Evangelical Politics

10 04 2007

I don’t write about this often but this is a response to someone who asked “Since when did Christians only care about abortion and homosexual issues” and then listed a number of “Christian leaders” they felt represented that view.

One question I increasingly have is to try and understand why the media portrays certain people as Evangelical leaders. I was listening to the editor of Newsweek address this very issue last night and he was talking about how the media still seems to think that people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell speak for Christianity when they really represent a radical fringe of a radical fringe of Christianity as a whole. They don’t even come close to speaking for Evangelicals let alone Christianity (that was his assessment).

The editor did an amazing job of describing the confusion the media has with Christianity and Evangelicals in particular because no one speaks for the movement. Because evangelicalism is a decentralized movement it takes at least 2-3 decades to be recognized as a voice and by that time those leaders are often espousing what Evangelicals thought 30+ years ago about various topics. In addition, mediums like radio and TV tend to bring out the fringe of any movement so if you combine the fact there is no one speaking for Evangelicals and those who speak the loudest are fringe leaders who are on the radio you can see where the confusion comes from.

I read and follow a number of mainstream Evangelical leaders and they talk far more about the environment and poverty than homosexuality.

Checkout a book called A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren who is the most prominent leader of the Emergent Church movement which represents a large number of the church plants by men and women under 40. It presents the general theological ethos of a large number of younger Evangelical leaders.

For Evangelicals in their 40’s I think Rick Warren is a good representation of that ethos. He leads what many have described as the largest Christian movement against AIDS and poverty in Africa – Peace Plan. He also took a major hit for signing the Global Warming Initiative (See the NY Times Article)

James Dobson who is now in his 70’s seems to represent a increasingly older subset of the Evangelical world but anyone who knows his ministry knows he spends far more time combating divorce than abortion and homosexuality combined. James Dobson did not win his position in the evangelical world because of politics but because of his ministry to families and he chose to turn that into a political weapon.  Thus its important to remember that just because many evangelicals follow his advise on family life does not mean they agree with him on everything political.

As to the question about revitalizing urban cities I feel like every other message I listen to speaks to this issue. The main Christian leader I follow in Cinci is David Nixon who moved with a group of families into the poorest section of Cinci and have made a life long commitment to revitalizing that neighborhood. He has a PhD in a neighborhood where less than 13% have any college degree and only 70% have graduated from high school. He has been there for almost 20 years now and he’s been a huge encouragement and inspiration for me.

Nation wide the Pastor that I and almost every church planter I talk to follows the most is Tim Keller who planted Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan (at Hunter College). If you want to hear an amazing Evangelical vision for the city download this

It totally rocked my world.

All you have to do is barely scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find the true Evangelical ethos of the church for the city, the poor, the oppressed and the environment. It doesn’t get much press time yet but it’s beginning to.

By the way, Jon Meacham’s book “American Gospel” (he’s the editor of Newsweek) explains how and why Evangelicals got into politics and I was quite surprised. Until Roe v. Wade Evangelicals were split pretty even between Dems and Republicans. Jerry Falwell preached a sermon in 1965 on why Christian pastors and leaders should never get involved in politics but he and countless thousands of Christian leaders changed their mind in 1973. It’s impossible to overestimate the seismic shift that occurred in the Christian world as a result of Roe v. Wade. And shortly thereafter the Dems abandoned the Christian world on this issue climaxing in the Mondale/Ferraro campaign where millions of Christians left the Dems because of the insensitive caricature their campaign made of Christians in order to capture the Pro-Choice base and the landscape of politics took a drastic turn where, for the first time, Christians felt they had to become Republicans because the Dems took such a strong ProChoice stance and the two sides seem to have drifted increasingly farther apart since that time.