Much has been made of the Republican Party's relationship with evangelical Christians. Who is truly in control of that relationship? Is it people like James Dobson, or is the White House (Karl Rove) playing evangelical religious leaders in order to gain access to their followers for votes? Of course, then you get bogged down into the debate over exactly who is an evangelical. Go figure. The following article gives us something of a hint.
I'm going to bypass the whole military chaplain prayer guidelines story because it touches too closely to my day job, but that won't keep me from flagging a small item in this Washington Times article on the subject by Joseph Curl and Julia Duin.
The Times piece is about Claude A. Allen, once the White House's top adviser on domestic policy, and his departure from the administration. Some have said his departure was in protest of the new military guidelines regarding prayer in the military. Allen says it's for family reasons. Again, go figure.
So in the midst of sorting this story out, the authors of this article throw in this quote:
Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, said the West Wing can be rough for people such as Mr. Allen, an evangelical Christian who attends Covenant Life Church, a large congregation in Gaithersburg.
"They don't take kindly to someone serving too strongly the evangelical cause," Mr. Cizik said. "The people in the White House want someone who will salute, no matter what. If you are an evangelical, you get special scrutiny. They know evangelicals are obedient to a higher principle."
This is not all that surprising. What administration has not been leery of a person loyal to someone other than the president? But to what extent is that simply Washington politics or a much broader mistrust of evangelicals, despite the White House's efforts to gain their votes?
This Newsweek article on Cizik and his new work contains a few clues. In his efforts to challenge the Bush administration's current policies towards the environment, specifically relating to global warming, Cizik is causing a significant rift among evangelical leaders:
Until now, the movement has emphasized the individual responsibility of Christians to conserve. But this week a coalition of leading evangelicals will issue "An Evangelical Call to Action," asking Congress and the Bush administration to combat global warming by restricting carbon-dioxide emissions. "Christians must care about climate change because we love God the Creator," it reads. The challenge to the Bush administration -- which rejects mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions as economically harmful -- has caused a major rift within evangelical circles. Last week the president of NAE, the Rev. Ted Haggard, announced that the group would not endorse the document, since it was not unanimously approved by members. And Cizik says NAE executives instructed him to remove his own name from full-page newspaper ads promoting the "Call to Action."
Conservative critics of the document, including the Rev. [sic] James Dobson of Focus on the Family, say the global-warming science is inconclusive and the issue doesn't belong on the evangelists' agenda. "It's a distraction when families are falling apart and abortion continues as a great evil," says Tom Minnery, director of Dobson's political-action group. But the "Call to Action" has been endorsed by dozens of Christian heavy hitters, including the country's leading megachurch pastor, the Rev. Rick Warren, as well as the presidents of major Christian colleges and denominations.
Two leading evangelicals, James Dobson and Rick Warren, are on opposite sides of an issue? It had to happen sooner or later, and with politics at the core of the split, bringing the two sides to an accord isn't likely to happen anytime soon.