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[CHRISTIANITY] Who Will Decide God's Politics?

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  • madchinaman
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13, 2006
      Who will decide God's politics?
      True change occurs in the church and the wider culture, Rick Warren
      says in reaching across party lines.
      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
      challenging conversations."

      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
      6,000 years.

      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.
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