Are Nouveaux Moderate Evangelicals, Actually Immoderate?
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 04:35:43 PM EST
In light of the recent appearance by John McCain and Barack Obama on the Rick Warren Show, this recent post seems to be timely once again. I will have more to say about this soon. -- FC

One of the buzz notions is the idea of the newly moderate evangelical. A close corollary is that the Religious Right is moderating, because the agenda is expanding.

Now of course, there have always been truly moderate evangelicals, both theologically and politically speaking.  (Some have even been Democratic presidents of the United States.) And it is also true, and interesting, that various white evangelical leaders, organizations and denominations are no longer in rabid denial about the reality and consequences of climate change and the spread of HIV/AIDS, and other matters. Of course other religious constituencies (for example, mainline Protestantism and Reform Judaism) have been at or near the forefront of responsible concern and action on these matters for a very long time, but get far less credit or attention for their good work.

The question will become whether the approaches taken by the nouveaux moderates are as helpful as they, and certain of the media, make them out to be. Has the Religious Right converted, or merely adapted to the new environment after the fashion of candidates who make miraculous campaign conversions on key issues?

My hunch is that at the very least they all have a lot of catching up to do to even come up to speed with those who have worked on these matters for decades, let alone assume much in the way of leadership. But let's set that aside for a moment, and consider the case of Rick Warren: a man said to be theologically and politically conservative, but who has generally avoided politics in favor of pursuing church growth.

Just before the 2004 election, Warren sent a politically inflammatory letter to apparently, thousands of pastors, as well as members of his own congregation that was probably a violation of his ministry's 501(c)(3) tax status as an obviously proscribed electoral intervention using church resources and his position as pastor. The simplest statement of the of the IRS rule is:

"...all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."

Here is part of what he wrote to members of Saddleback Church, in which he doesn't quite endorse Bush over Kerry, but makes his position crystal clear:

Presidents serve for only 4 years, so they can only make a limited impact. But Supreme Court Justices serve for life, and they are the ones who decide on issues like abortion, gay marriages, human cloning, harvesting babies for stem-cell research, revoking the tax exemption of churches, removing "under God" from the flag pledge, and "in God we trust" from our money. In most ways, the Supreme Court has far more influence and impact on our day-to-day lives. This extremely important fact has been overlooked in most of the campaigning.

President Bush and Senator Kerry have VERY different opinions about the type of people who should become Supreme Court Justices. They could not have more opposite views about these matters. Either man will shape the court in very different ways.

If the members of our congregation fail to vote on Tuesday, we are actually surrendering our responsibility to choose the direction of our country for the next 40 years. If we do not vote, we have no right to criticize or complain when unbiblical decisions are made by the court in the decades ahead.

Over the past several months at Saddleback, we've been urging our members each week to register to vote. We even arranged to have a voter registration booth set up on our church patio because we believe it's that important that every Christian citizen exercises his or her right to vote for those who will govern us.

But for those of us who accept the Bible as God's Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life, I believe there are 5 issues that are non-negotiable. To me, they're not even debatable because God's Word is clear on these issues.[emphasis added] In order to live a purpose-driven life - to affirm what God has clearly stated about his purpose for every person he creates - we must take a stand by finding out what the candidates believe about these five issues, and then vote accordingly.

Here are five questions to ask when considering who to vote for in this election:

  1. What does each candidate believe about abortion and protecting the lives of unborn children?

  2. What does each candidate believe about using unborn babies for stem-cell harvesting?

  3. What does each candidate believe about homosexual marriage?

  4. What does each candidate believe about human cloning?

  5. What does each candidate believe about euthanasia - the killing of elderly and invalids?

By emphasizing these issues, and these alone, as the non-negotiable litmus test issues, he was clearly tilting his letter in favor of Bush over Kerry, whom he stressed have "VERY different" views, but that God is "clear" about them. It is worth noting that Warren has been an insider with the Bush White House, participating for example, in White House organized conference calls with Religious Right leaders, notably on the failed Harriet Miers nomination to the U.S.  Supreme Court.

In a recent panel at the Pew Forum, Amy Sullivan of Time magazine addressed the matter of Warren and politics:

There has also been a change going on at the same time in the evangelical community. Before the 2004 election, Rick Warren , who is really one of the rising leaders if not already a leader in the evangelical community, sent out a blast email to a couple hundred thousand pastors with his list of five non-negotiable issues for that election. They were abortion, human cloning, gay marriage, stem cell research and euthanasia.

I had a chance to ask him about this last fall, and I couldn't even finish my sentence before he said, that was wrong. That was absolutely wrong. It was wrong first to send out a message like that right before the election - he thought that was inappropriate. But second, it was very wrong, he thought, to imply that those were the only issues that mattered to evangelicals. He said, I'm still pro-life; I still care about all of those issues. But in the three and a half years since that election, he's now become a leader on everything from environmental causes to battling Third World poverty, AIDS in Africa, anti-torture, a number of different issues that have really broadened the plate of priorities among evangelicals.

I think it is worth noting, that every article for years about Warren notes that he is an evangelical leader who has mostly steered clear of politics. What should be underscored here is that what politics he has espoused is Republican; reactionary; and in the case of his somewhat famous letter, possibly illegal.

Other than articulating a "broader agenda" -- what is the nature of the leadership of Rick Warren and other immoderate evangelicals? What solutions do they advocate in response to the urgent issues? I think before anyone gets overly enthusiastic, it is worth taking a closer look at what refashioned Religious Right leaders, and the nouveaux moderate evangelicals, actually bring to the table.

Sounds suspiciously like "Compassionate Conservative. Though many on the right today disavow any connection to 'compassionate', or any other Liberal descriptor. It seems like I see a huge push from the Evangelicals/Dominionists for the "Hearts and Minds", more so now, than in the past 20 years or so,; Perhaps a huge grab might be a better word. The battle in Florida over the science curriculum, and heavy handed shoehorning of ID into the classrooms, so as not to lose those precious chilluns to secular evolutionary instruction; The rampant evangelizing of the military, especially the Officer Corps; Churchs push the limits of their tax-free status by endorsing candidates that are far right of the mainstream community.

by trog69 on Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 06:27:36 AM EST

These people bring nothing new to the table- just the same old tired distortions.  It sounds to me like these "new" things are just new attempts to cover their tracks.

In fact, I'm beginning to agree with a person I know- that fundamentalists/dominionists (if anyone could be) are the real "Church of the Anti-Christ".

They may CLAIM to be showing God's Love- but what I hear and read sounds more and more like domination, control, and hatred for the "Other".

I would also add willful and deliberate deception and ignorance to the list.

If only they could see themselves as they ARE.   That would be a blessing.  They would also find it painful.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Mar 30, 2008 at 10:29:09 PM EST

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