A post evangelical America?

The Washington Post On Faith asks, “Post Evangelical America?”

Lisa Miller says, “Yes”

Just as “race” has a whole new meaning in America this week, so, too, does “faith.” For at least four decades, white evangelicals have been the religion-and-politics story in this country. Their power, their rhetoric, their numbers, their theology–all have been so dominant that many of us in the media had forgotten that religious faith could be expressed any other way. Last summer, a colleague and I wrote a profile of president-elect Barack Obama that described his Christian faith–a journey that started with a deeply spiritual but not religious upbringing, progressed through a considerable amount of reading, searching and ambivalence, and culminated in an emotional homecoming in a socially active, black church in Chicago. . .

. . .The exit polls echo findings by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which last year published a massive study showing Americans to be deeply spiritual–90 percent of them say they believe in God–but less and less concerned with denominational orthodoxy. Like Obama, a quarter of Americans practice a faith different from the one they were raised in, the Pew survey showed. Among Protestants, that number is a third. Even a quarter of atheists say they believe in a higher power or a universal spirit.

Darrell Bock is a professor at New Testament Studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary who voted for Obama. For Christians like him, social issues such as abortion and gay marriage were not litmus tests this year. . .

Richard Mouw says, “No” – Evangelicals are celebrating Obama too”

After a week or so of basking in the afterglow of the presidential election, I am starting to get a little grumpy. It’s not about President-elect Obama. Like many other Americans I wept tears of joy when he addressed the nation on the evening of November 4. What is irritating me is much of the post-election analysis, especially as it focuses on religious issues.

Lisa Miller’s Newsweek piece, “A Post-Evangelical America,” is one of the things that has put me in a foul mood. . .

. . .Were these commentators really listening when President-elect Obama called for the kind of civility that really listens to folks with whom we disagree? Do they really think that the sober tone of his victory speech was a declaration that it is time to ridicule those of us who hold to some conservative values on the so-called “social issues,” in the hope of silencing our voices in the public debates?I am an evangelical who does not always get very high marks from the Religious Right for the stands that I take. But I do share some of their views on some key issues of public policy. If there is a lesson to be learned about evangelicalism these days, it is not that we have been banned from the public square because of the Obama election, but that we are not as easily stereotyped as the Lisa Miller and others want to think. We have come to an evangelical faith as people from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and economic levels. We reside in urban and rural areas, and we live in countries across the globe. We represent every “tribe and tongue.” This means too that we do not all occupy the same place on the political spectrum.

. . . In my part of the evangelical world, folks have been celebrating the election of Barack Obama.


Onto a totally different subject . . . the Washington Post’s On Faith asks, is compassion central to all religions?: “Religion scholar Karen Armstrong is asking the world to write a Charter for Compassion, based on her premise that compassion is central to all religions. Do you agree? If so, what has gone wrong?”

[Read several responses from different religious perspectives at On Faith ]

My personal sadness about Christians and politics

As I’ve watched the latest political campaign, I’ve often thought what Bob Hyatt has just articulated better than I ever could – Out of Ur – Decision ’08: Your choice of president is less important than our integrity

. . . I watch in amazement as every four years, well-meaning Christians who are otherwise committed to values of truth and controlling our tongues descend into the pit of partisanship, smears, and tale-bearing. You know how it goes. You have genuine concerns about the other guy (or gal) and so, with few qualms, repeat whatever was told to you by someone in the parking lot or that you heard on the talk radio show or read on that extremely well fact-checked source, the Internet. Of course, all the stuff the other side is saying about your candidate? Yellow journalism and lies.

People who balked at the Left’s mention of George Bush’s alcoholism repeat at the drop of a hat Obama’s admission of drug use in his younger days. And people who on any other day are likely to decry the sexism of American politics suddenly become concerned that Palin went back to work too quickly after giving birth and that she can’t be both VP and a mother of a special-needs child.

We believe whatever our side says, refuse to even listen to the other side, and generally put critical thinking aside. [Emphasis mine]

I’m sad to say that over the last few months, I’ve seen good Christians who genuinely love Jesus repeat tale after tale (many later proven false or exaggerated) about both major tickets in this election–all with the intention of. . . [read all of Decision ’08]

It especially saddens me the deep racism of many Christian evangelicals rears its ugly head in this way. As a guest on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed, Soong-Chan Rah, professor at North Park Theological Seminary, points out – Loosening the Grip 3:

. . . Christians have been at the center of two of the more explicit examples of racism in the Presidential campaign: Obama Waffles (created by two Christian writers) and the hanging in effigy of Senator Obama at a Christian college. These shameful examples serve to further the media perception of the deep level of racism rooted in the American Christian community. . . .

