News: Politics from the Pulpit

In a recent interview with The Boston Globe, Brady Boyd, the pastor who may soon be taking over the leadership role at New Life Church in Colorado (he is a final candidate in the selection process), said that he plans on avoiding an active role in politics. Boyd, who is currently the pastor of a church in Dallas, told the paper, “I will encourage people to be involved in the political process but I will not touch on hot-button political issues because I do not think that is the role of the pulpit.” Boyd is replacing former New Life minister Ted Haggard, who left the church nine months ago after details about a scandal involving drugs and homosexuality were made public. Not only was Haggard the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, he was also vocal about some Republican political causes, particularly those involving homosexuality and marriage.

Boyd’s approach to politics counters a trend that has continued to grow in evangelical Christianity for years. A recent feature in Time magazine highlighted evangelist Billy Graham’s involvement with presidents and politicians through the decades. Though Graham often refrained from expressing his own political ideas, he was often at the sides of leaders and served as a spiritual counsel to presidents since the 1960s.

Today, one noted cause that some evangelical leaders are supporting is environmental care. An article in yesterday’s Washington Post, featured an interview with Peter A. Seligmann, an executive of a nonprofit environmental preservation organization, who decided that seeking the support of evangelical Christians could have a major impact in making political headway. Reflecting on the decision to turn to American evangelicals, Seligmann told the paper, “What bloc of people has enormous influence, especially on the Republican Party? That group of people is right-wing Christian evangelicals." His efforts, along with those of the Sierra Club and Conservation International, eventually helped to persuade some evangelical leaders (including Joel Hunter and Richard Cizik) to get behind environmental causes. Hunter has since become a leading advocate among Christian leaders for environmental care, even helping organize the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), a statement acknowledging the need to do something about global warming that was signed by leaders including Rick Warren and Todd Bassett.

But not every evangelical leader supports the ECI. Jim Dobson, Chuck Colson and the late Jerry Falwell have disputed some of the claims of the initiative. Another recent political and pastoral alliance also drew controversy among evangelical leaders when Rick Warren invited presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama to speak at an AIDS conference hosted by his church. The decision to include Obama, who is a pro-choice Democratic, was questioned by some leaders who oppose abortion. During the conference, Sen. Sam Brownback (a pro-life Republican) also joined the discussion about AIDS relief. Warren responded to the Obama controversy by saying, "I’ve got two friends here, a Republican and a Democrat—why? Because you’ve got to have two wings to fly."

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With social justice causes and environmental initiatives becoming platform issues for both parties, the political activism of Christian leaders will continue to be a significant concern in the Church.

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