Lack of perspective

Hindu Childrens Book 01We’ve been covering the Hindutva textbook controversy in California for a few months. The Los Angeles Times‘ Theresa Watanabe has a piece on the Hindu nationalists who are fighting to make the changes that’s worth a read.

This story has not gotten enough coverage so it’s great that Watanabe is looking into it. The impetus for the story is that the California State Board of Educaction’s five-member history-social science committee is set to recommend final action for the full board at its March 8 meeting. She begins by telling the story of Abhijit Kurup, a young Hindu who didn’t recognize his religion when he was taught about it in government schools years ago. He is joining with other Hindus in a campaign urging textbook changes.

One requested change, for instance, would say women had “different” rights than men, not fewer.

But their efforts have sparked a heated counter-campaign by scholars and others who accuse the groups of trying to fabricate history and gloss over the treatment of women and minorities in India, where Hinduism is the dominant religion. Some also contend that the requested textbook changes are so similar to those imposed by Hindu nationalist groups in India that California should not put its stamp of approval on them.

Watanabe mentions a bit about the conflict. However, she doesn’t really explain why the notion that the caste system would be portrayed as one where women had different rights instead of fewer rights is so offensive to so many people who fought or remember efforts to subvert the system. And what is not quite explored in the piece is what Hindu nationalists believe in a larger political context. She offers little perspective on the nationalists’ outsize influence — such as how large a group they are or how they are viewed in India or by Hindus here in the States. Mostly she portrays the fight as between Ivy League scholars and Hindu adherents:

“This is the first time Hindu groups are trying to protest against 300 years of prejudice,” said Madhulika Singh, a Bay Area computer networking specialist. She says her son told her he didn’t want to be Hindu anymore after studying ancient India and Hinduism in sixth grade.

I do not know Madhulika Singh, but I imagine the one Watanabe quotes is the same one who is affiliated with the Hindu Educational Foundation, a group with Hindu nationalist ties which is fighting to change the textbooks to match its particular views. Why not mention that? It doesn’t really hurt the article to mention that Singh, who makes such a powerful claim about her son’s religious identity, is also intimately involved with one of the more partisan groups in the debate. The group comes up in the very next paragraph of Watanabe’s story. Perhaps it’s just coincidence about the name, but if not, the affiliation should be mentioned.

Indeed, the issue is seen on both continents as the first major test of Hindu political clout in the United States and showcases the growing influence and political savvy of Indian Americans, now one of the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic groups. Led by the California-based Hindu Education Foundation and the Vedic Foundation in Texas, a broad-based group of temples, educators and community organizations has mobilized on the issue, drawing extensive news coverage in the Indian media here and abroad.

Okay, I have been following this story more than the average American and I have no idea what it means to say that the Vedic Foundation is a broad-based group. That doesn’t say anything. It doesn’t mean anything. Do a small minority of American Hindus affiliate with it? A majority? Something inbetween?

Not until the second to the last paragraph are readers told that not all Hindus share Hindu nationalist views about the merits of the caste system, “different” roles for men and women, whether Hinduism is polytheistic and where Hinduism originated. Watanabe ends the story by quoting a UCLA professor who think the Hindu nationalist views are ridiculous.

It reminded me of a comment from reader Ryan Overbey last month when we spoke about the issue. He blamed the problems with press coverage of this story on his view that reporters are generalists:

So suddenly the story changed from some minor changes to make CA textbooks more sensitive, to a bunch of scientifically unjustifiable changes motivated by wacky religious groups with connections to right wing politics.

It’s fairly upsetting that the press didn’t notice what was happening earlier (it was up to academic Indologists to figure out what was going on and put a stop to it). But you can chalk this up to a problem with the press generally: being for the most part generalists, they can hardly be expected to unravel a Hindutva agenda by reading a seemingly innocuous list of textbook changes. Scholars and scientists are much better at that sort of thing.

It just seems weird that after many months of this textbook battle waging on, so few reporters have had the desire to dig in and find out more about Hindu nationalists behind the fight.

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American tribes go to different movies

NYET18801311348This is post is so, so, so overdue that I have decided to turn that into a good thing. Indeed, I will argue that my procrastination can be seen as a form of public service to GetReligion readers.

Why? The Atlantic Monthly is a wonderful magazine and is must reading for anyone interested in religion and public life. But some of those articles are just so long, too long even, when it comes time to reading them on a computer screen. So if you are not a subscriber, I urge you — the timing is perfect — to find a subscriber and urge them to give you that copy of the January-February issue that they were just about to pitch into the recycle bin. It’s the one with Pope Benedict XVI on the cover (more on that in a moment).

