Rich Mayfield: Righting the Christian Right
Much of the buzz around Saddleback Church’s conversation with the two presidential candidates last Saturday night is centered on the apparent consensus that the clear winner was neither Barack Obama nor John McCain, but the moderator, Pastor Rick Warren.
Warren has been the recipient of many tributes these days for his adept handling of what could have been a highly charged situation. Instead, according to most observers, the candidates were offered ample time to offer potentially sensitive and subtle responses to often complex queries.
Warren won further accolades for his eschewing the oft-used shock techniques employed by too many TV journalists today. His reasoned and thoughtful approach to this upcoming and vital national decision was a model that many, evidently, wish to emulate.
Rick Warren is the enormously popular evangelical Christian author of “The Purpose-Driven Life” and other self-help books. He is also, as noted, the pastor of the mega-sized Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, Calif.
Recently he has been garnering further attention for his unorthodox advocacy of evangelical Christian concerns beyond the traditional anti-abortion and anti-gay obsessions of most of conservative Christianity. Warren has been increasingly committed to addressing the vastly complex problems of the AIDS epidemic, world hunger and the crushing poverty endured by millions here in America and around the world. If he isn’t careful, he just may have some of us believing that the religious right isn’t always wrong.
Still, evangelical Christianity has a long way to go to make up for some of the insidious behavior of its more public adherents. This past year’s revelations of some evangelical Christians’ un-Christ-like deportment within the Justice Department has left many of us wondering what Christ they are following.
When our former attorney general’s top aide, Monica Goodling, a graduate of TV evangelist Pat Robertson’s law school (!) decided to vet civil-service applicants by way of a conservative Christian agenda and then compound the deception by lying to Congress about her unlawful activities, evangelical Christianity sustains one more piece of incriminating evidence that those on the Christian right seem to care little about the ethical teachings of Jesus.
And we all remember our current president’s designation of that same Jesus as his favorite philosopher during his first presidential campaign. One suspects Jesus must have moved far down the list as GWB employed the tools of deception, dishonesty and double-dealing during his tenure as commander-in-chief.
The bullying tactics of evangelical Christians at such supposedly secular institutions as the United States Air Force Academy are well-documented and deeply disturbing. When a cadet’s chances of advancement are dependent on a particular religious practice, all citizens should be concerned about the very real threat to cherished constitutional freedoms.
Even granting that some of these folk are well-intentioned in their proselytizing, such activities can seriously threaten the inviolate separation of church and state.
Out of Beijing this week comes the story of Kisik Lee, the U.S. Olympic archery coach whose evangelicalism has got the U.S. Olympic Committee more than a little concerned. Lee, a South Korean native, expects his team to be more than just proficient archers; he aims his arrows at their souls as well. As an evangelical Christian, Lee leads many of his charges in Bible study and prayers as part of the team’s training. All well and good as long as he can remain objective about the talent of those not choosing to study and pray with him. The evidence of evangelicals in power would indicate that such is often not the case.
Many of us who claim an affinity to the teachings of Jesus are hoping that Pastor Warren continues to manifest his unusual approach to his evangelical faith. His willingness to challenge conventional insular Christian thinking with a theology based on compassion and service rather than intimidation and deceit is encouraging to be sure, but we all know what happened to someone else who tried that same approach 2,000 years ago.
Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.