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Showboating evangelical elites split with congregations on issues

By Rachel Alexander
web posted January 2, 2012

Evangelicals are known for taking conservative political positions, which is reflected in public opinion polls. But over the past few years several organizations and leaders claiming to represent them have issued a series of faddish, publicity-seeking public statements pronouncing left-leaning positions on political issues. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is one of the worst offenders, along with a few pastors of mega-churches. Notably, a majority of the most well-known and respected evangelical leaders have not gone along with these declarations. The NAE represents 45,000 churches from 40 evangelical Protestant denominations. Ironically, the NAE was originally founded in 1942 to counter the more liberal Federal Council of Churches of Christ (precursor to the National Council of Churches).

The evangelical elites started to drift to the left on global warming in 2006. 86 evangelical leaders, including mega-church Pastor Rick Warren, signed the grandstanding “Evangelical Climate Initiative,” demanding that federal legislation be passed mandating a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. However, the names of prominent respected evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham and Jay Sekulow were conspicuously missing. Several longtime evangelical leaders including James Dobson, Chuck Colson and the late Dr. James Kennedy responded with a statement of their own declaring, “Global warming is not a consensus issue” and asked the NAE not to take a position.

The following year, Dobson became so disturbed by NAE Vice-President Reverend Richard Cizik's “relentless campaigning” against global warming that he essentially demanded his resignation. American Family Association Chairman Don Wildmon, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and 22 other nationally renowned evangelical leaders signed the letter. NAE president Leith Anderson responded by praising Cizik's activism. Cizik eventually resigned from his position with NAE in 2008 after expressing support for civil unions. In 2009, many prominent evangelicals pushed back and signed “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,” which disputes that global warming is manmade.

The evangelical elites' position on global warming stands in stark contrast to evangelicals generally. Only 33% of evangelicals consider global warming a major issue, compared to 55% of non-evangelicals. Church-level Protestant leadership is equally skeptical of global warming. According to a survey by Lifeway Research, 60% of Protestant pastors don't believe in manmade global warming. 41% - up from 27% in 2008 - “strongly disagree” that man is causing global warming and an additional 19% “somewhat disagree.” Only 23% “strongly agree” and 13% “somewhat agree.” Evangelical pastors disagree even more. 68% of evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” or “somewhat disagree” that man causes global warming. Only 14% strongly agree that global warming is real and manmade.

The NAE issued a declaration in 2007 opposing enhanced interrogation techniques. It renounced “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” However, polling reveals that 54% of those who attend church at least once weekly – generally evangelicals - believe that enhanced interrogation techniques are often or sometimes justifiable. Evangelicals demonstrate higher levels of support for combating terrorism than the rest of the population due to their affinity for Israel. So it was equally aberrant when the NAE issued a statement in November practically calling for nuclear disarmament. NAE leadership wrote in an editorial, “We question the acceptability of nuclear weapons as part of a just national defense.” The NAE implied that relying upon nuclear weapons might be idolatrous, claiming that the Bible supports its left wing position without actually citing any scripture, “Scripture shows that national military might too often takes the place of trust in God.”

Last year, several evangelical leaders aligned with Obama to support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. In June of 2011 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution asking the government to implement a “just and compassionate path to legal status” for illegal immigrants. The NAE issued a resolution in 2009 stating that the government needs to “establish a sound, equitable process toward earned legal status for currently undocumented immigrants” who meet certain requirements. NAE's Leith Anderson declared, "We believe that undocumented immigrants who have otherwise been law abiding members of our communities should be offered the opportunity to pay any taxes or penalties owed, and over time earn the right to become U.S. citizens and permanent residents."

The NAE claimed the vote approving the resolution was unanimous, but some members including the Salvation Army abstained from voting. Only 11 of the 40 members of the NAE are listed on its website as supporters of the resolution, including Assemblies of God, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Grace Communion International, and Fellowship of Evangelical Churches. The Churches of Christ in Christian Union denounced the resolution, stating that they had not been consulted about it, do not support it and instead “support legal, regulated, and fair immigration." My mother wrote a letter to the NAE strongly objecting on behalf of my father, an evangelical pastor, which went unanswered.

Again, the leadership took a stance diametrically opposed to its congregations. According to a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press report, 89% of evangelicals favor “stronger enforcement of immigration laws and border security.” A Zogby poll found that 64% of born-again Protestants strongly oppose or somewhat oppose a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. 

The NAE is also more liberal than its congregations on federal budget policy, calling for a “Circle of Protection” to stop budget cuts on bloated government welfare programs. Leaders met with Obama in July 2011 and declared, “We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people.” This position does not represent evangelicals as a whole, who overwhelmingly prefer helping the poor through the private sector and are extremely concerned about our escalating federal debt.

A minority of evangelical elites are getting away with issuing these left-leaning statements in part because there is little polling available on evangelicals to challenge them. Most polling organizations that conduct surveys on religion, such as the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, are on the left and have an agenda. Polling results are usually only released about “white evangelicals” in order to create an artificial racial divide and a perception that only “white” evangelicals are conservative. It is virtually impossible to find polling done on all evangelicals; instead there are surveys of born-again Christians or those who attend church at least once a week. The few polls out there that contrast these demographics reveal that differences in viewpoints between white evangelicals and other evangelicals are so narrow that agenda-driven pollsters are deliberately leaving these findings out. Equally distressing to the partisan pollsters is that two-thirds of blacks describe themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians, twice as many as the number of whites who identify as such.

This small number of liberal evangelical elites is also able to continue professing partisan positions because they are more organized and aggressive than other evangelicals. The leadership of NAE has become analogous to unions claiming to represent workers. The unions have an agenda and do not fairly represent union employees, which is why the unions strenuously fight against the right to a secret ballot. Why not let the church memberships vote on NAS statements instead of its leaders?

The Bible doesn't say anything about these issues and government involvement. While Christians are instructed to help the poor and treat people with kindness, there is not a single verse in the Bible that says government must take responsibility and pass laws in these controversial areas. These leaders are distorting the Bible by claiming that it supports “social justice” by government.

Some would suggest that the church should stay out of politics altogether. However, the Bible does not instruct us to stay disengaged. Christians have a responsibility to participate in governmental affairs. God set many Christian rulers up as kings and rulers, beginning with Noah.

There are plenty of liberal Christian denominations. Perhaps those leaders who are hijacking the evangelical movement against the will of the majority of evangelicals need to find a church better suited to their liberal activism. Unfortunately, many of them are consumed by power and fame, and the evangelical church with its hundreds of thousands of vibrant believers is a magnet they cannot resist. ESR

Rachel Alexander and her brother Andrew are co-Editors of Intellectual Conservative. Rachel practices law and social media political consulting in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been published in the American Spectator, Townhall.com, Fox News, NewsMax, Accuracy in Media, The Americano, ParcBench, and other publications.






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