There is a very important article in this issue entitled “Tribal Relations” by Steven Waldman, the CEO over at Beliefnet, and John C. Green, the University of Akron professor who is one of America’s most quoted experts on political numbers. It is part of a package — look for the “Values Racket” headline — that tries to carve up all kinds of Culture War and Red vs. Blue political myths and actually, for me, ends up making the opposite case, underlining the fact that moral and cultural issues are at the heart of American politics these days.

In their article, Green and Waldman produce mini-profiles of what they believe are the 12 religious (or non-religious or even anti-religious) tribes in American politics. The goal is to prove that America is more complex than the old Religious Right vs. Everybody Else matrix. What they end up with is something very close to the point of view argued long ago — to one degree or another — by James Davison “Culture Wars” Hunter, evangelical statistics guru George Barna, Gerald De Maio and Louis Bolce and others.

Anyone who has read GetReligion very long will recognize this theory right away: There is the true Religious Right on one side (about 12 percent) and the true-blue secularists on the other side (10 percent or so) and, in between, there is OprahAmerica.

Not everyone will agree with how Waldman and Green have defined the other folks in the Republican and Democratic tribes — the “heartland culture warriors,” the religious left, the “moderate evangelicals,” spiritual but not religious people, etc. But it was good to make this attempt, and others should spin their own versions. Anyone seeking compromises on tough moral issues has to venture into this territory, the muddy land in between the rock-ribbed religious voters who define the Republican primaries and the anti-evangelical voters who dominate the Democratic primaries and fundraising.

Here is a sample of the “Tribal Relations” material. Note the reference to “theological restructuring,” which is a kind of indirect hat tip to Hunter:

A deep-blue religious left is almost exactly the same size as the religious right but receives much less attention. John Kerry is perhaps one representative of this group, which draws members from many Christian denominations and is a product of the same theological restructuring that created the heartland culture warriors. Members of the religious left espouse a progressive theology (agreeing, for instance, that “all the world’s great religions are equally true”) and are very liberal on cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage. About a quarter attend church weekly. The religious left is somewhat liberal on economic policy and decidedly to the left on foreign policy. Its stances on both moral values and the Iraq War — but especially the latter — have pushed it further into the Democratic camp. Seventy percent backed Kerry in 2004; 51 percent had backed Gore in 2000. The religious left was the largest — and the fastest-growing — single tribe in the Kerry coalition.

103652 brokeback l 01So you may be asking, right about now: Why is there Oscar and Brokeback Mountain art attached to this post?

That’s easy. In the weeks running up to the Academy Awards, the mainstream press has been cranking out stories about the success of this movie and how this shocking “breakout” represents a major change in American culture. The latest version of this story appeared this past week in the big-story slot on page one in USA Today. Thus, reporter Scott Bowles wrote:

Brokeback Mountain already is The Movie. The film is the punch line of jokes, the subject of Internet parodies and the front-runner for the Oscars on March 5. Oprah plugged the gay-cowboy drama on her show. Howard Stern gave it a thumbs up. “Have you seen Brokeback?” has become a dinner-party Rorschach test of gay tolerance.

Brokeback also is freighted with expectations not foisted on a film in years. It leads a raft of social-issues films that are dominating the awards season. Some hail the picture as the one that will change not only how Hollywood portrays gay characters but also how gay men and lesbians are accepted by mainstream America. Those are mighty claims for a $14 million Western seen by fewer people in the three months since its release than who saw Dancing with the Stars on television last week.

Admirers say the film is erasing Hollywood’s homosexual stereotypes and raising consciousness of gay rights. Critics say Brokeback‘s destiny is to be remembered more for its marketing than its artistic achievements.

This story does — hurrah — work in a wide range of viewpoints about the movie. Still, it is yet another example of the trend that it is writing about.

At some point, you have to ask: OK, if $70-plus million at the box office is a sign of American mainstream status, then what is $288 million or even (if you catch my drift) $370 million?

Here’s the point. If you apply the Waldman and Green matrix to movies instead of to politics, then you could reach this conclusion. Brokeback Mountain is a solid, artistic niche movie for the hard left in American life — a niche that is larger than the hard right (and is dominated by Oscar voters and Hollywood’s most loyal supporters in blue zip codes).

