A week ago (May 14, 2007) on Larry King Live, the discussion was made over what were evangelical priorities when it comes to voting for President of the United States. The theme of the show was “What’s God to Do with Politics?” and you can read the transcript by going here. As a lead-up, I want to provide a couple snippets from the discussion.
David Kuo begins, arguing,
“I think there’s something very interesting, however, about what’s happened with the religious right in the last, let’s say, 15 or 20 years.”
Later, King asks Kuo about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and whether if he had pre-marital sex matters. Kuo responds (emphasis mine),
“You know, I think we have become so focused on the tiny little details and we have missed the big details. Frankly, I don’t care whether Governor Romney — when Governor Romney and his wife decided to couple up. What I am interested in is whether or not Governor Romney is interested in caring about the poor. I don’t particularly care about what Rudy Giuliani’s Christian — religious faith is. I am interested in whether or not he has a particular agenda to care for people who are in need. You know, what’s ironic to me in this whole discussion about religion — about so many of these candidates talking about faith, is how few of them actually talked about things that, for instance, Jesus talked about. And one of those things that he talked about over and over and over again is caring for the poor.”
In a discussion about evangelical moral issues with King and Mohler, Jim Wallis comments:
“Well, Larry — Larry, I think the conversation could be quite different than it was last time and what Al is saying here, for two reasons. One, the agenda — the religious agenda is going to be very different this time. It won’t be the narrow two agenda issue that we’ve seen dominating in the past. Poverty is a religious issue now. The environment — climate change; pandemics like HIV. It’s Rick Warren said this week that to focus on just two issues is un-Christian. And so you’re going to see a wider, deeper agenda — faith applied as David Kuo said, to a whole variety of questions now.”
” . . . I’m all for broadening the agenda. There’s a whole lot — given this country and given our responsibility that ought to be on our agenda, but evangelical Christians are not going to surrender those primary issues. We all have a hierarchy of concerns. And politically speaking, the sanctity of human life and the sanctity and integrity of the family are at the very top of the evangelical agenda. So, by the way, are issues of personal morality . . .”
David Gergen chimes in the exchange, adding,
“This is a little complex and it’s very contentious. I think what we are seeing is the religious right is going to be absolutely focused on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of family. And by family, this is about the gay issue as well as other issues. And so, they’re going to insist on that in the Republican nomination. So I think that that is right. But at the same time, Larry, something very important is starting to happen, and that is there are people in the religious right like Rick Warren who believes in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of the family, who also believe that the environment and poverty are terribly important issues. And people on the religious left are starting to make — like Jim Wallis, who is a great leader on the religious left, are starting to find common ground with the religious right on these other additional issues that are also vital to the future.”
Do you see where the conversation is heading? I followed up this discussion with a post entitled “Evangelical Socio-political Priorities” where I asked five questions, including what a person believes are the issues topping the evangelical socio-political convictions. Another question I specifically asked was,
“Do you believe that there is an shift to the left in evangelicalism as a result of the emphasis on poverty and global crises?”
Well, according to the New York Times, that answer would be “Yes.” In their article, “Emphasis Shifts for New Breed of Evangelicals,” they argue that the younger generation of evangelicals, classified as “centrists” are a growing constituency (some 26% of the U.S. population) in contrast to the “traditionalists” who are considered “the Christian right.” They explain,
“Typified by megachurch pastors like the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., and the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago, the new breed of evangelical leaders — often to the dismay of those who came before them — are more likely to speak out about more liberal causes like AIDS, Darfur, poverty and global warming than controversial social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.”
They also add that the new evangelicals are not politically activist-minded (contrast to Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson) and are interested in shaping culture through other means such as media and the arts. Anecdotally, they state that while the new evangelicals hold to the same conservative convictions, especially on abortion, they are more accepting of homosexuality than the “traditionalists.”
Denny Burk responded yesterday, opining,
“I think this line represents as much wishful thinking as it does reporting. The rest of the article bears out the fact that the life-issue still remains at the top of the list of policy priorities for evangelicals. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon, no matter what Rick Warren and Bill Hybels do.”
I tend to agree with Denny, but it appears that at least in politics, the issues have indeed broadened, and I do not hear conservative evangelical Christians talking much about issues like poverty, Darfur, or AIDS. Will this in turn come to impact the presidential race in 2008?
Politics or not, evangelicals are going to have to square with the issues facing the world today other than abortion and homosexuality. Don’t hear what I am not saying. Abortion and homosexuality should be top issues for evangelicals. I am simply saying they shouldn’t be the only issues for evangelicals. Am I wrong here? Does this make me a liberal?
I really don’t care either what Warren and Hybels think or do. Personally, they are irrelevant to me. But I do care about what the Bible says and having my convictions and conscience shaped by Scripture and manifested in my worldview. I think far too long have conservative evangelicals, traditionalists, or whatever you call us, neglected or ignored issues of social justice and concern for the poor. These should not be issues connected to a political party or liberal brand of Christianity; rather they should be issues connected with biblical Christianity with a comprehensive worldview that addresses all issues valued and appraised by God and His Gospel. It is not that there should be a new emphasis for a new breed of evangelicals; instead, there should be a renewed commitment of what it means to be Christian.