Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Evangelicals Are Not the Moderate Center

Did you catch the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency this past weekend?

According to the Saddleback Civil Forum's website, the "series was established to promote civil discourse and the common good of all." Rick Warren, best-selling author and pastor of the Saddleback evangelical mega-church in California, created the forum with three goals in mind: "helping people accept responsibility, helping the Church regain credibility, and encouraging our society to return to civility."

About Warren, generally I have to give him kudos for trying to mobilize the evangelical community away from hot-button bigotry issues like homosexuality and abortion and toward more important and much-more-frequently-mentioned-in-the-Bible social issues like disease and poverty.

But at the same time, I am not at all comfortable with what looks to me like Warren's opportunistic evangelism of poverty-stricken nations. The general problem I have with missionary-type work is the "sure we'll help ya, but first let me tell you about my friend Jesus Christ" attitude. Now, this is probably a much larger conversation, but is it possible to try eradicate poverty without simultaneously getting Africans to accept Jesus as their lord and savior? I applaud several components of Warren's global "PEACE Plan," but I take issue with its typical evan-centric assumption that all non-Christians are suffering from "spiritual emptiness" just because they don't know Jesus.

As a prelude to Warren's Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, he said "We believe in the separation of church and state, but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics." Okay, I can grant that everyone has some sort of worldview and that that worldview or "faith" is relevant to politics. But that Warren, a man seeking to Christianize the world, served as the very first "neutral" moderator interviewing two candidates, for a job, on behalf of our nation demonstrates just how far right the national rhetoric is right now. It was only 4 years ago, after all, when Warren informed the members of his very large congregation that it was their "Christian duty to vote according to certain 'non-debatable' social issues, notably abortion and gay marriage."

The Saddelback Civil Forum on the Presidency may have put this Evangelical Christian worldview in place as the "moderate center" of our nation. For instance, one FOXNews commentator referred to Warren as "Values Inquisitor in Chief" as though Warren is America's Moral Leader, the decider of what's truly right and wrong. For instance, the forum's audience was comprised of thousands of like-minded members of Warren's congregation. What we at home heard was applause, reinforcement, for each candidate's "correct" policy statements on abortion (fertilized eggs have human rights!), marriage (marriage is between a man and a woman!), and faith (both McCain and Obama have been saved!). When Obama dared to say in the most minimal terms possible that women maybe just maybe should have a choice when it comes to abortion, he was met with silence from the audience. We got it. Wrong answer.

Then, of course, Warren asked both candidates what Christianity meant to them on a daily basis. Both men were quite eager to play the Christian card. Christian faith, or at least professing to have one, is an unofficial prerequisite for the presidency. Obama expounds:

"It means I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins and that I am redeemed through Him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis. I know that I don't walk alone. But what it also means, I think, is a sense of obligation to embrace not just words, but also through deeds and expectations that God has for us. And that means thinking about the least of these - acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God."

McCain simply said,

"It means I am saved and forgiven."


I find it odd and troubling that, in order to be a viable candidate for President of the United States, one has to profess a belief in the "proper" supernatural father/son/holy ghost phenomenon. I mean, tangibly, Obama and McCain didn't really tell us anything. Okay, both men are Christians. Cool. But when it comes to Christian values, we all know that those can mean whatever some people want them to mean. What really matters to America is that both men have professed a belief in the male-centric female-humanity-denying worship of a Great and Powerful Male God/Son/Ghost Thingy. So frankly, I don't care that Obama thinks Jesus died for him and that McCain is "saved." I would have much rather had these men tell me how their Christian beliefs would affect their decisions as president of a pluralistic nation and how they would tolerate and welcome those of other faiths and non-faiths.

What scares me most is that I look at Warren's ideal world and I don't find that I have a place in it even though I think I'm a generally moral, good, and spiritual person. First, there's the fact that I'm not a Christian and, therefore, "spiritually empty." Then, of course, there's my homosexuality which Warren has said is something that is not to be tolerated. Warren, you see, is really more the same brand of evangelical but he's wearing new, shiny, marketable clothing. While caring about real issues like poverty and global disease, his extreme views- views that are inherent in the very religion he promotes throughout the world- on "hot button" issues remain.

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