My mom on Sunday handed me an article she was given and wondered what I thought. The article written by David Kirkpatrick entitled "The Evangelical Crackup" was in last week’s New York Times. It has been blogged on quite a bit, but I didn’t get a chance to read it until yesterday. After reading the article it seems to me to be an attempt at an obituary of the Religious Right and wishful thinking on the part of the liberal mainstream media (MSM).
Here is the gist of the this article:
“There was a time when evangelical churches were becoming largely and almost exclusively the Republican Party at prayer,” said Marvin Olasky, the editor of the evangelical magazine World and an informal adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor. “To some extent — we have to see how much — the Republicans have blown it. That opportunity to lock up that constituency has vanished. The ball now really is in the Democrats’ court.”
You don’t really see evangelicals lining up to join the Democratic party. Yes, polling shows that some evangelicals are leaving the GOP, but they are not necessarily going to the Democratic party. You are seeing a broadening of evangelical social concern which I believe is a good think, and a realization that we should not be beholden to one political party.
The article itself is mostly a rehash of the dominant media perspective on evangelicals and politics, though it is noteworthy for Kirkpatrick’s style of "journalism by name-dropping." The 7900 word article manages to cram in the names of 23 evangelicals leaders: Terry Fox, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Paul Weyrich, D. James Kennedy, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Marvin Olasky, David Welsh, Ralph Reed, Frank Page, Rick Scarborough, David Wells, Scott McKnight, Jim Wallis, Tony Perkins, Gene Carlson, Todd Carter, Joe Wright, Paul Hill, Harry Jackson, and Donald Wildmon.
But while Kirkpatrick focuses on the cult of personality, the true crux of the conservative Christian political movement is based on a culture of principles. Rather than focusing on a "Who’s Who" of Christian leaders, an adequate understanding of the "evangelical Right" requires the recognition and prioritization of six core principles.
These principles of Christian political engagement were outlined in the National Association of Evangelicals’ paper – "For the Health of the Nation, An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility".
- We work to protect religious freedom and liberty of conscience.
- We work to nurture family life and protect children.
- We work to protect the sanctity of human life and to safeguard its nature.
- We seek justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable.
- We work to protect human rights.
- We seek peace and work to restrain violence.
- We labor to protect God’s creation.
Carter goes on to say that there is a broad consensus among evangelicals, but there is a broad range of viewpoints on how each relates to specific issues because we do not have a developed political theology and tend to borrow from non-religious political philosophies (liberal, conservative, etc.) or glean from other traditions like Catholic social thought.
This is why evangelicals can agree on how the sanctity of life affects our position on abortion while disagreeing on how it relates to the death penalty. Likewise, we agree on the principle of seeking peace and restraining violence but differ on how this affects our view of the Iraq War. What Kirkpatrick is noticing is not a "crackup" among evangelicals but the continual re-prioritization of principles and disagreements over how they correlate with specific issues. At the level of the level of the church and community this is an ongoing, never-completed process.
Carter notes that the emphasis of the different priorities will fluctuate with different leaders and groups. So when one leader places an emphasis on seeking justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable that doesn’t mean there is a disagreement with the other principles. MSM erroneously places too much attention on different personalities with the evangelical community, when this is just a natural fluctuation in the prioritization of principles and issues.
Kirkpatrick’s piece does point out a problem however he writes…
Conservative Christian leaders in Washington acknowledge a “leftward drift” among evangelicals, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and the movement’s chief advocate in Washington. He told me he believed that Hybels and many of his admirers had, in effect, fallen away from orthodox evangelical theology. Perkins compared the phenomenon to the century-old division in American Protestantism between the liberal mainline and the orthodox evangelical churches. “It is almost like another split coming within the evangelicals,” he said.
I’m not exactly sure what "orthodox evangelical theology" Perkins is referring to? You have to be pro-Iraq war in order to be orthodox for example? We should not confuse the GOP platform with evangelical theology, which I’m afraid some have done and that is a problem.
Anyway I wouldn’t play a funeral dirge just yet.