What Americans think of Evangelical voters

From the latest Barna Report: What Do Americans Think of Evangelical Voters?

In general, evangelical voters are perceived with a mix of skepticism and respect. Americans are not always sure what to make of evangelicals, but they believe the voting bloc has significant influence. Barna examined eight perceptions of evangelical voters. Four of the statements represented the most widely-held views:


  • will have a significant influence effect on the election outcome (59% of American adults said this was either “very” or “somewhat accurate” regarding evangelical voters);
  • will cause the political conversation to be more conservative (59%);
  • will spend too much time complaining and not enough time solving problems (59%);
  • will be misunderstood and unfairly described by news media (56%).
  • Surprisingly, given the attention that moral issues have received in connection with evangelicals, only half of Americans (52%) felt that evangelical voters would focus primarily on homosexuality and abortion.

Roughly half said that evangelicals will minimize social justice issues (47%) and another 47% felt they believe that evangelicals will vote overwhelmingly Republican. Roughly two out of every five Americans (44%) believed evangelicals will not approach the election with an open mind.

For more on  Evangelical perceptions of themselves and the perceptions of outsiders towards evangelicals (complete with table), common ground, and how they view the Rick Warren interviews, read:  What Do Americans Think of Evangelical Voters?

Also: How Evangelicals Plan to Vote (11 Aug. 2008) – I wonder if the ground has shifted any in the intervening month?

What Kenyan Christians can teach Americans about voting

Given Kenya’s disastrous election less than a year ago, it may seem odd to say that Kenyans have anything to say to Americans about elections, but sometimes the best lessons are learned the hard way. Paul Heidebrecht writes:

When I was in Kenya in May, I had many lively conversations with Kenyan Christians about their election—NEGST students, professors, local pastors, ordinary folks—they all spoke passionately about what had happened in their nation. . .

. . . They believed Kenyan Christians had swung from one extreme to the other. For many years Christians had avoided politics because it was seen as corrupt and compromising. The only thing that mattered was “getting saved” and “getting ready for heaven.” But eventually Christians realized that government can’t be left to people without integrity. They had to be engaged. The past few elections saw many more Christians running for office and voting. But church leaders identified themselves too closely with particular parties and their political tactics. This left them without a credible voice when the crisis struck. In some areas of the country, the church was part of the problem, not the solution. . . .

. . . Christians need to be careful with politics. They need to find the right balance. They need to hold firm to higher principles of justice and righteousness. They must ask, What is good for the nation? and not, What is good for me? Nor can they pin their hopes on one party but rather they need to be independent enough to speak respectfully and credibly to all parties.

Pastors especially have to be careful. In most cases, they should avoid endorsing candidates and parties, especially if their congregation has divided loyalties. They should challenge their members to vote and participate in public affairs. They should preach and teach what the Bible says about citizenship in heaven and on earth. . .

. . . Don’t expect too much from government was another lesson learned. Don’t be naïve about politicians. Many are corrupt or susceptible to corruption. The pressure to take care of their supporters and family members is tremendous. Those who have absolute integrity are easily marginalized. Christians must keep calling upon their government leaders to act justly and for the good of all even when it seems hopeless.

. . . churches must tackle the social problems that government leaders won’t face. This means empowering those who live in slums, assisting refugees from other nations, resolving conflicts between antagonistic groups of people, establishing schools, clinics and small business enterprises. . .

Read the whole article: Can Kenyans teach us how to vote

For amazing story of Kenyan pastors leading a prayer march for spiritual cleansing, visit http://www.listeningtoafricanchurchleaders.blogspot.com/  


Comparing American and African politics – family affairs

In the “not as different as we tend to think category,” ONYANGO-OBBO (Daily Nation) writes Why American Politics is as African as it gets. Basic points:

  • Family affairs (Bush, Clinton, Kennedy; Kabila, Eyadema ) – as if they are “birthrights.” (I’m actually struggling to come up with other good African examples; maybe it’s more of an American thing. Contrast Kenyan first sons Kibaki and Odinga who shy from the public eye (today’s Standard)
  • Past presidents’ ongoing influence – failing influence (Clinton; Buluzi – Malawi)

[It’s a quick, fun read]

Tribalism (Kenya & America)

Tribalism in America & Kenya. (Cohen, NYTimes) I don’t need to post what he has to say about Kenya for the moment, but here is what he says about America. . .

. . . America’s peaceful tribes are also out in force. As Obama and Hillary Clinton engage in the long war for the Democratic nomination, we have the black vote, and the Latino vote, and the women-over-50 vote, and the Volvo-driving liberal-intellectual vote, and the white blue-collar vote, and the urban vote, and the rural vote, and the under-30s vote — sub-groups with shared social, cultural, linguistic or other traits and interests.