So who will make more movies for the other tribes? Who will find a way to make movies that combine the tribes, yet are artistic enough for Hollywood to honor? That’s the question people need to ask if they want to make mainstream movies that make lots of money and force Hollywood people to grit their teeth when it comes time for the Oscar voting.

So what else is in that must-save January-February issue of The Atlantic?

There is E.J. Dionne Jr.’s poignant attempt to wish away the Culture Wars. There is Caitlin Flanagan’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Monica,” in which she seems to yearn for some kind of sexual morality in post-feminist America, but dares not propose one. And there is even the cover story, Paul Elie’s magnificent “The Year of the Two Popes,” which offers some critical insights into the differences between John Paul II and Benedict XVI, instead of rehashing all of the places where their views were so similar.

Like I said, find someone to give you a real copy of this magazine printed on high-quality dead tree pulp. You’ll get eye strain trying to read all of this wonderful stuff on a computer screen.

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Freedom to drink the tea

hallucinogenic teaHow significant was Tuesday’s unanimous Supreme Court ruling — allowing a New Mexico congregation to use a hallucinogenic tea in its religious rituals — in establishing precedent in religious-freedom law? If you read Wednesday’s Washington Post article, you would come away thinking the impact was minimal, but thankfully, the Internet gives us other sources of information. (GetReligion’s original post on the issue is here.)

Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times grasps the significance in the second paragraph of her report on the ruling:

With an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the decision was one of the most significant applications of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 13-year-old federal statute that requires the government to meet a demanding test before it can enforce a law in a way that creates a substantial obstacle to religious observance.

That’s about it, though. The rest of the article, along with the Post article, focuses mostly on how the issue came before the Supreme Court and on Chief Justice John Roberts’ writing style (it’s refreshingly conversational and lacking in numerous footnotes, by the way).

The Los Angeles Times places the “victory for religious freedom” theme front and center and quotes K. Hollyn Hollman, the Baptist Joint Committee’s general counsel, who said the decision was “good news for religious freedom and the continuing vitality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

For more background on the ruling’s significance, turn to this Christianity Today article published this morning, which quotes several legal types in religious-freedom organizations. (Disclosure: a coauthor of this piece, Sarah Pulliam, is indeed my younger sister.)

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Shifting cartoon coverage

muslim protestsI’ve noticed a shift in the cartoon coverage and in many bloggers’ attitudes toward the image-inspired violence and arguments over whether the images should have been published by media organizations. This shift has been driven largely by events on the ground that are just too huge to ignore, particularly as the “Furor Over Cartoons Pits Muslim Against Muslim,” as a New York Times headline writer phrased it Tuesday.

As Muslims turn on Muslims, one can only imagine how this would drive Middle East reporters insane, unless they had a deep knowledge of issues relating to Islam and its culture. The NYT focuses on the compelling story of Jordanian journalist Jihad Momani and Yemen editorial writer Muhammad al-Assadi and their writings condemning the violence in response to the cartoons. Here are the key paragraphs that show the significance of these developments:

Mr. Momani and Mr. Assadi are among 11 journalists in five countries facing prosecution for printing some of the cartoons. Their cases illustrate another side of this conflict, the intra-Muslim side, in what has typically been defined as a struggle between Islam and the West.

The flare-up over the cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper, has magnified a fault line running through the Middle East, between those who want to engage their communities in a direct, introspective dialogue and those who focus on outside enemies.

But it has also underscored a political struggle involving emerging Islamic movements, like Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Arab governments unsure of how to contain them.

“This has become a game between two sides, the extremists and the government,” said Tawakkul Karman, head of Women Journalists Without Constraints in Sana, Yemen. “They’ve made it so that if you stand up in this tidal wave, you have to face 1.5 billion Muslims.”

One thing this development is doing is putting to rest the idea that this conflict is somehow leading to a clash of civilizations. I posed the idea in this space two weeks ago, but I am beginning to realize that the cartoon controversy is nothing of the sort, as S. Brent Plate profoundly explains over at The Revealer:

First of all, in utilizing such a grandiose phrase as “clash of civilizations,” we (journalists and the rest of us) must remind ourselves of the rather small-scale nature of this current clash. As Juan Cole notes, the protests have, by and large, been limited. In general terms, the Muslim world numbers as much as 20% of the world’s population, so if major protests were to somehow be widespread among the Muslim population, every one of us would know about it — not through CNN, but by hearing screams and gunshots in our own backyards. I write this in Fort Worth, Texas, a place not typically thought of in relation to Islam, yet within a couple miles of here there are a half-dozen mosques, regularly attended by Muslims from North Africa, Arabia, Indonesia, and by U.S. Latinos and African-Americans. It is only a minority of Muslims who are of the Arabic race. Muslims, now and for much of history, are not the antithesis to the West, they are the West.

