Gentle Fudge
religion, politics, current events, and other fashionable dinner conversation.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
A Kinder, Gentler Nation
The following commentary was published in my local paper this past Sunday. Of course, I was not able to find any links. The paper rarely archives any commentaries regarding religion and politics, thus I decided to retype it in its entirety here. Mr. Whitehead is the local watchdog for religion, politics, law, and civil rights, the founder and president for The Rutherford Institute. Fabulous organization.

When Pastor Rick Warren decided to hold a 'forum' on August 16, 2008, at his mega church Saddleback and invited both presidential candidates to avoid losing his tax-exempt status. This I'm certain of. Due to millions of Christians leaning away from the Religious Right and becoming more 'loving' and 'forgiving' -- thus of the evangelical persuasion -- Warren saw his opportunity and took it. The Purpose-Driven Pastorprenuer opened his arms and welcomed both sides -- surely a thing Christ would do, right? -- and asked questions... and charged tickets, to make sure this was not confused with a church event. Some went as high as 2 grand, from my limited websurfing.

was truly pointless, spineless, and lacked purpose, something Warren should really have some knowledge, considering his empire of books. I agree. Warren should have asked the tough questions instead of worrying about offending the evangelical masses. He is known for avoiding hot button issues and instead focuses on uniting the peoples. He avoids the issues of abortion, or specifically what causes abortions, and instead focuses on world poverty. A wonderful thing when you live in a rich country and the American Way is to fix problems with your checkbook... when the problems are thousands of miles away... when we are known for ignoring our neighbors down the street who are struggling financially or emotionally.

Christ was never worried about being offensive when it came down to it. He confronted the church leaders of his day who lived lavish lifestyles. He went out to find the poor and oppressed. He challenged the comfortable who thought they had done 'enough'. He wasn't afraid to die for what he believed, for those he cared for, which is what ultimately happened. So why is this pastor afraid to lose his earthly kingdom when he should be more concerned for his soul?

Commentary from "The Daily Progress" (Charlottesville, VA)
Sunday, August 24, 2008

by John W. Whitehead

America, meet your new evangelical leader

I have never been considered a part of the religious right, because I don't believe politics is the most effective way to change the world. Although public service can be a noble profession, and I believe it is our responsibility to vote, I don't have much faith in government solutions, give the track record. --Rick Warren

The recent Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency was a wash. Both candidates, who claim to be Christians, spent much of their time pandering to the nearly three million television viewers who tuned in. But in terms of what presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama had to say, their responses were largely lacking in content.

However, the Saddleback Forum wasn't insignificant. Its significance has less to do with what the two candidates had to say than in what the person asking the questions, Rick Warren, signifies for the future of Christianity.

The fact that it was Warren and not James Dobson, the Christian Right's de facto Godfather, is particularly telling. It speaks of a decided shift away from the rigid, right-winged mindset that has dominated evangelical Christianity in America over the last three decades. Warren, pastor of the 23,000-member Saddleback Church in California and the best-selling author of "The Purpose-Driven Life," seems to be about as far as you can get from the stigma of the Christian Right while still calling himself an evangelical Christian.

The Christian Right, represented by such prominent figures as Dobson, Pat Robertson and the Late Jerry Falwell, among others, has long stoof for the erection of a Christian State. As David Kuo, who served as special assistant to President Bush documents in his book "Tempting Faith," these Christian leaders worked hard to maintain ties to the Bush White House, complete with weekly conference calls to keep them updated on ever facet of the president's policy and political agenda.

However, the dismal failure of the Bush presidency has led inevitably to the decline of the Christian Right -- and can be credited with contributing to Warren's rise to prominence. According to a 2005 Nation article, Warren "disassociates himself from the religious right, noting that he shares its position on social issues but doesn't want to focus on them. He focuses on poverty, disease, and aid to Africa."

