicals, though I’m not sure the dividing lines are yet clear between pragmatists and purists. One could say that James Dobson is a pragmatist in betting that Huckabee is not showing enough fundraising energy to be a serious presidential candidate, but is it at all pragmatic for him to threaten support for a hopeless third-party candidacy?
Kirkpatrick does a fine job in finding curious and even humorous reasons people cite for their political inclinations. Consider this example:
Patrick Bergquist, a former associate pastor at a local evangelical church who as a child attended Immanuel Baptist, became a regular. “From a theological standpoint, I am an evangelical,” Bergquist, who is 28, explained to me. “But I don’t mean that anyone who is gay is necessarily going to hell, or that anyone who has an abortion is going to hell.” After a life of voting Republican, he said, he recently made a small contribution to the Democratic presidential campaign of Barack Obama.
I must be missing the memos from evangelicals that spell out in such broad detail who is going to hell. The debate more often is about what the church will call sin.
There’s also this example, in which Barack Obama falls victim to a notably clueless version of “The Name Game”:
“Obama sounds too much like Osama,” said Kayla Nickel of Westlink. “When he says his name, I am like, ‘I am not voting for a Muslim!’”
OK, back to Earth now.
Evangelicals are in the difficult spot of having various media-anointed spokestrons declaring their opposition to various candidates rather than rallying around one candidate. Many evangelicals have long known that abortion cannot be resisted merely with politics, and Kirkpatrick’s story suggests that more evangelicals are reaching such a conclusion.
Above all, I enjoyed Kirkpatrick’s deadpan account of an Independence Day celebration at Wichita’s Central Christian Church:
Later, as a choir in stars-and-stripes neckties and scarves belted out “Stars and Stripes Forever,” a cluster of men in olive military fatigues took the stage carrying a flag. They lifted the pole to a 45-degree angle and froze in place around it: a re-enactment of the famous photograph of the American triumph at Iwo Jima. The narrator of a preceding video montage had already set the stage by comparing the Iwo Jima flag raising to another long-ago turning point in a “fierce battle for the hearts of men” — the day 2,000 years ago when “a heavy cross was lifted up on top of the mount called Golgotha.”
A battle flag as the crucifixion: the church rose to a standing ovation.
Walker Percy, pray for us.