[CHRISTIANITY] Who Will Decide God's Politics?
- Who will decide God's politics?
True change occurs in the church and the wider culture, Rick Warren
says in reaching across party lines.
By GWENDOLYN DRISCOLL
The Orange County Register
There's a lot Becky Kuhn isn't comfortable with about Saddleback
The San Diego-based doctor notes that Saddleback Church, following
Southern Baptist Convention mandate, does not allow women pastors.
"That's unacceptable," she says.
The church, in the past, used terminology that Kuhn regards as ill-
advised to describe gays Kuhn's primary clientele at the Long Beach
AIDS clinic in which she worked for six years. ("Love the sinner;
hate the sin" is an oft-repeated evangelical maxim.)
This past week, Saddleback Church underlined a general evangelical
belief that homosexuals can be transformed into heterosexuals by
inviting "ex-gays" to speak at a Saddleback-sponsored conference on
"The term 'ex-gay' is so offensive to the gay community," Kuhn
says. "Just telling them, 'Don't have sex; don't be gay' that's not
relational. That's paternal. That's just not how God works. That's
how the church works."
Where Saddleback's founders, Rick and Kay Warren, are concerned,
however, Kuhn has only one thing to say:
"I adore them."
"You know why?" says Kuhn, who has contributed her time and expertise
on several occasions to Saddleback's efforts to address HIV and
AIDS. "They have worked the hardest, and they're willing at least to
listen to various communities. That's important."
The Warrens' willingness to reach across theological and party lines
is why Kuhn spoke this week at Saddleback's second annual Global
Summit on AIDS and the Church.
It has also made Saddleback the center of a growing debate about
whether the evangelical movement's political activism needs to
change or exist at all.
Kuhn, a self-described devout evangelical who runs Global Life Works,
a nonprofit organization that promotes dialogue among disparate
communities, says her friendship with the Warrens involves "lots of
It is also a model of how ideologically opposed communities can
engage constructively, she says.
"We agree to disagree," she says. "But I really am incredibly
encouraged by their commitment to stay in the battle."
Not all of Warren's critics are so sanguine. Last week, Warren's
inclusion at the conference of "good friend" Sen. Barack Obama, D-
Ill., aroused a storm of protest among some Christians, who lamented
Warren's willingness to fraternize with a supporter of abortion
"You cannot fight one evil while justifying another," wrote a
coalition of 18 evangelical leaders and anti-abortion group
representatives including Phyllis Schlafly, head of the Eagle Forum,
in an open letter. "If Senator Obama cannot defend the most helpless
citizens in our country, he has nothing to say to the AIDS crisis."
Warren, who also invited Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican, to
speak at the conference (which featured a video of departing
Republican Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee) defended his
choice of speakers because, he said, AIDS requires a bipartisan
"It's time for the church to be known for love, not for legalism," he
told his audience.
Such comments might be interpreted as a rebuke to an evangelical
movement characterized by political activism, often around emotional
issues like abortion.
In an interview with the Register, Warren said he is not opposed to
politics. Ultimately, however, Warren says politics is not the point.
"A lot of people think politics is the centralization of power, but,
of course, it's not," Warren says. "It has far less power than a lot
of people think it does."
Warren says he strongly opposes abortion rights, gay marriage and the
use of stem cells in scientific research. He is also a skeptic of
evolution, saying there would have to be "jillions and jillions of
(pieces of) fossil proof" to prove that the Earth has existed for
millions of years and not, as biblical literalists believe, about
But he is not about to legislate his way to truth.
Laws "don't change people," he says. "You only change people through
the heart. And that's a God thing."
That "God thing" is the impetus behind products and programs that
have made Warren a household name. Both the book "The Purpose-Driven
Life" and the PEACE plan, Warren's effort to make churches centers of
evangelism and practical good works, are efforts to expand Christian
awareness and attention toward pressing and seemingly less
controversial issues such as poverty and disease.
Not everyone agrees with Warren's hope to move Christians out of the
voting booth and into the mission fields.
"That's his opinion," says Roberta Combs, president of the Christian
Coalition of America. "I don't think his opinion speaks for millions
and millions of Christians in America who have been involved in the
political process. You can't make change if you're not involved."
Even as she spoke, her organization was in the middle of a
controversy about its own politics.
On Tuesday, the incoming president of the Christian Coalition, the
Rev. Joel Hunter, resigned because, he said, the group's board of
directors disagreed with his plan to broaden the coalition's
political agenda beyond topics such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Combs says the disagreement stemmed more from Hunter's desire to
institute changes immediately rather than polling members for their
opinions which the group plans to do in 2007.
The Christian Coalition must tread carefully. This year chapters in
Alabama, Iowa and Ohio severed ties over concerns that the
organization was abandoning its core values.
Such schisms illustrate the ideological fault lines that have long
rumbled and shifted throughout the feistily independent history of
evangelical Christianity. As evangelicals have become more closely
associated with politics, those lines have grown more pronounced,
Daniel Vestal says.
Vestal is the coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an
umbrella organization of about 1,800 churches that split from the
larger Southern Baptist Convention in 1991 in protest of that
group's "fundamentalist" policies.
"I think there are people that have a much more holistic vision of
the Gospel and the mission of the church (than the Southern Baptist
Convention), and I think Rick Warren is one of them," Vestal says. "I
think he's asking different questions and raising issues of relevance
and social conscience that are true to the Scripture."
Even critics like Vestal do not dispute the effectiveness of past
Christian political action.
So-called values voters swept a Republican majority into the federal
government in 2004 in hopes of forging a more "moral" political
Corruption scandals, the war in Iraq and the failure of politicians
to follow through on some Christian priorities subsequently soured
voter enthusiasm, especially among Christian swing voters, such as
Catholics, according to John Green, the Pew Forum's senior fellow in
Green says many evangelicals will continue to vote Republican for
want of other options.
"Many of the issues that motivate evangelicals such as opposition to
abortion and same-sex marriage are still operative," says Green.
Some Christians believe they should not vote at all.
"More and more we have this rise of Christians who say: 'We've tried
politics. It didn't work,' " says David Kuo, the former deputy
director of the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives. Kuo's recent book, "Tempting Faith," accused Republicans
of manipulating the Christian vote to gain power.
Kuo says Christians need to abstain or "fast" from politics, and
participate instead in service programs like Warren's PEACE plan.
Such programs steer clear of the politics that spurred the growth of
the Christian Coalition and Colorado-based Focus on the Family, and
forged the careers of powerful pastors such as the Rev. Pat Robertson
and the Rev. Jerry Falwell. In doing so, Kuo says, they give those
leaders and organizations an implicit critique.
Is Warren's advocacy "going to get him in trouble with the
fundamentalists and with some members of the Republican Party? Yes,
it will," Kuo says.
For Christians such as Kuhn, however, Warren's efforts are essential
to transforming a faith from the political tool she believes it has
become to the redemptive movement Jesus Christ meant it to be.
"The power of the men who interpreted the Bible in the past is under
attack, certainly" she says. "But what I do believe is blossoming out
of that is a movement towards the things Jesus talked about most in
the Bible poverty, illness, human rights."
Such causes and programs like the PEACE plan may, as Warren and Kuhn
hope, unite evangelicals at long last. They also presuppose that
apolitical causes have apolitical solutions, even in troubled,
complex places like Rwanda.
In Rwanda, however, politics may be at the heart of everything.