It's not difficult to see why Warren, a mainline evangelical in the Billy Graham mold, is enjoying such popularity. Disillusioned by the power-hawking, war-mongering of the Christian Right, the nation's 80 million evangelical Christians would have little trouble with the feel-good Christianity that Warren sells -- non-confrontational, congenial, and polite. That isn't to say that it lacks substance, merely controversy.

As a recent time article observed, like Graham, Warren "projects an authenticity that he helped him forge an exquisite set of political connections -- in the White House, on both sides of the legislative aisle and abroad. And he is both leading and riding the newest wave and change in the Evangelical community: an expansion beyond social conservatism to causes such as battling poverty, opposing torture and combating global warming.

"The movement has loosened the hold of religious-right leaders on ordinary Evangelicals and created an opportunity for Warren, who has lent his prominent voice to many of the new concerns."

Warren has avoided much that is controversial, such as abortion and gay marriage (what he refers to as "sin issues"). Instead, Warren focuses on issues that "unite," such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change, and human rights. Warren is, whether consciously or unconsciously, shifting the national faith dialogue back to a pre-Regan era, before the small group of leaders that have come to dominate the Christian Right turned Christianity into a synonym for right-wing theocracy.

Sidestepping the siren call of politics, Warren has taken aim at what he calls the "five global giants": spiritual emptiness, selfish leadership, hunger, sickness, and illiteracy. Empowered by his publishing success and with the support of his megachurch, he launched his PEACE initiative -- an acronym for Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick, and Educate the next generation. Since coming up with the plan, he has taken his PEACE plan global, with Rwanda as his testing ground.

Warren is now being looked upon as America's pastor. Suddenly, Christianity appears somewhat appealing again. Yet while there is so much to commend this so-called New Evangelicalism, with its rejection of politics as the answer and its emphasis on carrying out Jesus' mandate to care for the poor and helpless, there is also an important lesson to the learned. The rise of the Christian Right came about at a time when the evangelical church in America was doing its best to be non-controversial an inoffensive. The evangelical church's subsequent failure was to morally impact the culture and the legalization of abortion can be directly attributed to the emergence ot the Christian Right.

The Christian Right was, without a doubt, a semi-militant reaction to a society that seemed to be lacking a moral compass. And as journalist Chris Hedges points out in his book "American Fascists," if a real crisis rises again across this country (such as another terrorist attack), it would not take much for the country to revert back to such a militant fundamentalism.

This brings us to the current presidential election. No matter who ascends to the White House, it's clear that Christians will not enjoy the kind of access that laid claim to during the Bush administration -- whatever good it did them. For example, abortions didn't decline under Bush, and it's doubtful that whether they would under either Obama or McCain.

The lesson to be learned is this: what is needed now is not a return to the overly polite Christianity of the pre-Regan era. Nor is it the politically charged Christianity of the Religious Right, but a brand of Christianity that does not shy away from speaking truth to power. In other words, the type of Christianity Jesus practiced.

John Whitehead is president and founder of the Albemarle County-based Rutherford Institute, a civil-liberties organization. He can be reached at

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posted by Sara @ 4:06 PM  
  • At 10:14 AM, Blogger spud tooley said…

    i can't really tell from your lead-in comments what your view of this was/is. there's a sentence fragment that seems to imply you thought it was 'pointless.' i disagree. nothing in this day and age will have the depth and honesty a lot of people feel is necessary, but you take what you get when you can get it.

    i think warren did a good job in asking consistent questions. now, you and i both know that, depending on one's views, a specific set of follow-up questions should have been right in line to show the logicial fallacies underlying certain positions. but that isn't going to happen.

    i heard a talk-show idiot talking on friday - he said the democrats have the most to lose if the electorate suddenly gains intelligence. that was a subtle way of saying that people voting for obama are stupid. obviously, i disagree.

    what's more frightening - and maybe this is your point - is that the evangelical masses are the ones who are truly ignorant, simply wanting to hear pro-life-yes-gay-rights-no out of a candidate's mouth to determine who 'God's man' is.

    mike rucker
    fairburn, ga, usa

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