golden dome mosqueThe clash within Islam is even more apparent with the destruction of the golden-domed Shia shrine in Samarra early Wednesday morning. The attackers are still at large and unknown, but no matter, the incident is sparking reprisals and protests against Sunni Muslims. If the cartoon violence and protest was any measure, Iraq is about to become a very violent and dangerous place in the next week — not that it was not already a seething caldron — considering that the St. Peter’s Cathedral of the Shiite world has now been destroyed under the United States military’s watch.

Here’s the Independent‘s take:

In a number of respects civil war in Iraq has already begun. Many of the thousand bodies a month arriving in the morgues in Baghdad are of people killed for sectarian reasons. It is no longer safe for members of the three main communities the Sunni and Shia Arabs and the Kurds to visit each other’s parts of the country.

“Iraq is in a Weimar period like Germany in the 1920s which will either end with the country disintegrating or in an authoritarian government taking power,” said Ghassan Atiyyah, an Iraqi political commentator.

Was it not only a matter of time for an event of this magnitude to occur in Iraq? I would consider this one of the worst developments in the Iraq since we invaded, and it could end up setting back all the positives gained in the elections.

The article in the Independent is where I found the St. Peter’s/Golden-dome comparison. It certainly put the incident in a perspective with which I could relate. The Independent also gets the religious significance of this event when it comes to creating a sustainable government in Iraq. American papers seem to be focusing on reporting the who, what, where, when and how the bombing happened, rather than the so what? or why. Not a bad approach, considering the event did just happen, but it also can be limiting.

As it stands now, the stories posted on the New York Times and Washington Post websites do little to show the significance of the structure to Muslims. Perhaps this will change as the story progresses, but as it stands now, what is the average reader supposed to take from this story other than the massive headlines, words like “revered” and “holiest shrines” and, of course, statements from officials in Washington?

While the European press tends to be better about understanding the Middle East — as I pointed out here, I’m holding out hope that U.S. publications will get the significance. I guess we’ll see in the morning.

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National Crunchy Cons day

1400050642 01 LZZZZZZZThere’s no way around it.

This does seem to be national Crunchy Cons day among conservatives of a certain ilk and, yes, I was planning on mentioning the long-awaited release of Rod “Friend of this Blog” Dreher’s book. After all, a major theme of this blog is the complexity of some of the “liberal” and “conservative” labels that journalists toss around all the time.

If readers wish to do so, click here to flash back to a crucial GetReligion post on themes that are very close to the heart of Dreher’s hilarious and serious book.

But let’s start with this from a reader:

TMATT, did you see today’s OpinionJournal article on Rod Dreher? The author states that “… consumerism and conservatism are, for him [Dreher], incompatible, a fact that mainstream conservatives, he says, simply do not grasp.” I think Dreher is the one with the “grasping” problem. He is obviously not an economic conservative — I may not like strip malls and such, either, but I believe in free choice. According to the article, only Rod Dreher’s “countercultural” priorities are truly conservative. Wow. Welcome to the communalistic world where you must share Rod’s vision to be a conservative. May I suggest that Rod use his talents to come up with a new name (other than the modifier “crunchy”) to describe his movement, instead of stealing the term “conservative.” And please quit describing him as a social or economic conservative when he is obviously neither.

Posted by Scott Allen at 2:24 pm on February 21, 2006

Actually, the Wall Street Journal article stresses that Dreher — a columnist and editorial-page scribe at the Dallas Morning News — is a conservative in a very old-fashioned tradition, a conservative who is more interested in preserving old values than building new shopping malls. Forced to choose between the church and the mall, or the home and the corporate tower, Dreher is going for the home and the church every time.

This is, of course, the battle at the heart (or the soul) of the modern Republican Party, as described by President Bush’s scribe Michael Gerson and others.

