Friday, August 22, 2008

Rick Warren and the Presidency

Krista Tippett (NPR's Speaking of Faith), writes about Obama and McCain appearing in a forum with Rick Warren at the Saddleback Church. Tippett is concerned, as I have been, over the inability of the "mainstream media" to intelligently reflect upon the roll of religion in America.

She has a great regard for Rick and Kay Warren and their efforts to be bridge builders, and I share her regard. The Warrens have a chance to shape American Evangelicalism and move it into some new and necessary directions, away from nitpicking dogma to a compassionate regard for the "least of these" (Matthew 25).

What I found striking were the responses to Tippett's blog - by and large, thoughtful and comprehensive, some agreeing with Tippett, others expression reservations about the separation of church and state, and how we've shifted the role of a candidate's faith from the periphery nearly to the center.

I, too, would prefer a candidate of ability - and frankly, as a Christian, and one for the 64 years I've lived, much to much has been made of "being a Christian," especially an "evangelical" one. The system trades in spectacular conversions and before-and-after stories. The evangelical community, though loosely organized, thrives on the constant proving of evangelical superiority to other Christian expressions and to all other faith-traditions. In other words, everyone else has to be wrong in order for them to be right.

No one has to be wrong in order for anyone to be right, and I believe the Warrens have some of that in their blood. But they have to walk carefully. Evangelical leaders are not free to speak openly on the issues. Their constituency remains stubbornly rooted in certain ideologies - thanks to the older generation of evangelical leaders - e.g. James Dobson, Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell.

Evangelicalism has settled on ideology over thought - ideology easily defined, easily stated, promoting along the way absolute conformity - another need of the evangelical community - numbers prove right, allowing for no questions, deviation, or critique. "If God said it, it's good enough for me."

Hats off to Krista Tippett and NPR for being a serious and gracious forum dealing with religion in the public square. Whatever one's personal views might be, there's no doubt that religion plays a tremendous role in America and throughout the world, and it behooves the media to pay attention.