The Death of Falwell and the New Generation of Evangelicals

Hannah Rosin of the Washington Post has an interesting article about the differences between Jerry Falwell and the new generation of Evangelical leaders:

In January 2005, Time magazine published a cover story on the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. Jerry Falwell did not make the list.

. . .

"Evangelicals will think of him as part of the family, an elder relative who they might not agree with who died," says John Schmalzbauer, a professor of religious studies at Missouri State University who studies the recent mainstreaming of the religious right.

. . .

The new breed of evangelical leader does not have the temperament of a protester. He is a consummate professional who speaks in modulated terms and knows his way around Washington. "We evangelicals have learned to collaborate, to cross the aisles and religious barriers or whatever, in order to pass bills," Rich Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, is quoted as saying in the new book "Believers."

Featured prominently on Time's list was Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California and author of mega-bestseller "The Purpose Driven Life." If they took a political poll on the usual culture war issues, Falwell and Warren would end up in exactly the same place -- antiabortion, against gay rights. Both have written books saying that Jesus is the only way to salvation. But Warren's public style is entirely different.

For the most part, Warren keeps a low political profile. When asked which presidential candidate he supports, he praises both Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a Democrat, and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Republican and religious conservative. Warren donated the proceeds from his book to help combat AIDS in Africa. He associates himself with "creation care," a movement of evangelical environmentalists. To ensure wide distribution, Warren makes sure he goes down easy: "You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense," reads a quote from him printed on millions of Starbucks cups.

Young evangelicals came of age with George W. Bush as their president, reaching out to them, speaking their language, identifying "Christ" as his favorite political philosopher in a 1999 campaign debate. These days, one-third of Congress members identify themselves as "evangelical."

"We're no longer overlooked, persecuted, discriminated against, and misquoted in the mainstream media, an editorial in Christianity Today stated in 2005. "So we've been mainstreamed, now what?"

In Falwell's days, the evangelical movements seemed like one big church, and the culture was always looking to identify its leader and pastor. Now the movement is much more "fragmented," Schmalzbauer says.

Warren is an obvious leader but he shuns the political spotlight. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, remains enormously influential but he is of the Falwell generation, a little too extreme for mainstream politics.

Another name often mentioned is Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Land has solid evangelical credentials and was educated at Princeton and Oxford universities. He believes in working with conservative Catholics and Jews to accomplish his agenda. He believes in collaboration over confrontation.

Like Cizik and Warren, he is a member of the post-Falwell generation, which believes in "getting things done," as Land once said, even if it doesn't accomplish what Falwell did best over his long career: making headlines.

Read it all.

This reflects what I am seeing both locally and nationally. The older Evangelical political movement focused--perhaps wisely--on a few critical issues such as abortion, pornography and gay rights. the newer Evangelical leaders (and followers) are adding other issues to the list such as poverty and the environment. Evangelicals will likely not agree with a Democrat on issues such as gay rights and criminalization of abortion, but these issues are not always going to be the key issues in a political race. When that is the case, as it was recently in Ohio and Michigan, Democrats can attract a surprising number of Evangelical voters on other issues.


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