On breaking up

breaking upThere's turmoil over at the Christian Coalition. Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, who supports raising the minimum wage, opposes the death penalty and wants to take on global warming, was scheduled to take over Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition in January. But according to The Washington Post's Alan Cooperman, the organization's chairwoman, Roberta Combs, has decided to rescind that offer. What's this? There are megachurch pastors out there who are not walking in lockstep with the political movement that has been dubbed the "religious right"? Check out Cooperman's interview with Jason Christy, who was the group's executive director for three weeks in late 2005:

Christy added that his political views are far different from those of Hunter, author of a book called "Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won't Fly With Most Conservative Christians."

"In terms of Hunter, they picked the wrong captain for the wrong ship," he said. "The title of his book alone tells me that they did not do their due diligence."

Hunter said he made clear from the moment that Combs approached him about the job in April that he wanted to pursue a broad agenda of "compassion issues."

"I hope we can break out of 'liberal' and 'conservative.' I'm not sure when compassion became fitted under 'liberal,'" he said. "There are many Christians, especially in their twenties and thirties, who don't care about liberal and conservative. They just see that if you're going to love your neighbor, you have to address things like the environment."

Initially, Hunter added, Combs "seemed to be interested" in his approach. "But I think it's very difficult once you have poured your life into an organization to transfer authority to someone else," he said.

The Los Angeles Times picked up on a slightly different angle than the Post:

In an interview Tuesday, Hunter said that the coalition's board had initially signed off on this approach, but appeared to get cold feet. He said the board also backtracked on supporting his vision for the group to focus more on grass-roots organizing rather than on Washington-based advocacy.

"They have just been Washington-focused since their inception," Hunter said.

time's evangelicalsAre we picking up on hints, as Newsweek suggests, that there is an "Evangelical Identity Crisis"? Post-election bickering is out in full force and the agenda carved out so neatly within the Republican Party platform is beginning to split open. As the deck in Miller's article asks, is it going to be "sex or social justice"? Could we also be talking about sex and social justice? A question for pollsters and religion writers: are the two incompatible? Is this a broadening or a shifting of the evangelical agenda? Here's Newsweek:

But now, more than three decades after Roe v. Wade propelled religious conservatives fully into the arena, a new generation of evangelical believers is pressing beyond the religious right of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, trying to broaden the movement's focus from the familiar wars about sex to include issues of social and economic justice. The result is a new hour of decision for evangelicals: How much do they have to show for the decades of activism? And if they are to turn from what Roger Williams called "the garden of Christ's church" to fight the battles of "the wilderness of the world," what should those battles be?

For the first time in a long while, then, there is a serious rethinking of the politics of Jesus in America -- or at least the efforts of different elements in the country, from believers of progressive, moderate and conservative bents, to claim they are acting in his name in the public sphere. "In this world ye shall have tribulation," Jesus told his disciples -- a decided understatement. Though he added the reassurance that they should "be of good cheer; I have overcome the world," those disciples and their heirs down two millennia still face tribulation and trouble, and currently stand at a crossroads. Can they move beyond the apparent confines of the religious right as popularly understood, or are they destined to seem harsh and intolerant -- the opposite of what their own faith would have them be? The search for an answer to that question goes to the heart of what American life and politics will look like as we face a landmark midterm election this week and a wide-open presidential race two years hence.

Some Christians, exhausted by divisive wedge politics, are going back to the Bible and embracing a wider-ranging agenda, one that emphasizes reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised. Almost unanimously, these evangelicals cite as a model Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Members of his church sign up for missionary stints in Africa, resolve to feed the homeless and see themselves as part of a global Christian community. Over the past six months, Warren has added his name to a public letter condemning abortion and embryonic-stem-cell research, as well as to one demanding an end to atrocities in Darfur and another denouncing torture. "Rick Warren ... has a lightness of being," says John DiIulio, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania and former Bush White House staffer. "How do you get coordinates for a guy who talks about poverty like a liberal Catholic?"

Then there is this whole separate story, as reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette, that the Republican Party is dumping the evangelical vote. If evangelicals are already heading toward emphasizing the minimum wage, global warming and opposing the death penalty, why would they consider the GOP their home anyway?

Lastly, check out this story in The Orange County Register in which Purpose Driven Life pastor Rick Warren is taking heat from religious conservatives for inviting Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to attend an AIDS conference. One radio host and blogger has called Obama the anti-Christ for his support of abortion. Note that Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, is also participating.

What to make of all of this? There are, of course, more than enough conservative Christians out there who really do not like Warren. It would be interesting to compare the political influence of Warren with someone like James Dobson or even Pat Robertson. We have been watching the implosion of the GOP for quite some time now, but are we seeing the separation of the Christian right from evangelicalism? Are the 25 conservatives on Time's "Most Influential Evangelicals" list still on the same team?

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