Keywords: right-wing Christian; Evangelicals; John McCain; Rick Warren; Barack Obama; Billy Graham; purpose-driven life; pro-choice; climate change.
There’s a crack in right wing Christianity. I’ve been reading about how the issue of climate change has split them. I’m not able to imagine the logic involved. Apparently the evangelical Christians became a concerted political movement during Ronald Reagan’s campaign. He didn’t claim to be one himself, but he said he endorsed what they were doing – which won their support just when they were planning to become a major political force within the United States. They certainly did! Maybe it’s because I live in Canada that I was not particularly aware of the trajectory of this movement. What I do seem to remember is Reagan’s statement that trees cause pollution – or something like that — which didn’t sound very green but which didn’t impede his election. Nowadays being green is a divisive issue among Christian right-wingers.
There’s something unsettling about the rhetoric of the Christian right. It’s not their political rhetoric but their religious imagery that seems harsh. I had lunch with two women friends after church (mine’s a rather deviant Anglican parish) a couple of weeks ago and they agreed that they find it easier and more pleasant to converse with atheists than evangelical Christians. Actually, I guess that’s true for me too but I try to resist feeling that way, since I don’t want to rule out spiritual conversations unless they become actually accusatory. But I certainly know understand how they feel.
So I have to admit to being glad that the Christian right is now dividing in two. But it’s odd that global warming is the issue. The National Association of Evangelicals used to line up with the Republicans to defeat all kinds of environmental legislation. Recently, however, some of them have come to recognize that something must be done to halt climate change, so there’s a big fight going on within their movement. They will probably be unable to agree on endorsing any presidential candidate, for reasons that have to do both with the nature of the most prominent candidates and their own divided opinions.
John McCain is the front-runner, but he is not an Evangelical himself and has even dismissed them for being narrow minded and rigid. He says he dislikes their influence within the Republican Party. Then there’s a senator named Brownback and a former governor named Huckabee, who are long shots, though apparently conservative in their religious orientation. More popular and hence more electable is Rudy Giuliani, but he’s pro-choice and he had a messy divorce not long ago. Quite a dilemma!
It seems there’s a popular Evangelical leader named Rick Warren (see photo) who runs something called the Saddleback church in Southern California and who has written the most popular religious book yet — The Purpose-Driven Life. The book’s simplism grates on my nerves, though I basically agree with the message that purpose is essential, and that it has to be sought spiritually. (I’d just prefer a little more modesty from the people who think they have found it.)
It seems that Warren invited Barack Obama to his enormous church recently and provoked outrage within his congregation. For one thing, Obama is a progressive Democrat, the kind that lost all political traction at about the same time that Reagan was elected. (Lots of liberals in the United States have been ashamed to call themselves the “L word.” Soon the shoe may be on the other foot. Conservatives in the post-Bush era may avoid the “C word.”) Obama is pro-choice. But on the political stump he often talks in Christian rhetoric — yet a language that I feel comfortable around. He’s an authentic, pluralistic, liberal Christian. So what’s he doing addressing an Evangelical congregation?
There has been a precedent for Rick Warren to take this position. He’s following in the footsteps of Billy Graham, who was an Evangelical but who made a big point of distinguishing himself from fundamentalism. (This I did not know until I started looking around the Google entries on Evangelical politics.) Graham’s discourse was religious wherever he went, including to prayer breakfasts in Washington. Yet apparently he did not rub many people the wrong way. (As I recall, he used to rub me the wrong way, but that was when I was still trying to get over my raw fundamentalist upbringing.) I wasn’t attracted to him, but he must have had some good political values. So Rick Warren is apparently taking a page from Graham’s book — a good idea, it seems to me. He’s going to rid the Evangelicals of some of their intolerance, yet leave room for a respectful kind of spiritual discourse within US elections. At least, that’s what Obama is going to accomplish, and I’m glad that some of the Evangelicals are ready to move in his direction.