Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The New Evangelical Politics

"The Christian agenda is shifting, and that's good news for Barack Obama."

So, at least, reads the deck on "The New Evangelical Politics" by E. J. Dionne Jr. in today's Washington Post.

Dionne makes a compelling argument, especially for someone (like me) who would like to believe it. He writes:

    The notion that Christianity in general and evangelicalism in particular are by nature right-wing creeds has always been wrong. How can a faith built around a commitment to the poor and the vulnerable be seen as leading ineluctably to conservative political conclusions?

    And when political commentators talk about "evangelicals," they are almost always talking about white evangelicals, forgetting that millions of African Americans are devout evangelical Christians and are hardly part of the conservative base. The civil rights movement was one of the greatest faith-based mobilizations in American history, even as it also drew on the energies of thousands of secular liberals who walked hand in hand with believers.

He continues:

    In 2004, Warren [Rick Warren, pastor of the evangelical Saddleback Church, which last weekend hosted the forum in which the presidential candidates discussed their religious and moral points of view] took the view that Christians should vote on a short list of "nonnegotiable" issues, including abortion. But in 2006, on Fox News, of all places, Warren declared: "Jesus's agenda is far bigger than just one or two issues. . . . We have to care about poverty, we have to care about disease, we have to care about illiteracy, we have to care about corruption in government, sex trafficking." That is the new politics of evangelical Christianity.

    None of this means that white evangelicals will convert en masse to the Democratic Party. McCain, who carefully touched every hot button on the control panel of religious conservatism, will certainly get a substantial majority of their votes. The question is whether Obama can cut the Republican margin among white evangelicals by, say, five or 10 points.

    "If Obama ever establishes any kind of trust [with evangelicals], there will be a noticeable shift," the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church outside of Orlando and a leading evangelical moderate, said in an interview. "It will not be huge, but it will be significant."

Well, that would certainly be nice. And it is indeed refreshing to find that there might after all be some people out there who are waking up to the idea that it isn't all about The One Issue (it would be especially refreshing if more people in my own church would wake up to that important fact, but one learns after awhile to not expect miracles where religion is concerned).

But I'm a little troubled by Dionne's conclusion, in light of some current events. He writes:
    For a Democratic nominee four years ago, a meeting at Warren's church would have been an away game -- if it had taken place at all. This time around, Pastor Rick made sure that in a Christian house of worship, there would be no home-court advantage. [read more | digg story]
Really? As several commentators have written--
I posted a link to Linda Bergthold's article, "Leaks in McCain's Cone of Silence?," in The Huffington Post a couple of days ago--there's reason to wonder if "Pastor Rick" did indeed make sure there was "no home-court advantage." Indeed, increasingly it seems to me that, despite his protests to the contrary--protests which seem to be constantly changing--the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency was stacked in McCain's favor. Which doesn't sound like "the Christian agenda" is "shifting" at all.

At least, not in the right direction.

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