I will not try to sum the book up, in large part because the essay by conservative historian George H. Nash does such a good job of doing so. He is right that Dreher is trying to find a path between (or away from) two competing brands of Libertarianism, a way between the political “Party of Lust” and the political “Party of Greed.” Here is a crucial part of his essay on Rod’s work, a statement that points toward the Godbeat story hidden in this book:

In Mr. Dreher’s view, consumer-crazed capitalism makes a fetish of individual choice and, if left unchecked, “tends to pull families and communities apart.” Thus consumerism and conservatism are, for him, incompatible, a fact that mainstream conservatives, he says, simply do not grasp. He warns that capitalism must be reined in by “the moral and spiritual energies of the people.” It is not politics and economics that will save us, he declares. It is adherence to the “eternal moral norms” known as the Permanent Things.

And the most permanent thing of all is God. At the heart of Mr. Dreher’s family-centered crunchy conservatism is an unwavering commitment to religious faith. And not just any religious faith but rigorous, old-fashioned orthodoxy. Only a firm grounding in religious commitment, he believes, can sustain crunchy conservatives in their struggle against the radical individualism and materialism he decries. Nearly all the crunchy cons he interviews are devoutly Christian or orthodox Jewish believers who are deliberately ordering their lives toward the ultimate end of “serving God, not the self” — often at considerable financial sacrifice.

If this sounds more like Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind, than Rush Limbaugh, then there is a reason for that. Which is the higher social good, freedom or virtue?

03 06 2005 ned 06roddreherNEW GV21IKO0C 1We will not argue about that here. I am more interested in knowing if GetReligion readers see any interesting feature stories in the weeks ahead that explore any of these themes. I may write about it for Scripps Howard News Service in a few weeks, with the obvious confession right out front that Dreher is a friend (and, besides, I own more pairs of Birkenstocks than the whole Dreher clan put together, including a pair purchased in 1979).

Besides, if you want to argue with Dreher, then by all means do so. Folks are blogging about his Crunchy Cons manifesto over at the Dallas Morning News opinion page. Also, you can read one of his original National Review essays from 2002 and then weigh in at the new Crunchy Cons blog at NRO.

And Rod has already started responding to those who want to toss him off the ship of conservatism. But the bottom line is easy to see: He is a moral and cultural conservative, more than a political and economic conservative. Or, as he just posted on NRO:

Where the Right Went Wrong
[Rod Dreher 02/21 11:38 AM]

… (The) book has its intellectual roots in the traditionalist camp of postwar conservatism, as distinct from the libertarian camp. Both were united in opposing the behemoth state, but whereas libertarians were more concerned with economic liberty, traditionalists were more focused on virtue. It seems to me that modern conservatism, in the main, pays lip service to virtue, but is really more wrapped up with economics and libertarian concerns. Do you agree? If so, where, and why, did the Right lose touch with traditionalism?

Here’s a line from the first chapter that speaks to this concern: “Both mainstream liberalism and conservatism are essentially materialist ideologies, and we should not be surprised that both shape a society dedicated to the multiplication of wants and the intensification of desire, not the improvement of character.”

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Out of touch

TylerPerryI wanted to bring to attention this item in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. Staff writer Lorenza Muñoz jumped on a tremendous Hollywood story of how Tyler Perry‘s Oprah-inspired journal writing about childhood physical abuse turned into plays and movies that are now taking the entertainment industry by storm.

And the major themes of his stories are the Christian tenets of faith, hope and redemption in an African American cultural context:

Having shown that black churchgoers can also be filmgoers, Perry — inspired by the likes of Bill Cosby before him — is out to introduce himself to mainstream white America.

“What is important to me about this movie is that the stories and messages are for anyone,” said Perry, who says a recent test screening drew raves from a white audience near Sacramento. “Anyone who needs to learn about forgiveness … will enjoy it no matter who they are.”

… Lionsgate is aggressively targeting the spiritual community by printing 30,000 prayer cards to be distributed at more than 1,200 churches nationwide [to promote Perry's new film, Madea's Family Reunion]. On one side is Perry wearing a large gold cross; on the other is Madea surrounded by a golden cloud resembling the Holy Spirit. On Thursday, Perry will appear on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Why is it so surprising to Hollywood executives that religious African Americans look for quality entertainment and are willing to pay to get it? And why is it so surprising that these religious themes — while directed at African Americans — also appeal to the broad swath of religious people in the United States?

Stories like these that shatter Hollywood executives’ preconceptions and stereotypes of other Americans are much-needed, and in a way that’s sad. It’s too bad this country’s entertainment executives are so out of touch with the American people.

