Message From A Megachurch
American politics took an important turn last week at a church in the foothills of Southern California's Santa Ana Mountains.
When Rick Warren, one of the nation's most popular evangelical pastors, faced down right-wing pressure and invited Sen. Barack Obama to speak at a gathering at his Saddleback Valley Community Church about the AIDS crisis, he sent a signal: A significant group of theologically conservative Christians no longer wants to be treated as a cog in the Republican political machine.
For a quarter-century since the rise of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, white evangelical Christians have been widely seen as a Republican preserve. No one did a more comprehensive job of organizing them than President Bush, and he carried the white evangelical vote in 2004 over John Kerry by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1. Many of the most politically active evangelical leaders have insisted that the morally freighted social issues -- abortion, stem-cell research, same-sex marriage -- took priority over all questions.
Warren is no political liberal. On the contrary, his views on the hot-button issues are reliably conservative, and he has said that members of his sprawling Orange County congregation probably vote overwhelmingly Republican.
But Warren speaks for a new generation of evangelicals who think that harnessing religious faith too closely to electoral politics is bad for religion, and who are broadening the evangelical public agenda to include a concern for global poverty and the scourge of AIDS.
Warren is also the most gifted religious entrepreneur since Billy Graham.