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This post, written by Christy Hardin Smith, originally appeared on FireDogLake
The NYTimes Magazine has an intriguing article about the schisms that may be occurring within the evangelical community. It seems that the "marketing potential" of supporting the Bush Administration is way down in terms of synergistic fundraising...at least based on where the Dobson Focus on the Family folks are...erm...focusing themselves these days. The switch from hate-filled invective directed at "libruls" to the actual message of acting on the humanism and peace contained in Christ's teachings would certainly be an improvement, but I'm filing this in the "believe it when I've seen it for more than a couple of months" category.
In any case, I thought this was a fascinating bit of insight from a reporter who has been covering the Christian right for quite a while:
...Meanwhile, a younger generation of evangelical pastors -- including the widely emulated preachers Rick Warren and Bill Hybels -- are pushing the movement and its theology in new directions. There are many related ways to characterize the split: a push to better this world as well as save eternal souls; a focus on the spiritual growth that follows conversion rather than the yes-or-no moment of salvation; a renewed attention to Jesus' teachings about social justice as well as about personal or sexual morality. However conceived, though, the result is a new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty -- problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers.
The backlash on the right against Bush and the war has emboldened some previously circumspect evangelical leaders to criticize the leadership of the Christian conservative political movement. "The quickness to arms, the quickness to invade, I think that caused a kind of desertion of what has been known as the Christian right," Hybels, whose Willow Creek Association now includes 12,000 churches, told me over the summer. "People who might be called progressive evangelicals or centrist evangelicals are one stirring away from a real awakening."
The generational and theological shifts in the evangelical world are turning the next election into a credibility test for the conservative Christian establishment. The current Republican front-runner in national polls, Rudolph W. Giuliani, could hardly be less like their kind of guy: twice divorced, thrice married, estranged from his children and church and a supporter of legalized abortion and gay rights. Alarmed at the continued strength of his candidacy, Dobson and a group of about 50 evangelical Christians leaders agreed last month to back a third party if Giuliani becomes the Republican nominee. But polls show that Giuliani is the most popular candidate among white evangelical voters. He has the support, so far, of a plurality if not a majority of conservative Christians. If Giuliani captures the nomination despite the threat of an evangelical revolt, it will be a long time before Republican strategists pay attention to the demands of conservative Christian leaders again. And if the Democrats capitalize on the current demoralization to capture a larger share of evangelical votes, the credibility damage could be just as severe.
"There was a time when evangelical churches were becoming largely and almost exclusively the Republican Party at prayer," said Marvin Olasky, the editor of the evangelical magazine World and an informal adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor. "To some extent -- we have to see how much -- the Republicans have blown it. That opportunity to lock up that constituency has vanished. The ball now really is in the Democrats' court."
I've said previously that I am very uncomfortable with politicization of religion. My grandfather was a Methodist minister (now retired), and I grew up being taught that faith is something that you put to work for the benefit of the less fortunate, not to aggrandize a particular political party's agenda. Mixing the dirty world of politics with religion doesn't mean that politics gets any cleaner -- it's simply designed to give an outer sheen of public relations respectability while the corruption keeps right on chugging out of the public eye. (See, e.g., DeLay, Tom, as an enormous example of what not to do. See also Ralph Reed. And before anyone asks, I'm certainly not saying that religion doesn't have its share of corruption issues all on its own.)
But then again, some of our better forward-thinking achievements have come from the marriage of action on social justice and policy initiatives. Dr. King's work on civil rights and the intersection with Lyndon Johnson's push on legislation doing just that come to mind, as one example of many. And ought to be added into the discussion as well, giving a helping hand to the least of these, our bretheren. Moving that forward -- instead of the backward steps we've been taking of late -- would be wonderful, wouldn't it?
Way back in the Old Testament, Moses denounced the worship of idols and golden calves and other earthly idolotry as sins -- worshipping at the altar of fattened, corrupted golden elephants is no different. And it is well past time that religious folks in America got that wake-up call...a change is gonna come, it just may not come as quickly as we might like. I'm curious to know what you all think about all of this -- the intersection of religion and politics, politicization of religious practice or not, separation of church and state all factor into the mix -- and about the article in the NYTimes magazine. Thoughts?