The so-called “controversy” over Pastor Rick Warren’s invitation for Senator Barack Obama to join Senator Brownback and others at a church sponsored summit on HIV/AIDS Conference concerns me. It seems to me that liberals are much more unified in their public views than conservatives these days. Once again our attempts at internal, conservative self-policing have become public news. Warren’s attempt to solve one of the world’s most troubling health problems should have been applauded by everyone.
During the last few years, I personally have felt the sting of this kind of criticism. I have a heart to bring white evangelical leaders into a working coalition with black church leaders. Yet, as I have spoken with some civil rights leaders, I have been labeled as an “Uncle Tom” because I have interacted with the Bush White House. On the other hand, some conservatives have wondered about me because I have spoken on the same panel with Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, and others.
Warren’s gesture of inviting politicians from both parties to speak at his summit makes sense to me. This may be the beginning of a new dialogue between evangelicals and the Democratic Party. We have to view the moves that men like Warren make as evangelistic in nature. Warren has a moral agenda that should embraced by every human on the planet, at the same time he never ceases attempting to win souls and to present his message to new audiences.
I believe that Warren’s decision to have Obama speak at his conference is a response to the unanswered questions from November 2006: “What should Bible believing Christians do about the last election?” “How should we feel about the way we were stereotyped by both the press and the major parties?” Many of us are still confused about what happened; while other Christians seemingly write off the fact the nation is in a major transition.
The results produce a variety of conclusions. The most obvious one is that Americans are desperate for a change. Further, they are tired of double dealing, hypocritical politicians of all parties, genders, and races. Just like George W. Bush’s victory of two years ago, the Democrats are claiming a mandate that may not really exist. Fifteen races in the House of Representatives were decided by less than 5,000 votes. In addition, Jim Webb’s Senate victory, which determined that house’s majority, was won by only 9,000 votes. To call these victories a “mandate” is more than exaggeration. It verges on the insane.
My first thought about the election was very simplistic: American’s have abandoned God’s agenda. In my mind, both parties were to blame to some extent. I felt taken for granted by the Republicans and ignored by the Democrats. On the other hand, the scriptures declared that God puts governmental leaders in power (1 Samuel 2:8, Romans 13:1, etc.).Therefore, I eventually concluded that God intends to use the current political “dream team,” even if it feels like a hellish nightmare.
Millions of Christians have defined God’s moral issues as only protection of marriage, religious liberty, prevention of judicial activism, and limiting the massive numbers of abortions. While these things are still important, the culture needs for us to give them practical guide lines for living. Churches and Christian leaders are needed to discuss the morality of war, how to deal with poverty, world hunger
Christians may have actually scored a huge victory in this last election. The victory may not have been in winning certain specific initiatives or putting our favorite candidates in to office. The victory may have been in beginning a much needed process of political change and reform involving both parties.
Many moderate Democrats were elected this year. These candidates often espoused very socially conservative or religious views. The New York Times is citing exit poll statistics which suggest that the “God gap” is closing between the parties. Since the religious vote is still in play, the “anti-God” wing of neither party will be given an unchecked reign these next two years. In fact, the new leadership will be on its best behavior.
The Democrats are making lots of religious speeches and allusions to their values. Fortunately, they have not gotten a tight set of religious talking points together. Their stumbling forays into “religious speak” means that savvy evangelicals can help shape “Democratic religion” if they act now.
Barack Obama has been anointed as their “spiritual leader” on their journey to define themselves. Like many people of our generation, neither Obama nor Bush has been thoroughly tutored in Christian world theology. Church attendance and casually Bible reading are not enough to create solid Christian world leaders. Although Obama’s current stance on abortion, gay rights, and other issues are very flawed; he can be influenced by patient debate and discussion.
Warren was right to ask Obama to speak at the conference. Over the years, I have used this tactic to begin a dialogue with several historic adversaries. Very few people are so hardened that can enjoy your hospitality and then go out and bad mouth you. Religious people from the left need to be exposed to the real conservative movement – instead of PR images and demeaning characterizations. In the Saddleback conference environment, our brightest thinkers reasoned with a man who was motivated to win our support long term.
Realistically, Obama did no damage to the conference audience which consisted of over 2,100 Bible teachers, pastors, and social activists. If that group could be converted to lukewarm Christianity in just an hour, we’re in worse trouble than any of us could have imagined!
Warren’s invitation signaled openness on the part of a new generation of evangelical leaders to create new alliances. World poverty, clean water, the Darfur crisis and the AIDS epidemic may be new frontiers for social action that can help transform our world.
Christians are called to win the world. Let’s influence both their hearts and minds!
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.