That’s democracy at work. Sure. But the United States is divided, within itself and from the world, in growing ways.

It is divided by war, by income chasms, by foreclosures, by political polarization and by culture wars. Increasingly it is looked upon from outside with dismay or alarm. Healing, within and without, will be a central task of the next president.

. . . If I was to sum up this presidential race, I’d say: “It’s the generations, stupid.”

An American generation under 45 has glimpsed an interconnected world beyond race and tribe. They know its attainment will be elusive but, after a bleak season, they feel summoned by what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Looking out from Kenya, where he mediated an end to the tribal violence, Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, told me: “I think an Obama presidency would be inspirational, an incredible development in the world.”

[Read the full op-ed here]

Bizarre (and more sobering) headlines (Kenya)

After tie vote, Nairobi mayor to be determined by lot – rolling the dice, drawing straws, flipping a coin – actually drawing a “Yes” or “No” vote. (For full details – Daily Nation story.

In Nairobi, the 86 city councilors select a mayor from among themselves. The previous Nairobi mayoral election ended in a fully televised brawl, with chairs flying across the room. This time Nairobi was a microcosm of the national situation – split down the middle 50-50. Even power sharing was proposed. (Actually ODM should have the votes, but it appears some councilors may have been bribed.)

Kenyan Vice President suggests criminalizing ethnicity.

I’m sure in reality he was probably talking about criminalizing activities leading to ethnic violence, but this is what the Rwandan paper wrote after his visit.

Kenya vice president Kalonzo Musyoka contemplated criminalising ethnicity as a solution to the crisis in his country.

After meeting with President Paul Kagame on Friday, Musyoka said: “Wherever symptoms of ethnic differences arise, there requires a quick reaction to suppress them.” The post election violence in Kenya that has led to the deaths of as many as 1,000 people, is widely believed to be the result of the ethnic and political differences in the country.

Musyoka said that his country’s planned a constitutional review will look into these differences. His contemplation comes in the wake of mediation efforts by former UN boss, Kofi Anan to end Kenya’s political standoff.

Musyoka is optimistic that the two sides will come to an agreement soon.

“I want to confirm to the world that Kenyans have decided to bring their grievances to levelled grounds,” he said at a press conference at Kigali’s Serena Hotel.

“We are not out of the woods, but instead we are almost there. This is not time to demean Kenyans but only to rally behind them in solving their problems.”

Witchcraft against Thieves:

Fear of witchcraft pervades an Embu village where at least seven people have committed suicide in the last one month under circumstances associated with sorcery. Thieves have started returning stolen goods to their rightful owners as the police record zero cases of theft in the area for the last few weeks.

A more sobering headline Kenya’s gangs are arming:
Summary descriptions of Mungiki, Kalinjin warriors, Taliban, Bagdad boys, Kosovo, etc. 205 youths arrested while training.

Lessons from Cote D’Ivoire:

that these politicians could only muster the courage to reach out to one another after their country had nearly been destroyed by war. They could have spared their country a lot of pain.

. . .

So how did Cote d’Ivoire pull its chestnuts out of the fire, and what lessons can Kenya learn from this process? It was a long and slow one in which even a small step towards national reconciliation and healing helped.

. . .

Events in Cote d’Ivoire show that political crises in Africa can be managed, particularly if they are not left to fester for too long, and that a Somalia-like situation and the full-scale wars that Mozambique and Angola went through can be avoided.

However, hostility to international involvement in the crisis, the arrogance of power and unyielding positions could well plunge Kenya into a hell from which it might never recover.

But positively: Obama’s Kenyan Roots (NYTimes)

A barefoot old woman in a ripped dress is sitting on a log in front of her tin-roof bungalow in this remote village in western Kenya, jovially greeting visitors.

Mama Sarah, as she is known around here, lives without electricity or running water. She is illiterate and doesn’t know when she was born. Yet she may have a seat of honor at the next presidential inauguration in Washington — depending on what happens to her stepgrandson, Barack Obama.

Mama Sarah cannot communicate with Mr. Obama, who calls her his grandmother, because she speaks only her Luo tribal language and a little Swahili. Senator Obama’s Luo is pretty much limited to “musawa,” meaning “how are you?”

. . .

If we call ourselves a land of opportunity, then Mr. Obama’s heritage doesn’t threaten American values but showcases them. The stepgrandson of an illiterate, barefoot woman in this village of mud huts in Africa may be the next president of the United States. Such mobility — powered by education, immigration and hard work — is cause not for disparagement but for celebration.