Editors' Note: This piece has been corrected.
1. New "Pastors' Manual" Will Attempt to Influence Evolving Political Movement in Evangelical Pews.
A "pastors' manual on political issues" sounds like a creation of the Christian Coalition or the Family Research Council, a politicized guide on how to preach to the flock.
But a new pastors' manual is being assembled not by the usual suspects.
According to Faith in Public Life’s communications director, Katie Paris, the manuals are intended to, as it were, preach the gospel of the Third Way/Faith in Public Life coalition's "Come Let Us Reason Together" (CLURT) project, whose stated purpose is to find "common ground" between evangelicals and progressives and defuse the "culture wars." Given the coalition’s rejection of the religious right and its tactics -- which include, presumably, the politicization of pulpits -- it is curious that the group is now developing a political guide for pastors.
CLURT’s most recent initiative, a “governing agenda," endorses five items: abortion reduction; including gays and lesbians in the protections of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; S-CHIP, the childrens' health-insurance program vetoed by former President Bush; comprehensive immigration reform, and an end to torture.
Third Way and Faith in Public Life, which hold themselves out as the "leading progressives" who co-authored the governing agenda with center-right evangelical leaders, point to the statements of support from organizations like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, People for the American Way, and NARAL Pro-Choice America as evidence that the progressive movement is on board with its governing agenda. But many of the progressive endorsements amount to little more than a pat on the head to the evangelicals who understand -- now that the country has elected a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress -- that their religious-right brethren are so far out of the mainstream that a failure to enter the 20th century, if not the 21st, would perpetuate the embarrassing impression that evangelicals are the backward bumpkins of our civic life.
2. The Common-Ground Dodge on Sexuality.
By selling its "common ground" as the solution to the new inside-the-Beltway dread word -- divisiveness -- the coalition purports to shed its own culture-war armor while accusing anyone who doesn't share its "common ground" of remaining battle-ready. The effect, if not the intended purpose, of these efforts is to brush aside progressive values, particularly on matters of sexual equality.
On immigration reform, torture, and S-CHIP, the CLURT coalition is following the progressive line, not leading on it -- pressing for a just immigration overhaul and rallying against the Bush administration's use of torture. But its belated endorsement of S-CHIP falls short of progressive calls for universal health care. On matters relating to sex, sexuality, and gender, though, the group refuses to confront the evangelical traditions and ideology that have made these issues political intractable, and which have led to untold pain to countless human beings. (For more on the whole dirty business of evangelical demonization of homosexuality, see Haggard, Ted.)
On LGBT issues, evangelical members of the CLURT coalition have dodged addressing their own tradition’s claims that homosexuality is a sin that can be "cured" through repentance and harmful psychiatric therapy, and that those who are “unrepentant" must live without the same rights as their fellow citizens. Two of the most prominent and influential evangelicals in the coalition (both of whom were invited to pray with Obama at the private Inauguration Day service at St. John's Episcopal Church), the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and the Rev. Joel Hunter, claim to eschew the "culture wars" even as they endorsed the gay-marriage bans on the ballot in their states last year. Another, David Gushee, has at least attempted to exhort his colleagues to reflect on the issue.
These evangelicals are given a pass because they claim to be upholding biblical principles, yet on this crucial issue they don't share common ground with many other religious traditions. CLURT's decision to duck on this matter highlights the evangelical insistence that our public policy be guided by purist, fundamentalist traditions.
3. Obama's Repeal of Global Gag Rule: Form, Not Divisive. Substance, Humane.
Given the CLURT coalition's stated interest in reducing abortion, and prior expressions of concern about alleviating poverty, one might expect more than silence about Obama's decision to repeal the Global Gag Rule (known to conservatives as the Mexico City Policy). The Global Gag Rule prevented overseas family-planning clinics offering abortion services or information from receiving U.S. aid. Obama’s repeal of the rule the day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, rather than on the day when anti-choice activists converge on Washington for the "March for Life," was seen as emblematic of a supposed abandonment of confrontation over "culture war" issues.
I sought comment from the three leading evangelicals in the CLURT coalition, Hunter, Rodriguez, and Gushee, about the substance of Obama's repeal of the Global Gag Rule, and they either declined comment or didn't respond.
Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, president of the International Center for Research on Women, says any discussion about reproductive rights "must be broad enough so people understand linkage of poverty to access to health care," which includes, but isn't limited to, abortion rights. The religious right predictably decried the repeal of the Global Gag Rule, claiming taxpayers are now forced to subsidize abortion. The CLURT evangelicals say abortion is immoral but that they want to reduce it, not criminalize it. Dodging a serious discussion of the linkage between poverty and access to reproductive-health services by hiding behind "common ground" rhetoric would be a tragic impediment to finding humane solutions for Americans and people around the world.
4. CLURT Coalition Seeks Influence on Obama Administration, New Congress.
The evangelical CLURT coalition members and representatives from Third Way and Faith in Public Life presented their agenda to Obama political adviser Valerie Jarrett's chief of staff, along with White House religious-affairs advisers Joshua DuBois, who directed the Obama campaign's religious outreach, and Mara Vanderslice, founder of the Matthew 25 PAC, which supported Obama by buying advertising on Christian radio stations, vouching for his Christian values. The CLURT coalition also met with about a dozen members of the House Democratic Faith Working Group.
The evangelicals in the CLURT coalition are conservative, but they and their Faith in Public Life allies are trying to persuade Democrats that making evangelicals happy is essential for winning elections. The rhetoric and activities of at least two of the leading pastors -- the Rev. Joel Hunter and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez -- show they certainly are not giving up their conservative credentials.
Hunter, author of the book, A New Kind of Conservative, endorsed Mike Huckabee in the Republican primary before praying at the Democratic National Convention. (Huckabee, culture warrior to the core, is now raising money for his Huck PAC to support candidates committed to overturning Roe.) Hunter believes the church, not the government, is the answer to America's problems, telling Christianity Today: "We need to be the kind of solutions to the problems that make everybody aware that ultimately government is not the ultimate answer to solving the problems in America; the church is."
Rodriguez, who has already threatened Democrats that they may lose the support of Latino evangelicals in the next election cycle if they veer too far left, has formed, through his National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a "strategic partnership" with the educational hub of the religious right, the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. "Our desire is to see Hispanic born-again Christians mobilized on both the vertical and horizontal planes of the cross, preaching salvation and transforming their communities," Rodriguez told the university's journal. "This can only transpire via the platform of top-tier education." Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell Jr., the university's chancellor, is busy making clear that the religious right is not dead.
5. Purpose-Driven Facebook? Rick Warren Launches New Media Empire.
In partnership with the Reader's Digest Association, Rick Warren has launched The Purpose Driven Connection, a new media platform to further market his best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life. Within the first year, the RDA expects to attract 1 million members, who, for a $30 annual fee, will receive a quarterly magazine, four DVDs and workbooks, and "access to a social-networking website that aims to be a Christian Facebook."
Contact me at tapthefundamentalist at gmail dot com.