I wasn’t able to attend the Saddleback Faith Forum on Saturday night, but I’ve read oodles of articles and commentaries from both right and left dissecting what it meant for the McCain and Obama camps. The consensus seems to be that McCain came out a little better off than Obama, which is predictable if only because McCain is a republican and Obama is not. It was ostensibly a republican event; Warren is a republican… it’s not surprising that McCain came out smelling like roses.
The real winner, however, is probably Rick Warren himself. For years he has been seen as the “rising star” of evangelicalism in America, and this event–which may turn out to be a pretty huge deal when all is said and done–could well solidify Warren’s status as the new voice of evangelical Christians. Indeed, as the “new Dobson.”
From my point of view, this development is mostly a good thing, and the following are some pros and cons of Warren assuming the reigns of the evangelical political monstrosity:
PRO: Pretty much anyone would be better than Dobson.
CON: There are many evangelicals who would be better than Warren.
PRO: Warren is a “brand name”– he’s legitimate in the eyes of millions of people who loved The Purpose-Driven Life.
CON: The Purpose-Driven Life was not a good book.
PRO: Warren is surprisingly focused on justice issues, poverty, and outside-America problems… things Dobson does not have the time of day for.
CON: Warren’s PEACE plan was too ambitious and by some reports has done more harm than good in Africa.
PRO: Warren is much more media-friendly and savvy. He doesn’t boycott things like Spongebob Squarepants.
CON: Warren is a little boring. It takes him actually getting Obama and McCain to come to his church and share the stage in order to grab headlines. Dobson can do it by taking a sneeze. But maybe this is a PRO.
PRO: Warren is a tad bit more ambiguous about his party affiliation than James “I could never vote for a Democrat” Dobson is…
CON: Warren is still a long way from Billy “Bipartisan” Graham.
It seems that everyday there is a new story in the news about how evangelical Christians are “up for grabs” in this year’s election. On Sunday there was this article on CNN.com about Shane Claiborne’s “Jesus For President” tour, in which the dreadlocked neo-monk said, “With the respectability and the power of the church comes the temptation to prostitute our identity for every political agenda.” Well said.
Then on Tuesday there was a story about Obama “reaching out” to evangelicals–a story that featured quotes from who else but Emergent guru Brian McLaren, who claimed that “there’s a very, very sizable percentage — I think between a third and half — of evangelicals, especially younger [evangelicals], who are very open to somebody with a new vision.” I wonder who he means?
Meanwhile McCain continues to all but ignore evangelicals, adding fuel to the “up for grabs” fire that is so eagerly announced by the mainstream press. He did muster a meeting with Billy Graham last weekend, which seemed more symbolic than anything. I love Billy Graham very much, but is the 89-year-old really the best person McCain should tap to get some evangelical momentum on his side? While McCain continues to cater to the over-80 set, Obama is busy inspiring the formation of young Christian political action committees, like the Matthew 25 Network.
But is anyone else a little weary of all this “seeking the evangelical vote” spiritual gerrymandering? Obama plays his evangelical card with characteristic finesse, but ten years ago would he be caught dead with the e-word label? I doubt it. And McCain… well at least he isn’t trying to pretend he is or ever was a card-carrying evangelical. He straight-up flaunts his ambivalence to the Dobsons of the world… and that earns him more than a little respect in my book. He’s not trying to be someone he isn’t.
I’m not saying Obama is lying through his teeth; I honestly do think he is sincere in his Christian faith. But in the terms with which evangelicals historically define themselves, Obama clearly does not fit the bill. And that is fine. Christians: it IS okay to vote for someone who is not exactly like you! We should be voting on the issues and qualifications of the candidates, not their church-going practices.
I guess I’m just fatigued by the whole idea that I—as an evangelical—am part of some monolithic group that will sway the election. Am I not free to vote for the person I think will be a better president for us? Do I really have to be “courted” and convinced by the candidates that my Christian point of view will be reinforced by them as president? That’s what happened when George W. Bush ran for president in 2000. And did everything become Christian and wonderful in America? Far from it.
In an impressive display of solidarity, intelligence, and single-mindedness, a group of Evangelical leaders recently drafted “An Evangelical Manifesto” which attempts to “address the confusions and corruptions that have attended the term Evangelical” and “to clarify where we stand on issues that have caused consternation over Evangelicals in public life.” The document was officially announced and released in Washington D.C. on May 7.
