Listening to the evangelicals
I attended three events in the last two days that reveal coming changes in the religious and political landscape of America.
On Thursday, I went to the National Press Club to attend a press conference on some recommendations on how to deal with North Korea. They had good ideas for what the US, the UN, and China should do, but even more significant is who they were. At the table were six men each representing an organization: the Open Society Policy Center, the Hudson Institute, the Korean Church Coalition, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Yes, at the same table as the Open Society (founded by George Soros) sat Richard Land the head of Southern Baptist political action and talk radio host. Next to him sat Richard Cizik, head of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, who has been a leader in convincing his thirty million member organization to care about creation. During the press conference Cizik referenced Ronald Reagan’s famous “evil empire” speech as a pivotal moment that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now whether or not one agrees with that analysis, it clearly functioned rhetorically for Cizik as a moment of moral clarity and he wanted to draw upon that moral moment to bring North Korea to justice.
The second event of that day was a Senator Rick Santorum speech at the National Press Club. Up in the press gallery, a few yards away, I listened as Santorum also referred to the “evil empire” speech. But he was using it to argue that America needed to confront more vigorously the specter of “Islamic fascism.” In fact he criticized Bush and Condi Rice for using the term “terrorism,” as Santorum apparently wants to confront, not just the acts, but the faith as well.
Here were two events with men using the same moral framework for different causes. One singing the usual religious Right songs against the press and Islam. But in the other room, I heard a new song about human rights and multilateralism. The senator just might lose his job in November; Cizik was part of a photo spread in Vaniety Fair along with George Clooney and Al Gore.
A reporter in front of me asked Cizik if evangelicals are getting too spread out politically. No worries, Cizik assured: Not thinning, rather moving in new directions.
I asked Richard Cizik if Rick Warren and Jim Wallis had joined this coalition. Cizik said not yet, but that Warren’s concern for poverty, Africa, and the environment might become more visible in Washington in the near future. Cizik also pointed out that while evangelicals have had a history of being “cowboys” on foreign policy, they also have a growing tradition of working for human rights. And looking in his eyes, I got the impression that caring for the least of these might just dominate some day.
The third event. On Wednesday, I attended a California constituent breakfast hosted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. I was seated next to a happy, blonde Republican flight attendant. She informed me that she attends a Calvary Chapel mega church in Southern California. I jokingly told her that it is up to folks like her to save the evangelical soul. She laughed demurely and reminded me that there is only “one who saves souls.” Fine, she can have her private faith, but she nodded throughout Feinstein’s talk on supporting stem cell research and the environment. After the talk I asked my new evangelical friend about solving global warming, she looked worried for a second, then sung out: “stewardship.”
Tip O’Neill said all politics is local. For those willing to listen, these local anecdotes may just say something about the new global values of the American evangelical.