August 16, 2007

The Relationship between Secular Liberals and Religious Conservatives is Shifting

As the battle over the separation of church and state rages on, it seems that the battles between secular liberals and religious conservatives are shifting because apparently the face of conservatives is changing.....and I'm not sure that it is for the best.

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.

5 comments:

Collin Brendemuehl said...

I also think that the postmodern flash in the pan -- the (true) evangelicals and fundamentalists now only require some time to re-organize and adapt to the changing world.

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bloggernaut said...

Hello! Glad you're blogging again--mine should be up in oh, maybe before Christmastime... :P

About your article, I guess I need clarification. Are you observing an actual political move to the left in younger evangelicals, or are you only suspicious of such a move?

I guess I would consider myself one such younger evangelical who is concerned about human trafficking, et. al. I don't understand the "buying into the politically-correct tone of the day" and "abandoning [of] certain issues" though. What exactly are they buying into? What issues do you think they are abandoning/might abandon?

The quoted article speaks of opening up the movement to coalitions with groups who don't share the Christian worldview typically...and how for Dobson and Robertson this might mean an "unacceptable" dilution of focus....this does not logically follow. Is holding hands with these groups, who on other terms are at odds with evangelicals, be entirely negative to the point of not being worth it?

I don't want to see evangelicalism hijacked by the political/religious left any more than you do. However, I don't believe that is the bottom line here in this topic, which needs a lot more unpacking before we can say anything more definite. I suppose I'm just taking a different perspective. Can you tease this out a little more?

*Letitia*

Collin Brendemuehl said...

Letitia,
There is a postmodern turn that today is partnering with (or at least attempting to partner with) both evangelical theology and the social gospel. It is a tragic trend as much is being sacrificed.

bloggernaut said...

Collin,

I agree that postmodernism needs some tight controls to prevent it from stunting the gospel message. However, evangelicals have been partnering with non-Christian entities for various common purposes for many years. Especially now with issues concering abortion, end-of-life issues, and even on politics sometimes. Yet, most don't complain that the Catholic or Orthodox Jewish groups that are involved, for example, are compromising the evangelical distinctives, nor are we validating the doctrines of all aspects of those faiths. How is it that we treat postmodern thinkers as any more of a threat?

I say this is only because I don't percieve postmodernism as big of a threat as some see it. It is a flimsy house of cards that, once exposed for its flaws, collapses. Postmodern thinkers easily fall (no pun intended) into the realm of ridiculous propositioning once they get pushed into explaining their views. A recent radio interview I heard with Tony Jones only solidified my opinon. Maybe I'm the only one that thinks so.

*Letitia*