It’s a breath of fresh air at a time when the term “Evangelical” is coming under assault both inside and outside the church. In contrast to many of the “emerging church” folks who are ready to abandon the much-maligned term, this group is holding fast to the E-word: “We boldly declare that, if we make clear what we mean by the term, we are unashamed to be Evangelical and Evangelicals” (notice the capitalization of Evangelical). On the other hand, the document strongly repudiates the hyper-politicized nature of contemporary Evangelicalism, hoping to expand the concept of “Evangelical” beyond the social issues (abortion, gay marriage) that have preoccupied it in recent years (at least in the perceptions of the media).
Among the 80+ signers of the document are Os Guiness, Richard Mouw, Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Mark Noll, Ron Sider, Miroslav Volf, and Duane Litfin (President of my alma mater, Wheaton College). Notably absent are several evangelical stalwarts like Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, and James Dobson, who likely were not comfortable attaching their name to a document so critical of the evangelical right’s militant engagement in the culture wars.
I’m happy to sign my name to the document, and I did.
It’s a beautifully-written piece of prose, a comprehensive and timely articulation of how the Church can unite and thoughtfully proceed in this rapidly changing culture. It’s full of great ideas and great passages, so I urge you to read through the whole thing. Here are some of my favorite parts of the 19 page document:
- “Contrary to widespread misunderstanding today, we Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally.” (4)
- “To be Evangelical, and to define our faith and our lives by the Good News of Jesus as taught in Scripture, is to submit our lives entirely to the lordship of Jesus and to the truths and the way of life that he requires of his followers, in order that they might become like him, live the way he taught, and believe as he believed.” (5)
- “The Evangelical message, “good news” by definition, is overwhelmingly positive, and always positive before it is negative. There is an enormous theological and cultural importance to “the power of No,” especially in a day when “Everything is permitted” and “It is forbidden to forbid.” Just as Jesus did, Evangelicals sometimes have to make strong judgments about what is false, unjust, and evil. But first and foremost we Evangelicals are for Someone and for something rather than against anyone or anything.” (8)
- “Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism.” (8)
- “To be Evangelical is earlier and more enduring than to be Protestant.” (10)
- “We confess that we Evangelicals have betrayed our beliefs by our behavior. All too often we have trumpeted the gospel of Jesus, but we have replaced biblical truths with therapeutic techniques, worship with entertainment, discipleship with growth in human potential, church growth with business entrepreneurialism, concern for the church and for the local congregation with expressions of the faith that are churchless and little better than a vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering to felt needs, and mission principles with marketing precepts. In the process we have become known for commercial, diluted, and feel-good gospels of health, wealth, human potential, and religious happy talk, each of which is indistinguishable from the passing fashions of the surrounding world.” (11)
- “All too often we have disobeyed the great command to love the Lord our God with our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and have fallen into an unbecoming anti-intellectualism that is a dire cultural handicap as well as a sin. In particular, some among us have betrayed the strong Christian tradition of a high view of science, epitomized in the very matrix of ideas that gave birth to modern science, and made themselves vulnerable to caricatures of the false hostility between science and faith. By doing so, we have unwittingly given comfort to the unbridled scientism and naturalism that are so rampant in our culture today.” (12)
- “We call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage, and a fuller recognition of the comprehensive causes and concerns of the Gospel, and of all the human issues that must be engaged in public life. Although we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman, we must follow the model of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, engaging the global giants of conflict, racism, corruption, poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness, by promoting reconciliation, encouraging ethical servant leadership, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation.” (13-14)
- “Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, and nationality, we Evangelicals see it our duty to engage with politics, but our equal duty never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, or nationality. In our scales, spiritual, moral, and social power are as important as political power, what is right outweighs what is popular, just as principle outweighs party, truth matters more than team-playing, and conscience more than power and survival. The politicization of faith is never a sign of strength but of weakness.” (15)
- “Our commitment is to a civil public square — a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. Thus every right we assert for ourselves is at once a right we defend for others.” (17)
- “We utterly deplore the dangerous alliance between church and state, and the oppression that was its dark fruit. We Evangelicals trace our heritage, not to Constantine, but to the very different stance of Jesus of Nazareth. While some of us are pacifists and others are advocates of just war, we all believe that Jesus’ Good News of justice for the whole world was promoted, not by a conqueror’s power and sword, but by a suffering servant emptied of power and ready to die for the ends he came to achieve.” (18)