Define "evangelical" (again and again)

obama and warren 02Most of this week, I am swamped with classroom work for the Oxford Centre for Religion & Public Life, which is holding a seminar in Washington, D.C.. So I have had very little time for reading newspapers and blogging. However, a reader did send in an interesting item from Jon Ward's POTUS Notes weblog at the Washington Times. Let me pass it along.

As regular GetReligion readers know, folks are here are interested in finding out what the word "evangelical" means in journalism today. It's vague fog in the dark, to say the least. This has major implications for the White House race because many Democrats are convinced that Barack Obama can carve off a nice slice of the young, emerging, "freestyle" segment of the evangelical world. As the Divine Ms. MZ has noted, this may or may not be true.

So what do the young evangelicals believe? What is happening over there?

Ward's blog item contains some interesting material about the Rev. Rick "Purpose Driven" Warren's visit to Washington for the ceremony in which President Bush signed the five-year funding renewal bill for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in Africa. The president went out of his way to shake hands with Warren.

Here's the key question: What does Warren think is happening among young evangelicals, since he is so frequently cited as an example of the "broader" brand of "evangelical" who might swing to Obama?

Mr. Warren's influence as an evangelical leader has grown to the point where on Aug. 16, he will host a two-hour "compassion and leadership" forum at Saddleback (Church) with the two presumptive presidential candidates, DemocraticSen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain. The two politicians will not appear on the stage together, but the event is important because of Mr. Warren's status as an evangelical leader who, though he is not without many detractors, has credibility across great swaths of the global Protestant community.

Mr. Warren told me in an interview that he is not sure who young evangelical voters will support in the fall election. There has been much speculation that one of the GOP's most loyal voting blocs could be slipping away from the Republican party.

"Nobody can really tell what direction they're going to go, the young evangelicals," Mr. Warren said. "They're more pro-life than their parents but they're anti-religious right."

Mr. Warren said he and others like him have moved past simply being pro-life and anti-abortion, calling himself "whole life."

That's a great sound bite, but also accurate in terms of the emerging poll data. By the way, it also rings true for me as a professor who works with, primarily, young evangelical Protestants. So mark that down. What ever is happening with the young evangelicals, they are "more pro-life than their parents but they're anti-religious right." There's a lot of content in that punchy phrase.

Please respect our Commenting Policy