USA Today online includes an Aug. 6th article, Who Speaks for Evangelicals? Writer Mark Pinsky wonders
Will it continue to be bombastic, GOP-leaning, Southern preachers, such as the late Jerry Falwell, and strident, hard-line broadcasters such as Pat Robertson and Focus on the Family's James Dobson? I don't think so. From my neighborhood in the suburban Sunbelt, it is clear that a subtle, incremental but nonetheless tectonic shift is under way.I think it's a worthy question, especially in light of what I am seeing in the evangelical community these days -- where pragmatism, not Scripture, rules the actions and activities of the church -- and it makes sense that this would translate into political-religious conservatism. For more on pragmatism in the church, check out Challies.com.
The article continues...
The emerging face and voice of American evangelicalism is that of a pragmatic, politically sophisticated, pastor of a middle class megachurch. A younger generation of ministers such as Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life; Bill Hybels, of the pioneering Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago; T.D. Jakes, the African-American pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, as well as a music and movie producer; and Frank Page, the re-elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Or, this younger generation might be personified by someone like Joel Hunter, of Northland Church, just outside Orlando. The amiable Midwesterner, who opposes the death penalty, looks like Johnny Carson and sounds like Gene Hackman....
...Groups such as the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family "almost demand a more strident tone to raise money or media ratings," Hunter says. "As pastors, we don't have the same pressures on us. We work with people. We know what it takes to be patient and motivational and encouraging."
...Last year, fellow evangelicals chose him to be their voice in a national television campaign for "Creation Care," the evangelical euphemism for environmentalism and the effort to slow global warming.
"Did you know that evangelical leaders are telling us that global warming must be stopped because it will bring more devastating floods, droughts and disease?" Hunter asked..."As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God's creation."
Pastors like Hunter, Warren, Hybels, Jakes and Page have a shared vision.
They want to change the tone of the national political debate, making it less confrontational, and to open the movement to tactical coalitions with mainline Christian denominations, other faiths and even liberal secularists on a broad spectrum of issues.
True, on cultural touchstone issues such as abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research, there is no difference between the Old Guard and the New Guard: All are equally opposed. But the younger pastors want to broaden the evangelical agenda beyond what Hunter calls "below the belt" issues linked to sexuality. For them, people of faith should engage issues such as AIDS, Darfur, economic justice, war and peace, prison reform and human trafficking. For Dobson and Robertson, this represents an unacceptable dilution of focus and a squandering of political capital.
I'm alarmed by the "broaden[ing] of the evangelical agenda." Please don't misunderstand me, we should engage issues such as AIDS, Darfur, etc. because they are issues of human dignity (as are abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research) but my sense is that these "young pastors" may be buying into the politically-correct tone of the day and abandoning certain issues instead of adding to them. And I don't mean to say that everyone should be a prolife activist, but I do take serious issue with developing alliances with political figures who are so boldly prochoice. As Billy Graham has historically been the "pastor to power," I see these young pastors not so much pastors to power, more like pragmatists to power.
Discussing this with my brother Collin Brendemuehl, he offered the insight that the postmodern equivalent of the televangelist is the use of community rather than TV/Radio. There is definitely a sameness, obviously the medium has changed. But the desire to persuade is the same and I don't think one is holier than the other. But given my concerns about the pragmatic nature of the seeker movement, I can't help but to lament the Seeker Leader's involvement in this broadening of the evangelical agenda. I don't want to see evangelicalism hijacked by the political/religious left.