Friday, July 28, 2006

Beyond Ralph Reed

Good column by Margaret Carlson on evangelicals and politics. She starts with the obvious question -- did Ralph Reed get beat because of Abramaoff, or "was the vote a sign that evangelicals have caught on to the hustle by latter-day Elmer Gantrys who've taken their money and votes and only occasionally their beliefs to Washington"?

But then she makes a good connection, and one that may not be obvious to many secular-press observers. She points out that the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention is Frank Page, an "apolitical pastor" who is

... the opposite of the fiery political preacher, calling himself a ``normal'' pastor in search of ``sweet spirits'' and dedicated to missionary work and help for struggling churches. Not a word about impeaching judges or boycotting Disney for offering benefits to partners of gay employees. ``I believe in the word of God,'' Page said, ``I'm just not mad about it.''

(Okay, kids, Father A. hears the howls: of course we're all mad about the Word, in the way Paul was mad about Jamie. Let's assume Page means he isn't angry about it, okay?)

Her main point is that the SBC elected Page over two far more politically engaged pastors, including the host of 2005's Justice Sunday II, a big Frist-DeLay rantfest. Carlson suggests that all this indicates a mellowing of the Christian Right.

Maybe so. Here's our take: For generations, evangelicals were counseled to remain aloof from politics; for a generation or so now, they have been counseled to involve themselves up to the neck. And at last, to their credit, they are learning what the mainline denominations learned only too late: that too much politicking is a serious danger to churches, because by its nature it will divide them along the lines drawn by secular parties.

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