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That’s Dr. Dobson to you, punks

DobsonBibleThe media relations staff at Focus on the Family may soon have to create a form letter for requesting corrections from Newsweek (which, as tmatt noted earlier this month, published one of the funnier corrections in recent Godbeat history).

Newsweek sure seems to have the correction in a macro somewhere. From the Feb. 20 issue:

In the Feb. 13 article “God’s Green Soldiers,” we incorrectly identified James Dobson as a reverend. He in fact has a Ph.D. in child psychology and goes by Dr. Dobson. Newsweek regrets the [error].

From the Aug. 8, 2005, issue:

In our Aug. 1 issue, a sidebar on lobbying groups (“A User’s Guide to the Groups”) incorrect[ly] identifies James Dobson as a reverend. He in fact has a Ph.D. in child psychology and goes by Dr. Dobson. Newsweek regrets the error.

The style guardians at Newsweek might consider adding a stylebook entry for Dobson, James, Ph.D.; urging their reporters to bookmark this page; or posting a copy of this article by their own Howard Fineman at each water fountain in every bureau (all together now: “Unlike evangelical Christian provocateurs such as Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, Dobson isn’t a minister”).

Even if Dobson were ordained, the proper word is pastor, not reverend, as this Wikipedia article explains.

Yes, the doctor wields the Bible like he belongs behind a pulpit, he talks more openly about Jesus than do some ordained ministers, and his father was a Nazarene pastor, but politics plus evangelical faith plus a national profile does not have to add up to the pastorate.

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Welcome to the world of politics

allen2Much has been made of the Republican Party’s relationship with evangelical Christians. Who is truly in control of that relationship? Is it people like James Dobson, or is the White House (Karl Rove) playing evangelical religious leaders in order to gain access to their followers for votes? Of course, then you get bogged down into the debate over exactly who is an evangelical. Go figure.

The following article gives us something of a hint.

I’m going to bypass the whole military chaplain prayer guidelines story because it touches too closely to my day job, but that won’t keep me from flagging a small item in this Washington Times article on the subject by Joseph Curl and Julia Duin.

The Times piece is about Claude A. Allen, once the White House’s top adviser on domestic policy, and his departure from the administration. Some have said his departure was in protest of the new military guidelines regarding prayer in the military. Allen says it’s for family reasons. Again, go figure.

So in the midst of sorting this story out, the authors of this article throw in this quote:

rich cizik2Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, said the West Wing can be rough for people such as Mr. Allen, an evangelical Christian who attends Covenant Life Church, a large congregation in Gaithersburg.

“They don’t take kindly to someone serving too strongly the evangelical cause,” Mr. Cizik said. “The people in the White House want someone who will salute, no matter what. If you are an evangelical, you get special scrutiny. They know evangelicals are obedient to a higher principle.”

This is not all that surprising. What administration has not been leery of a person loyal to someone other than the president? But to what extent is that simply Washington politics or a much broader mistrust of evangelicals, despite the White House’s efforts to gain their votes?

This Newsweek article on Cizik and his new work contains a few clues. In his efforts to challenge the Bush administration’s current policies towards the environment, specifically relating to global warming, Cizik is causing a significant rift among evangelical leaders:

Until now, the movement has emphasized the individual responsibility of Christians to conserve. But this week a coalition of leading evangelicals will issue “An Evangelical Call to Action,” asking Congress and the Bush administration to combat global warming by restricting carbon-dioxide emissions. “Christians must care about climate change because we love God the Creator,” it reads. The challenge to the Bush administration — which rejects mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions as economically harmful — has caused a major rift within evangelical circles. Last week the president of NAE, the Rev. Ted Haggard, announced that the group would not endorse the document, since it was not unanimously approved by members. And Cizik says NAE executives instructed him to remove his own name from full-page newspaper ads promoting the “Call to Action.”

Conservative critics of the document, including the Rev. [sic] James Dobson of Focus on the Family, say the global-warming science is inconclusive and the issue doesn’t belong on the evangelists’ agenda. “It’s a distraction when families are falling apart and abortion continues as a great evil,” says Tom Minnery, director of Dobson’s political-action group. But the “Call to Action” has been endorsed by dozens of Christian heavy hitters, including the country’s leading megachurch pastor, the Rev. Rick Warren, as well as the presidents of major Christian colleges and denominations.

Two leading evangelicals, James Dobson and Rick Warren, are on opposite sides of an issue? It had to happen sooner or later, and with politics at the core of the split, bringing the two sides to an accord isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

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